Basel at fair time gives me a good impression of what the Klondike must have been like during the gold rush: if you haven't booked a topnotch room or table way in advance, then you are in trouble. Latecomers are relegated to floating hotels, fairly bleak riverboats moored on the Rhine and a far cry from the city's ritziest lodgings: the Drei Könige, or Three Kings, hotel. The Drei Könige is well worth a visit even if you are not staying there; the river view from the main lounge is stunning, and the vaulted private dining room, where I dined on shrimp ravioli with curry sauce and fillet of turbot with Hublot boss Jean-Claude Biver, has a door that opens right onto the river.
Similarly high-end, but without a river view, is Stucki Bruderholz, fine-dining central for this German-speaking city, which serves up exotic starters such as chili-baked octopus as well as an impressive cheese trolley. But these days my favorite restaurant in Basel is the St. Alban-Stübli, in the charming medieval district of St. Alban. This hushed and gemütlich gem of a restaurant, set amid stunning centuries-old townhouses, offers food that is perfectly balanced between fashionable and traditional, in a setting that is comfortable without being pretentious. It is one of my Basel rituals to dine here on simple food done well—such as roast poussin—on the last night of the fair and walk back through the quaint and quiet streets savoring a fine Havana cigar and pondering the various novelties of the show.