5,500 actors, 20,000 spectators, an open-air arena of 14,000 m2, and 21 performances. This year is the year of the marvelous Fête des Vignerons in Switzerland and people from all over the world are joining the Swiss in celebrating wine culture and nature!
Summer calls for beaches, open air cinema, picnics, barbeques and everything under the sun. Switzerland- a secret garden nestled in the Alps finding its place within a jigsaw of lakes, rivers and vineyards. Summer in Switzerland would be all things wonderful merging with all things magical.
And this year, summer is a bit more special. This year the Fête de Vignerons takes place in Switzerland- an exclusive wine festival that happens once a generation! Organised by the Brotherhood of Winegrowers, this celebration, unique in the world, takes place once in twenty years in Vevey, a town situated in the canton of Vaud, Switzerland. It is the first living Swiss tradition to have been recognised by UNESCO.
So what is the Fête de Vignerons and why must one visit it?
A festival, a heritage and long standing tradition passed down from generation to generation since the 18th century. This extraordinary event unites the entire Switzerland to celebrate winegrowers, and agricultural, artisanal and folkloric traditions of the mountains.
Centuries ago a Brotherhood of Winegrowers, known as The Confrérie des Vignerons, was formed for the proper maintenance of the vines of its members. In 1797, to encourage the art of wine-growing and acknowledge the winegrowers for the quality of their work, the Brotherhood decided to award the best wine growers through a ceremony – The Fête de Vignerons. Dancers, street performers, musicians, artists all participated in a parade followed by a coronation ceremony for the best wine grower.
The market place of the little town of Vevey was transformed into an extravagant affair. The success led to the festival becoming a tradition that takes place every 20 years to celebrate farmers, labourers, seasons, agriculture and heritage as the townspeople come together to pay homage to Bacchus, god of wine, and Ceres, goddess of grain and harvest. Over the years, the festival has grown in size and popularity yet the traditional values remain preserved. This year marks the twelfth edition of the fête and from 18 July to 11 August, the Winegrowers Festival will transform Vevey into an open-air extravaganza.
The highlight of the festival is a show or Le Spectacle as it is called. Watch 5,500 artists come together to tell the story of life in a vineyard through a series of 21 scenes, each more exciting than the other. Set against the Lake Geneva, the marketplace of Vevey is converted into an open air arena that seats 20,000 spectators, giving every person in the audience a panoramic visual experience. A magnificent story telling of the relationship between man and nature, the three hour spectacle is a magical delight awakening all senses.
Through a dialogue between little Julie and her grandfather we are taken on a journey that begins and ends with harvest season in the vineyards. It includes the life of man, insects, birds, animals, flowers, vines through summer, autumn, social gatherings, celebrations, autumn and finally winter. It recognizes the role of farmers, animals and nature to come together to create magic! A circle of life.
At the heart of the show is the coronation of the winegrowers. The narration offered by Julie and her grandpa sets stage for each spectacle as the old man introduces the child (and the audience) to various traditions and the work of winegrowers. What enhances the show to another level is the background score. The music, sound effects and the live choir stimulates the show.
The ensemble of performers, musicians, actors and special effects is brought to life on a massive LED floor of the arena. The digital floor is part of each performance in a special way, the performers’ act and the floor are synchronized to give a surreal visual to the audience. What is striking is how inclusive the show is, the performers included children, adults, seniors, men, women, physically challenged and basically everyone. The spectacle would easily give the Cirque du Soleil shows a run for their money! It takes immense preparation to pull off an event of this magnitude, as a commitment to the traditions of its home country, this year the official airlines of Switzerland, Swiss sponsored the festival.
While the show is the highlight of the 25 day festival, don’t miss out on savouring the local delicacies. Winegrowers from neighbouring vineyards bring their wines to the festival; farmers and cheese-makers come to the town to sell their local produce and give visitors a taste of homegrown flavours. The blue lake waters of the lake in the backdrop provide a picturesque setting for this very local yet international festival.
The modest town of Vevey, located at the heart of the viticultural region of Lavaux, is easy to get to. The quickest way to get to the festival would be to take a flight to Geneva and then a one hour train to Vevey. Alternatively, you can fly into other Swiss cities and take the local trains to Vevey. Additional trains have been added to bring visitors to the Fête des Vignerons.
It is amazing to see people come in flocks from all over the world to watch, join and celebrate the festival of wines. You may think that a festival that happens once in twenty years can be easy to forget- attend the festival you will have the spectacle etched in your mind and this will be a trip to remember for life!