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Postcard Two - Charlie

Date Created: 02 April 2012

....It’s no wonder Charlie Chaplin, amongst many other creative artists including Graham Greene, Oscar Kokoshka and James Mason, chose this slightly surreal country to be their home. Chaplin lived and died in Vevey, near Lausanne, and his statue overlooks the shimmering waters of Lake Geneva. At Poyet, a celebrated chocolate shop, the owner and master chocolatier Daniel Peter has created a homage to Vevey’s famous resident. In consultation with Chaplin’s family and his son Eugene in particular, M. Peter devised a delicious chocolate made in the shape of the comedian’s trademark boot. Comical, yet tantalising on the tongue, these quirky chocolates certainly put a smile on my face.

Vevey is also home to the dramatic Chillon Castle, the setting of Byron’s poem, The Prisoner of Chillon - and Alimentarium. This may sound like a gastric condition but it’s actually a food museum and all round scoffer’s guide. With the help of Roberta, a most informative guide, I’m introduced to a series of imaginative displays and tableaux illustrating myriad foody facts. In the history of cutlery, for example, I learn that a knife was originally a weapon which when placed on a table signified the owner came in peace. And, as is often found in France today, the tines of a fork were traditionally laid downwards to prevent them damaging flouncy lace sleeves and cuffs. From health to food production and history, the museum is packed with activities and demonstrations explaining the preparation, techniques and cultural aspects of nutrition.

Vevey is obviously a town with an appetite for the good things in life and they don’t do things by half. To celebrate its wine-growing traditions and culture, the Confrérie des Vignerons (Brotherhood of Winegrowers) organise a Winegrowers' Festival – Fete des Vignerons - which only occurs four or five times each century, roughly one per generation. On those occasions an arena for 16,000 spectators is built in the marketplace, the Grande Place, which is the second-biggest marketplace in Europe after Lisbon.

Switzerland’s vast range and variety of wines is one of its best kept secrets. The wines of the Lavaux region, in particular, have recently contributed to the region being recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The serene beauty of the Lavaux landscape is captivating. Small vineyards clinging to the hillside above the cobalt blue waters of Lake Geneva give the impression of a mathematically arranged patchwork quilt. It is said that three suns shine on the vines, the sun in the sky, the sun’s rays reflected off the surface of the lake and the heat of the sun which is stored in the stone walls during the day which continue to warm the vines during the night. A vineyard trail offers an opportunity to appreciate the landscape and stop off on the way to visit grand houses, vaulted cellars and local restaurants. My day begins with a wine tasting hosted by Myriam Broggi-Praz. A former skiing teacher who is now an award winning sommelier, her pioneering approach to wine tasting includes examining the varied soil found in this region to discover ‘the geology revealed in the wine’. Passing round samples of rock and earth, she urges me to sniff and touch before tasting the wine created from that particular area. It is an unusual yet educational approach and soon I think I can detect a ‘strict Protestant wine’ from a grand cru Dezaley. “Our wines,” concludes Madame Broggi-Praz, “are like the Swiss people themselves; serious, neutral and reserved.”

Looking back over my idosyncratic stay in Switzerland, her words ring in my ears. During the last last few days, I’ve been back to school, held up by masked raiders, eaten frilly cheese and a chocolate shaped like a boot. The Swiss - serious, neutral and reserved? You must be joking. For more information www.MySwitzerland.com

Written by Beverley Byrne.

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