Dennis Lapuyade describes Vevey in Switzerland and the Fête des Vignerons, attended last weekend by none other than our very own Julia Harding MW. The Fête continues until 11 August, and then recommences in 2039… You can find links to all the other articles in this series in Writing competition 2019 – latest.
Do you adore Las Vegas-style glitz, the pageantry of an Olympic Games ceremony or the contortionist acrobatics of the Cirque de Soleil? Maybe you relish active participation in your chosen spectacle and the Carnival in Rio or Mardi Gras in New Orleans are more to your liking. Well, what if I told you there's a bit of each of these events in the Fête des Vignerons in Vevey, Switzerland. Would you believe me? Would you believe this insanely costumed affair is a must for medievalists looking for a party?
You better, because the artistic director of this event, Daniele Finzi Pasca, and his collaborator, Hugo Gargiulo, know how to throw a good one. They are veteran producers of Olympic Games ceremonies in Turin and Sochi, of various Cirque du Soleil venues and of many operas around the world. This year's Fête will do much more than just fluff-up their résumés.
Much as I'd love to comment on the events inside the Arena, others have done it much better than I can. Besides, what interests me most are the possibilities for food and drink on the outside.
Here is a list of the best I found.
Baronnie du Dézaley
My first priority on arrival was to scope out the scene and to observe the comings-and-goings of staff and public alike, but, most importantly, to find a crisp Chasselas to cool my brow on a hot day. Accordingly, I bivouacked at the strategically placed Baronnie du Dézaley pop-up, where, as chance would have it, a number of Chasselas stalwarts, 11 of them, were pouring their top cuvées, heavyweight Dézaleys from the likes of Luc Massy, the Frères Dubois and Louis Bovard were on rotation with the wines from other members in close pursuit. Costumed participants awaiting their turn in the Arena gave the bar a Star Wars Cantina vibe. It all seemed so odd, and for the bedazzled tourists, so Swiss.
On the day I visited I enjoyed an excellent, slightly custardy Epesses from Antoine Bovard and a minerally, slightly reductive Dézaley from the Famille Fonjallaz. Both were well chilled and thirst-quenching.
The menu is not particularly ambitious. There's some good cheese and charcuterie but nothing that isn't available elsewhere. The real value of this place is the scene, the wine, and the opportunity to collect oneself before making plans for a later meal.
Baronnie du Dézaley Ruelle des Anciens-Fossés 1, Vevey 1800 (no phone)
Not far from the Arena and steps away from the Place du Marché is one of the best wine bars in Switzerland, Kavo. As befits the once-in-a-generation Fête — and in addition to its usual eclectic offerings — Kavo is highlighting a unique pair of older vintages each day of the Fête. All of them are iconic Swiss wines that have long since been off the market. A visit on each day of the event would net you a Swiss wine education that would be impossible to obtain anywhere else.
On my visit a 2010 and 2016 Bondola Nonu Mario from Azienda Mondo of Ticino were on offer. Other pairs included a 1998 and 1999 Dézaley, Haut de Pierre from Blaise Duboux, a 2005 and 2015 Sauvignon from Domaine les Hutins in Geneva, a 2002 and 2014 Pinot Noir, Gian-Battista from Weinbau von Tscharner, and a 2010 and 2016 Completer from Weingut Hermann in Fläsch. A single rarity and special release, the 2003 Plant Rhin (Sylvaner) in magnum from Domaine Mermetus, was also available one of the days. I'm actually gutted I missed most of these.
The menu here is small, and better for noshing than dining, but locavores are more than happy as each item on the plate is listed with its supplier and ultimate source.
Kavo Vins et Terroirs Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau 5, Vevey 1800; tel +41 21 921 24 25
One of Switzerland's most dynamic, post-modern bistronomists, Benjamin Luzuy, operates Tandem, a trendy, energetic eatery in a relaxed California style. Dishes are simple and somewhat spare but the cooking is spot-on and a nice break from the heavier style of Swiss cookery. I loved the explosion of clean, ingredient-respecting flavours and the unselfconscious placement of exotic flourishes.
The wine offerings are of a natural bent, with a fine selection of wines by the glass. On my visit I enjoyed two biodynamically-grown whites from Vaud, a kinky Pinot Blanc from La Maison du Moulin and a salty Chasselas from Domaine des Faverges. For my excellent breaded and pan-fried breast of chicken, I opted for a luscious Gamay from the inventive Domaine Mermetus in nearby Aran-Villette. Selections from Italy, France and Spain round out the offerings.
Tandem offers a daily changing menu of impeccably sourced ingredients and is open Tuesday-Saturday through the Fête. There is a lovely patio for al fresco dining and a cosy, sleekly modern interior that allows the food to shine.
Tandem Quai de la Veveyse 8, Vevey 1800 ; tel +41 21 552 30 21
Auberge de l'Onde
This classic auberge, a favourite of long-time resident Charlie Chaplin, is located in the picturesque village of St-Saphorin under the direction of one of Switzerland's most celebrated sommeliers, Jérôme Ake Beda. It has become a shrine for Swiss wine, in particular for Chasselas, which Jérôme highlights on his exhaustive wine list. He can recommend a Chasselas for any occasion and for any dish with a beautifully curated selection of local wines, many from St-Saphorin, and many classic older vintages. Jérôme will tell you Chasselas needs a bit of time to show its best.
This is a great place to relax with the wine list, while you decide upon one of the three menu options chosen for the Fête. During the festivities the upstairs Rôtisserie and the downstairs Brasserie operate as one. Particularly noteworthy are the grilled meats which are cooked over an oakwood fire.
Auberge de l'Onde Chemin Neuf 2, St-Saphorin 1071; tel +41 21 925, 49 00
Le Pont de Brent
For a more old-school experience this Michelin two-star restaurant is located in the nearby village of Brent. The restaurant is unique in that chef Stéphane Décotterd and his wife Stéphanie eschew imported products in favour of locally-sourced ingredients. You won't find oysters or lobster from the Atlantic or exotic fruit from Africa or Asia, but you will find saffron from nearby Vuillens, flour from Échallens, snails from Palézieux, mushrooms from nearby forests, and local game in season. Lake fish such as fera and perch abound and are prepared in a number of ways. Beef, pork, lamb and fowl are sourced from nearby farms, as are the vegetables. Needless to say, this bounty of ingredients is expertly and inventively handled with service that befits a fine dining experience.
The restaurant is offering a shuttle service to and from the Arena and a special menu timed to coincide with the festivities.
Le Pont de Brent Route de Blonay 4, Brent 1817; tel +41 21 964 52 30
The Alimentarium Museum, located on the Quai Perdonnet, is housed in a century-old patrician residence clad in yellow limestone. In a previous life it was headquarters for the Nestlé Corporation. The site is well worth a visit as it's the only food-related museum of its kind in the world, with a permanent display of historical cookware and gadgets and temporary exhibits with an emphasis on food, nutrition and health.
There are also two dining alternatives inside the museum: one is a cafe that is perfect for a casual breakfast or afternoon tea and the other is a restaurant with a casual menu set in a relaxed space with handy take-away options.
Nestlé has constructed an outdoor terrace located on the Quai, directly across from the museum for use during the Fête. There you will find a daily buffet and a weekend buffet brunch that is ideal for families and larger groups. The offerings here are a bit corporate and impersonal, especially next to my other recommendations, but the facilities are convenient and the setting is first-rate.
Alimentarium Quai Perdonnet 25, Vevey 1800 +41 21 924 41 11
Les Terrasses de la Confrérie
This is a multi-level gathering place and reception area for the Arena and other festival activities located at the south end of the Arena. There are a number of casual dining options, bars and lounges, all with a spectacular view of the lake. I sought it out for the free wine tastings offered daily by the wine associations of each canton, organised by Swiss Wine. On my visit knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff happily poured samples from the canton of St Gallen. Check with the festival guide for a schedule of tastings. I recommend the Terrasses as an interim stop for resting between forays to the outside.
Not to be overlooked are the numerous food stalls including some excellent sausages, burgers, wraps, crèpes, and several Middle Eastern specialists. Craft beers and the Fête's own wines are available at many of them. This Restaurant Row runs the length of the Quai Perdonnet along the lakefront. The views from the tables provided are amazing, as many of the families I saw seated there will attest. See below.