If you consider yourself a true oenophile, then don’t miss the Fête des Vignerons—a 222-year-old festival that comes around once every 20 years.
The special event—which was awarded the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage status in 2016—will return this summer on July 18 to August 11, featuring elaborate shows, wine tastings, live music, parades and costume parties.
Before you get your next ticket to Bordeaux, Barolo or Napa, get this: the festival that’s expected to attract a million visitors won’t be hosted at the usual famous wine destinations. Instead, it will take place at Vevey—a quiet Swiss town with about 19,500 residents.
For those wondering why, it’s because Vevey is where the Confrérie des Vignerons (also known as the Brotherhood of Winegrowers) started the festival in 1797—as a celebration of the region’s wine winegrowers. It’s also right “in the middle of Switzerland’s famed Lavaux vineyard terraces, a UNESCO World Heritage site that dates to wine-making monks in the Middle Ages,” noted National Geographic.
What began as a one-day feast gradually became a lot more elaborate—thanks to the local wine industry’s growing success and people’s love of spectacle. In 2019, some of the festival’s major highlights include 20 vine-themed performances featuring 5,500 local actors and volunteers; a two-and-a-half hour inaugural show directed by Cirque du Soleil’s former artistic director Daniele Finzi Pasca; a 20-scene show detailing a year in the life of the vineyard; and a special “Cent pour Cent” performance with 100 men and women dressed in Swiss guard uniform celebrating gender equality. What’s more, for the first time in the festival’s history, Vevey will be known as the Swiss capital (at least during the festival’s duration) by the special approval of the Swiss Confederation.
All the spectacle aside, let’s not forget the wine. The organizers expect to serve 300K to 500K bottles during the 25-day festival, with regional highlights such as Chablais blanc AOC 2017 (a dry and fruity Chasselas), Lascaux rouge AOC 2017 (a full and wooded Pinot Noir), Chablais rouge AOC 2017 (a fruity and easy-to-drink Pinot Noir) and a “Dézaley Grand Cru” (a premium white wine) from Lavaux.
Overall, it takes 7,300 people and ten years to put together this over-the-top festival. According to Marie-Jo Valente—Communication and Media director Fête des Vignerons 2019—the biggest challenge is the initial planning. Given how security, transportation and communication change drastically in 20 years, there’s really no frame of reference from previous festivals. Whether it’s creating special offers through partnerships with Swiss tourist organizations, hotels, railway company or Swiss international airlines; or building temporary structures such as restaurants, lake view terraces and bars, “Everything has to start from scratch.”
Now, if you want to check this out, there are ways to make your trip better. Having worked in the area since 1995 (four years before the last Fête des Vignerons), Sylvie Gonin—Head Concierge at the Beau-Rivage Palace in Lausanne—recommends wearing sunglasses and a hat during the day, and bring binoculars for a better view of the shows. If you want to escape from the crowds, consider staying further away in Lausanne (only 30 minutes from Vevey), which boasts excellent hotel options such as Chateau d’Ouchy and Lausanne Palace.
Travel wise, getting to Vevey by car will be difficult, so take the train or a scenic route by boat instead—you’ll get a beautiful glimpse of the Laveaux vineyard landscapes along the way. Just make sure you book your tickets ahead. And plan some free time wandering around Vevey, enjoying the festivities and exploring local attractions such as Lake Geneva plus various museums.
I’m a freelance food and luxury writer who has contributed to ELLE(Hong Kong), The Knot, the Wall Street Journal Asia, Boca Raton Observer and more. Follow me on twitter @eustaciahuen.