Posted By : HHLifestyleTravel
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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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.