In a Swiss-centric double bill this weekend, we venture into Swiss wine country, exploring the vineyards of the Lavaux, and experiencing the spectacular celebration that is the Fête des Vignerons. In this first part, Sophie McLean visits Lausanne, and discovers a city brimming with culture…
This summer, the small village of Vevey, located just outside the city of Lausanne, plays host to the once-in-a-generation ‘Fête des Vignerons’, a three-week long festival that occurs once every 20 years, dedicated to all things good and grape about this most beautiful part of Switzerland. Over the course of a tale-bearing 21 days, a series of performances, tastings, winery tours and many more colourful celebrations besides will take place village-wide, with many of the festivities being held inside a giant, vinously-dedicated stadium, as over 400,000 visitors and winemakers alike come together to celebrate the Swiss wine industry.
Switzerland has long been known for producing top quality, interesting wines, made from a variety of international and more indigenous grapes – many of which are grown in this specific part of the country. The Lavaux terraces, within the wider region of Vaud, were recently recognised more specifically for their intrinsic beauty when they were awarded UNESCO world heritage status in 2007. Acres and acres of stunning hillside vineyards here flank the shores of Lake Geneva (otherwise known locally as Lac Léman), drawing together majestic blue hues from the extensive waters and never-ending sky, and the bright greens of the vines that populate the local horizon.
This Swiss wine region is easily accessible by train from Lausanne, run with the all the efficiency you might expect of cool, calm and collected Swiss planning. Every visitor who stays in Lausanne automatically receives a free travel card from their booked accommodation upon arrival – valid on buses, trains and the metro, for up to five days during your stay. The covered transport area extends as far west as Vufflens-La-Ville, and as far east as Cully, Grandvaux and Épesses – making travel by train by far the easiest way to get out and visit 830 well-sewn vine hectares, belonging to over two hundred families.
Many of these vineyards have been taken care of for generations, growing grapes that are both internationally well recognised, as well as those altogether unique to this part of the world. Widely planted Chasselas is possibly the most well-known of these varieties. This white grape – known for its delicate drinkability, medium body, and almost saline, mineral character, makes wines that are the perfect match to a slice of Swiss cheese, or to simply watching lake-life, serenely float by.
More locally known grapes like the red Gamay-like (think Beaujolais) ‘Plant Robert’ offers something fruity and refreshing, especially when it comes served well chilled. This more unusual grape was saved from extinction in the 1960s and has been protected by an association of winegrowers keen to preserve its heritage in Lavaux since 2007. Many wineries are open to the public for tastings, where you might just snap up something altogether taste-bud-tingling-ly different.
If the vines alone don’t suffice in terms of cultural draw to Lausanne, vultures of a more creative kind need no better reminding of what Europe does best in terms of arts-led festivals for a number of other reasons. A recent visit to the city allowed us the chance to see all that this city is best known for. Arriving easily from London on a Friday morning flight, that evening we stumbled across music stages citywide emanating all sorts of sounds (DJs, yodellers, and music more folk in style) with every part of Lausanne society in attendance. This alone was just one of many fabulously put together events happening this summer-solstice weekend. We sadly didn’t have time to make the following evening’s eclectic ‘La nuit des images’ soirée.
Other current exhibitions on in the city include the impressive Lausanne Jardins – a competition realised citywide, every five years, now in its 6th edition. This year the exhibition is operating under the title of ‘Open Ground’, showcasing 31 urban gardens, each designed by a notable landscape gardener and partnering architect. Open until mid-October 2019, this is a brilliant way to discover the city on foot – and one of the more interesting things anyone with an interest in design and landscape architecture might just do all year.
A personal favourite installation of mine in this is La Grande Pimprenelle – an amphitheatre-style space that presents a performance of wild flowers – each one being assigned a specific ‘character’ as if they were protagonists within a grandiose melodrama. The common garden Cerfeuil Sauvage (chervil), for example, is given the moniker of the ‘first love interest’ – ‘seductive with its large sunshades spread out over multiple layers’ it is ‘capable of making you fall head over heels in love, but underground, its roots are dangerous and toxic.’
Included in the travel card are further discounts on other city attractions – Lausanne is replete with history – its Cathedral is home to an organ that boasts 7,000 pipes through which many a concert is conducted, there is plentiful shopping within the pretty Swiss streets, and local craft abounds, mostly through a foodie lens. As someone who, as a child, thought that CH on Swiss number plates stood for ‘CHocolate’ or ‘CHeese’ – the city does not disappoint. Make sure to visit local institutions such as Pinte Besson for seriously good fondue, or revel in the sweet-scented layers of chocolate heaven provided by Blondel or Chocolaterie Läderach.
Lausanne’s final pièce de resistance is possibly the magnificent Olympic Museum. Since 1894, the International Olympic Committee has resided here, and in 1993 a beautifully designed museum opened to celebrate this being the world headquarters. It’s true that near-on nobody wants to spend time inside when there is such a huge lake at easy reach to explore (pedalos over lunchtime come highly recommended), but this is really worth a stop. With collections of memorabilia gathered from all the participating nations within the Olympic family since the modern Games began, the exhibitions here are first rate, and for sappy sops like me, unexpectedly moving.
Certainly a city and an atmosphere worth raising a glass to.
Our Swiss series continues tomorrow as Larry dives into the Fête de Vignerons and takes in the serenity of the beautiful village of Vevey…