A fabulous festival to remember

July 31, 2019, No comments

It’s big, it’s bright and it’s brilliant. Switzerland has plenty of festivals but none quite like the Fête des Vignerons. Not because it involves 5,500 performers. Nor because it only happens once every generation. But simply because it’s an amazing spectacle of colour, song and life – all to celebrate the winegrowers of the region.

Every 20 years or so since 1797 this unforgettable festival of wine takes over the town of Vevey beside Lake Geneva. For almost a month the town buzzes with thousands of visitors who come for the show, and the food, wine and stalls along the lakeshore. A temporary arena fills the vast market square, and this year it’s bigger than ever, with room for 20,000 spectators.

You can visit the stalls and taste the wines without a ticket but the show isn’t free – this is Switzerland, after all. In fact, it is quite pricey (ranging from 140 to 360 francs), which is probably why there were a few empty seats, sadly. But you won’t get another chance to see it for the next twenty years, and it’s a community event par excellence as the performers are all locals. So what do you get for your money?

The short answer is a show that is as great as any Olympic opening ceremony, full of splendid costumes and beautiful music but with some lovely Swiss touches, such as a cow parade serenaded by 36 alphorns. Over the course of nearly three hours, it tells the story of a year in a vineyard, with each season brought to life. The high-tech set with its giant LED floor and moving parts adds to the overall effect.

Some parts take a while to work out (especially if you don’t speak French), such as the hundreds of playing cards. With the suits changed to frost, sun, leaves and grapes, they apparently symbolise the element of luck involved in making wine. Others are very clear, such as the vivid carousel horses or the arrival of summer.

The musical highlight is the Ranz des vaches, a traditional song that has been part of the festival for 200 years. When you hear it echo round the arena, especially the chorus sung by 850 singers, you will get goosebumps. Lastly, all 5,500 performers fill the arena for an exuberant goodbye.

The Fête runs until 11 August with shows every day except on 7 August. Daytime shows are generally cheaper than the evening ones, but remember to bring a hat and sun cream: it’s hot sitting there for three hours! Tickets can be booked directly on the Fête website.

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