The Absinthe Festival in Switzerland

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Every year in June (for the last 6 years), I have visited the Val-de-Travers for the Fête de l’Absinthe – The Absinthe Festival in Switzerland.  This seems a long way to go for such a specialist subject, but the Val-de-Travers is the birthplace of Absinthe, so it is a bit of a pilgrimage. The joy of the festival is actually the community of passionate absinthe-lovers who congregate there each year – it’s like a convention.
 

Absinthe Fountain - Absinthe Festival - HH Lifestyle Travel

 
Absinthe has a mystique that has kept people curious across the centuries – from it’s conception in Couvet, Switzerland in 1792; to the prohibition which began in it’s native land in 1910 and then spread to many other countries in the world. This ban wasn’t lifted in Switzerland until 2005. The mystery surrounding absinthe is proliferated by the boot-legging that kept the secrets of this delicious drink alive! As a proponent of this tipple, I recommend you don’t get drawn into all the myths of absinthe – it’s not deadly, you won’t see green fairies, and you most definitely should NOT set it (or the sugar) on fire! Come to the Val-de-Travers one year, and discover it for yourself.
 

Les Preisettes Absinthe Festival - HH Lifestyle Travel

 

Logistics

 
Now, time for the logistics of getting to the Absinthe Festival. We fly into Geneva – it’s a super easy 2 hour train ride or drive up into the hills.  The Swiss roads are a pleasure to drive on and if you have a party of people travelling the car hire is cheaper than the train (£70 return for the train, £150-200 for the weekend for car hire/petrol).  The drive up into the hills is spectacular, especially the view of the Creux du Van you get on your way up the valley.
 

Creux du vin - Absinthe Festival - HH Lifestyle Travel

 



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Where to stay

 
Couvet is the centre of proceedings – with the Hotel de l’Aigle accommodating the masses (more accommodation can be found in Motiers, Fleurier, Buttes and also over in Pontarlier), and providing amazing food and drink, and a lovely patio to enjoy it on!  Across the road from the hotel is the Artémisia-Bugnon Distillery – home of La Clandestine absinthe (amongst others).  Claude-Alain Bugnon plays host to a group of us on the Friday afternoon before our usual fondue dinner (at one of the many hilltop auberges).  The Friday night usually ends with a beer party in the hotel carpark.
 

Artemisia Distillery - Absinthe Festival - HH Lifestyle Travel
Auberge in the Val de Travers - Absinthe Festival - HH Lifestyle Travel

 

The Festival

 
Recently, the layout of the festival has changed – from a shindig in Boveresse (named the ‘Fête de l’Absinthe’), to the new format called ‘Absinthe en Fête’ (absinthe party). Rather than everyone descending on the small village of Boveresse, many of the distilleries in the valley will have ‘open cellars’ and you will use the valley train and extra shuttles so that you can visit lots of distilleries in a day. It’s a bit like an absinthe pub crawl, but with way better scenery!
 
Restaurants will also put on special absinthe dishes – you can see a list here. The drying sheds in Boveresse are open for viewing and show how the precious wormwood is dried ready for inclusion in the absinthe.
 

Fête de l'absinthe, Boveresse - Absinthe Festival - HH Lifestyle Travel

 

Other activities

 
Other activities include a visit to Môtiers, to see the Maison de l’Absinthe (Absinthe Museum); a spot of lunch at the marvellous Les Six Communes restaurant, and a visit to distiller Christophe Racine’s absinthe shop – a great half day of activities on its own.
 
A visit to one of the many secret fountains in the hills is a must. The locals will tell you where to find one. Sitting in the forest, louching your absinthe from a mountain spring, it is quite the most gorgeous thing!
 

Fountain - Absinthe Festival - HH Lifestyle Travel

 
If there is time, visits to the Pernod factory and to Pontarlier’s Guy distillery are a must for absinthe fans. We had a wonderful tour of the Guy distillery and private museum on our last visit – and the distillery tasting room and shop is divine!
 

Guy distillery - Absinthe Festival - HH Lifestyle Travel

 
The Absinthe Festival/Party in Switzerland is a truly lovely weekend of great food, drink and company!
 

Check out our adventures at the Fête de la Musique here.

 

All photos & content © Hannah Henderson and may not be used without permission (sharing this blog post is fine, though!). Images shot with a Canon DSLR T3i Rebel + Canon EF 35-80mm f/4-5.6 III; and an iPhone.

 



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14 Comments

  • Odile churchward says:

    Great blog hannah – bookmarked it.

    We always look forward to your visit with the Edinburgh absinthe club (gang) x

  • I also grew up the legend of absinthe being deadly and actually tried it for the first time only in my 30s…such a shame as I also love it. It’s available in good bars now, but is still not that common here in india…

    Maybe I need to plan a trip to it’s birthplace…BTW I had no idea it originally came from switzerland!

  • I didn’t know there was such an event as the Absinthe Festival, what a fun thing to attend! As you say, Absinthe has such a fascinating history and reputation but these days it’s a perfectly safe drink. Couvet looks like a lovely place to visit in its own right, and a beautiful spot to explore. I’m particularly drawn to the idea of special absinthe dishes in restaurants!

  • My friend visited Europe when we were younger and brought back a bottle of Absinthe. It was good and we didn’t see green fairies. Switzerland has long been somewhere I have wanted to visit. Now I guess I will have to time my visit for the Absinthe Festival.

  • Funny how certain things become ‘taboo’. I’d guess it was poor quality bootlegging that helped absinthe get a bad rap? But switzerland must have had some hard evidence to have waited until 2005 to lift its ban. Fascinating history, glad to see absinthe is now back with a vengeance… and a ‘pub crawl’. 😀

    • HHLifestyleTravel says:

      It was mostly due to poor quality Czech ‘absinthes’ that gave it a bad rep. The real stuff bootlegged by the Swiss (despite the ban) were rather lovely! The bans took ages to lift because of misconception and scaremongering!

  • Isha Jatak says:

    Great post, thank you for sharing…

  • Medha Verma says:

    Haha, I had no idea that there were such strange myths about absinthe – seeing green fairies! But it does hit you hard, you have to accept that. i am not very fond of absinthe to be honest, the smell itself is so potent and one shot for me is enough to take me down. having said that, i am quite INTRIGUED that they actually have a festival (like a beer festival) in switzerland! absinthe pub crawl might not be the worst thing though i am not sure i will actually last it!

    • HHLifestyleTravel says:

      Did you know that it shouldn’t be served as a shot? It needs to be watered down (louched) and once tripled in size, it is only about the strength of a strong glass of red wine! It has a bad rep due to bad quality non-absinthes proliferated in Czechia etc – but these are not absinthe – so what you had probably wasn’t the real stuff! This is very common. The absinthe festival would be a great place to discover the real absinthes 🙂

  • Nisha says:

    I shall be honest and say Absinthe is not a drink of my choice. It is an acquired taste and I have not acquired it 🙂 🙂 Having said that a festival dedicated to absinthe seems to be a lot of fun and merits one visit definitely. 🙂 It is interesting to note that Absinthe was prohibited till as late as 2005!

  • I had no idea that the Val-de-Travers is the birthplace of Absinthe – for some reason I thought it was in Prague. Thanks for the heads up on the festival – sounds interesting and will definitely keep Boveresse in mind if we’re in Switzerland at the right time in future.

  • I lived in Switzerland for many years and never knew that absinthe originated there. For some reason, I always thought that it was french. I am pretty certain that I will not be visitng the festival, but I enjoyed reading this. Thanks for an interesting post.

  • I love your idea of an absinthe pilgrimage. I’ve visited an absinthe bar in France but I had no idea that Switzerland was the birthplace of absinthe! I also didn’t know there was a festival dedicated to it. A visit to the Absinthe museum and a distillery would truly round off the trip.

  • Paige says:

    What a cool festival. I’ve only had absinthe (in a bar) in new Orleans and they definitely set both the sugar and the absinthe on fire. I had no I dea I was doing it wrong this whole time! This sounds like quite the absinthe journey.

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