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Switzerland Springs A Surprise- Watches, Banking & Cuckoo Clocks; Think Again!

Date Created: 01 April 2012

Postcard One- THE CUCKOO CLUCKS WITH CONTENT

Preparing to leave for Switzerland, I can’t help recalling Orson Welles’s famous speech in the 1949 thriller The Third Man. “In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed — they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” Of course, we all know this isn’t strictly true. The fastidious Swiss are also famous for banking, watches and the cheese fondue. But the last thing I expected to find during an epicurean tour of the Lavaux and Jura region of Switzerland was a bizarre land of delicious surprises.

My introduction to Switzerland’s gourmet traditions begins in Neuchatel, an eminently walkable city dating back to medieval times. Yet although its lakeside charms are legion, I am on a mission to discover Swiss gastronomy. A cruise on the shimmering waters of this Three-Lake region hints at things to come with vineyards, intermittently interrupted by chocolate box villages, clothing every inch of the landscape. Disembarking at the ancient walled city of Neuveville, I explore the cobbled streets to discover medieval towers, colourful houses and an eccentric fountain. Dated1550, it is elaborately decorated with gargoyles and a proud knight astride a small indeterminate animal clutching a musket. If all this isn’t strange enough, lunch at a small restaurant called ‘L’ecole est finie’ turns out to be equally curious.

The owner, Nathalie Degiez, is the number one fan of Swiss singing idol Sheila, whose famous hit, L’ecole est finie (School’s Out), provides the theme for her restaurant. The interior is an amusing homage to primary school days comprising wooden desks, comics and a blackboard. On the tables, instead of flowers, vases are filled with marbles and colouring pencils and the table mats are class photographs featuring Natalie’s regular customers. “Why don’t you send us your class photograph? We’d love to put it on display with the others,” she smiles whilst serving a tasty chicken chasseur.

Local girl Nathalie is a font of local knowledge. I not only learn that Neuveville is home to seven local families dedicated to producing wine on a small scale but one still uses a horse and cart whilst the wife makes collection of ‘vin au feminine’ specifically for women. I’m also told that Switzerland’s most famous grape is the Chasselas. Boasting a neutral character, it is a natural accompaniment to local sausage, ‘palee’ or lake fish and Jura cheese such as Tete de Moins which is always served as lacy curls made with a special implement called a girolle.

That afternoon, I sample both the Chasselas and the Tete de Moins during a rural ride in a horse drawn carriage. But even this seemingly innocuous activity comes with a weird Swiss twist. Up in the mountain region of Franches-Montagnes, where sturdy ponies run free and cattle graze contentedly, I arrive at a remote farm. Joining other revelers, I board a covered wooden carriage drawn by two sturdy horses with bells tinkling on their harness. We are accompanied by jocular chap sporting a fine bristling moustache who plays jolly tunes on an accordion. As we clip clop slowly through lush fields, he opens a picnic basket filled with local specialities. We tuck in as the sun begins to set, a fireball on the horizon, when suddenly, I hear a gun shot. Galloping at breakneck speed towards our carriage come three horses ridden by masked cowboys waving pistols. They ambush our carriage and with theatrical menace demand a ransom, before leaving us laughing at this unexpected comedy turn........

To be continued...

Written by Beverley Byrne.

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