Hotel Au Violon Basel: historic old town Basel hotel with a French twist

by Jan 21, 2023Switzerland

Restaurant Au Violon Hotel Basel Breakfast

Historic Hotel Au Violon in Basel offers a French twist on a centrally located bed and breakfast. Once a monastery, then a prison, this superb old town Basel Switzerland hotel invites you to stay in a remodeled former cell.


Travel Clothes We WearAdvertisement

Kuhl banner ad women's best sellers


Walking through an archway, into a cobblestone courtyard, and past the clinking glasses at the French brasserie, and you may wonder if you are in the right place for your hotel. But up the stairs you go – into Hotel Au Violon, a superbly located bed and breakfast in old town Basel with historic roots that go back 1,000 years.

Just steps from a main transportation hub at Barfüsserplatz, the Hotel Au Violon is a bit of an adventure – a high-end hotel, albeit not luxury, with quaint rooms that used to be women’s prison cells, plus a gorgeous brasserie and a grand breakfast spread in a location that can’t be beat. First, you must find it, of course, inside a complex of historic buildings (Lohnhof) that also houses a music museum, apartments, community meeting rooms, and a French brasserie, all of which opened between 1998 and 2000.

Entrance To Hotel Au Violon Courtyard In Basel

Head through this archway into the Lohnhof complex of buildings to find Hotel Au Violon.

Once you find Hotel Au Violon in Greater Basel’s old town, you’ll be hooked. The remodeling job that transformed the building – a women’s detention center in its immediate past life – into a hotel left enough reminders of what it used to be for adorable character.

The name “Au Violon” may also strike you as odd – what do a hotel and French restaurant have to do with a violin? The name gives homage to two things: one, the music museum across the courtyard, and two, the French idiom for “spending a night in prison” or “passer une nuit au violon.”

Rooms maintain historic flair at Hotel Au Violon

Hotel Au Violon Basel Lohnhof Room 6 inside

A double Lohnhof room at Au Violon Basel

This old town Basel hotel has two types of rooms: Lohnhof, which face the inner courtyard (14 total, doubles and singles), and Cathedral, which face outward toward the cathedral (6 total of two sizes). The building is called the “Lohnhof” because at one point in its complex history, the man who oversaw the city’s buildings, construction and maintenance had offices there, and the courtyard is where workers came to collect their salaries: “Hof” means courtyard in German and “Lohn” means salary. Voila, Lohnhof!

Therese Iknoian In The Door Of A Hotel Au Violon Room

Therese stands at the rather short and small entrance to a Lohnhof room feeling a bit like Alice in Wonderland. A flavor of the former prison cells was maintained at Hotel Au Violon. Note the coffee station at the end of the hallway.

We had a “Lohnhof” room. Kept relatively small to maintain the historic character, each room was made of two former cells combined, and you get a sense for the prison when you walk through doors so small into the rooms that you may have to duck your head. The bathrooms also have a sliding door to save space and quaint metal cabinets for storage that are placed in a frosted glass window that faces the hallway.

Hotel Au Violon Basel Lohnhof bathroom

These rooms are quiet, even in old town, although you may still get some early morning chatter in the courtyard below, especially if you leave your windows open for fresh air. Of note is that there is no air conditioning, so if it’s hot you may be forced to leave the windows ajar for ventilation. Each room did have a very quiet high-end fan. And as is typical in so many European old towns, you may also feel the vibration of trams from around the corner – depending on your sensitivity.

Our-Photo-Gallery-Gifts-Ad

Our award-winning photos make a perfect gift – to yourself, a friend, or a family member. Prints for a wall, on a desk, as greeting cards, cozy fleece blankets, ornaments, fridge magnets, coffee mugs, luggage tags, coasters, mouse pads and puzzles.  

These Lohnhof rooms are definitely not large at 150-square-feet for a double and a bit less for a single, but not tiny, either. There is a small desk, but no real place to sit other than one chair or on the bed if you aren’t at the desk. The closet is also very small, so larger suitcases could be a challenge, but there are side tables for your things on both sides of the bed! We found the historic quaintness quite charming.

Hotel Au Violon Basel TV Room

A community TV room on the Lohnhof room floor used to be the shower room when it was a women’s detention center.

The rooms don’t have televisions, but there is a common TV and sitting room down the hall (formerly the women’s shower room), and the common fridge and coffee-making area at the end of the hall was a nice touch.

The Cathedral (“Münster”) rooms are larger because they are the former prosecutors’ offices! Sized between 195 and 280 square feet, these rooms have sitting areas, larger bathrooms, more space to put luggage, as well as televisions. They also face the outside toward the Barfüsserplatz transport area and the Cathedral – Indeed, you get a view of the city and cathedral, but you also may experience more noise from cars, trams, trucks or church bells, especially if you want to leave your windows open.

Hotel Au Violon Basel-Cathedral room

Cathedral room (“Münster” room) on the upper floor, with city and cathedral views.

About that amazing breakfast at Hotel Au Violon in Basel…

Many hotels in Switzerland, Germany, and Austria have splendid breakfasts, but this one was made particularly wonderful by the gorgeous setting of the sun-dappled brasserie, as well as the thoughtful additions and French touches to the offerings.

Au Violon Hotel Restaurant Basel Breakfast Room

From croissants, hot cooked eggs, fresh fruit, an array of meats and cheeses, to breads (yes, croissants!), among other goodies, the breakfast will keep you satisfied with a smile on your face. Do leave yourself time to enjoy it!

Basel Hotel Restaurant Courtyard Au Violon

Just outside the front door, the Au Violon Brasserie sets up outdoors during good weather in a rather wonderful courtyard.

We did not get a chance to experience dinner there, but the French fare on the menu sounded superb – in such a beautiful setting. And the courtyard was always packed. What a delightful off-the-beaten-path location for a meal on a pleasant evening.

Other amenities at this old town Basel hotel

Free Wi-Fi ran throughout the hotel and was generally strong, but sometimes flickered in and out. Still fine for most needs. There were also plenty of plugs, albeit no USBs to accommodate today’s modern power cords. Other than the small sitting room/TV room on the Lohnhof room floor, there was no other common room, lobby or lounge if you wanted to get out of your room. Of course, if you’re out touring this marvelous city, we’re not sure you’ll be lounging in the hotel a lot!

This not a five-star hotel by any means – no concierge desks or room service – but it is spotlessly clean and superbly maintained. And the staff was always wonderful.

Au Violon Hotel Basel Coffee station

One amenity is a community coffee-making station at the end of the hall – with excellent coffee we may add.

Like other Basel hotels, every guest also gets a so-called BaselCard that offers free city transportation, access to various wireless hotspots in the city, and discounts at certain museums, restaurants and attractions. You also can rent city bikes at the Guest Bike Office at the central train station – an offer we highly recommend to take your own bike tour of Basel or just to get around this bike-friendly Swiss city.

About the Au Violon hotel history in old town Basel

The Lohnhof building was originally constructed about 1,000 years ago! It has survived earthquakes (a big one in 1356) and went through a range of uses. First, it was a monastery and church, but when it could no longer pay its taxes, the last canons moved out in in the mid-1500s. After renovation, the church also housed the salary-paying officials in the late 1600s.

In 1821, the former monastery became a “remand prison” or detention center for prisoners awaiting sentencing or a trial. The prison was moved in 1995, leaving the Lohnhof complex vacant. Three firms ended up participating in the reconstruction: one for the apartments, one for the music museum, and one for the hotel and brasserie. The complex also has a jazz club, small theater, expat center and kindergarten.

Au Violon Hotel Elevator access

Once you have the hotel code or call the front desk, you can avoid hiking up the cobblestones and instead whisk up the Au Violon elevator from the street below.  After a long day on bikes with camera gear, it was a blessing!

Today, the entities housed in the Lohnhof function well together, and the location is such a superb, centrally located one for travelers to Basel – an insider’s tip, in so many ways, since you must either find the elevator from a corner just off the main Barfüsserplatz or you have to wind you way across cobblestones and up the hill. Once you check in, you get a code to use the elevator, making coming and going much easier.

Who wants to stay in a slick modern hotel when traveling in a city with so much history as Basel Switzerland has? The Au Violon is a quaint, historic treasure that you will find yourself talking about for a long time after you have headed off to cruises, train tours, other parts of Switzerland, or home after your European tour.

 

Download a German language cheat sheet for travelers

German Language Cheat Sheet

Members of our Subscriber Club can download a German language cheat sheet for travelers here

Not a member of our Subscriber Club yet? It is easy and free to join. Just click on the button below. In addition to full access to our free travel book and recipe library, you will receive a monthly newsletter full of travel inspiration from award-winning travel writers and photographers.

Join our Subscriber Club

Our Most Recent Travel Stories

Things to do in Cary North Carolina: Raleigh’s fast-growing neighbor

Cary, North Carolina, offers a small-town vibe with all the benefits of a big city – culture, arts, entertainment, world-class restaurants, amid acres upon acres of greenways. Its proximity to Raleigh and RDU International Airport makes Cary a perfect stopover for any traveler.

7 things to do in Johnston County NC: Civil War history to Ava Gardner Museum

Just a skip southeast of Raleigh, the things to do in Johnston County North Carolina are numerous. Tour Civil War history, visit local farms, learn about native daughter Ava Gardner, explore local woods and parks, or just hang out and relax. And don’t forget the delicious barbecue, red hot dogs, and whiskey.

Things to do in Cary North Carolina: Raleigh’s fast-growing neighbor

Things to do in Cary North Carolina: Raleigh’s fast-growing neighbor

Cary, North Carolina, offers a small-town vibe with all the benefits of a big city – culture, arts, entertainment, world-class restaurants, amid acres upon acres of greenways. Its proximity to Raleigh and RDU International Airport makes Cary a perfect stopover for any traveler.

7 things to do in Johnston County NC: Civil War history to Ava Gardner Museum

7 things to do in Johnston County NC: Civil War history to Ava Gardner Museum

Just a skip southeast of Raleigh, the things to do in Johnston County North Carolina are numerous. Tour Civil War history, visit local farms, learn about native daughter Ava Gardner, explore local woods and parks, or just hang out and relax. And don’t forget the delicious barbecue, red hot dogs, and whiskey.

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove
Advertisement

Are you protected IF a travel emergency happens?

Global Rescue Travel Insurance Rescue Banner

Rating the Hotel Au Violon

90%

Our Rating Our hotel ratings will tell you what we think of an individual property and are not a comparison to other hotels in the area. They are valid at the time of our visit. We frequently pay for our hotel stays and will disclose whenever we receive discounts or comped room nights as a part of a hotel stay. Our ratings are a percent, with 100% being perfect and 0% someplace not even a rat would stay. We rate cleanliness/upkeep (e.g. dust on the windows, dirt under the beds, unclean bathroom fixtures, need of repairs/maintenance, etc.), comfort (e.g. taking into account quiet, how comfy the bed is, if there is a nice robe, a comfy chair, etc.), amenities (e.g. free parking, breakfast included and its quality, free Wi-Fi, free bikes, fitness gear, workout room, pool, etc. -- and we are not fans of hotels that say they include things, but then charge a facilities fee!), location (e.g. how easy is it to get around by foot, bike, and car or how perfectly situated a hotel is for a quiet getaway), and value (e.g. how much we feel we got in return for the amount charged).

Cleanliness/Upkeep
96%
Comfort
85%
Amenities
85%
Location
98%
Value
88%