Tag Archives: culture

If you’re after raclette in Verbier, then get to Le Châble in September!

This past weekend Le Chable hosted its annual Raclette Festival, a celebration timed to co-incide with the descent of the local cows from their summer-time pastures up in the alpine, to settle, for the oncoming winter, in the lower meadows of the valley. For a small town, Le Chable sure knows how to throw a party!

Raclette, derived from the French word racler meaning “to scrape”, is both a type of cow’s milk cheese and a dish, indigenous to Valais. It’s a deliciously simple concept: a wheel of raclette is cut in half and the open cheese held over a wood fire or grill for a few minutes allowing it to begin melting. This delectable layer of raclette is then scraped off on to a plate and served alongside baby potatoes, pickled onions and gherkins, and is best accompanied by a glass of locally produced fendant.

Le Chable was bursting at the seams for the weekend and it seems that no one was prepared to miss out on this eating and drinking fiesta. With rivalling dairies set up for raclette production in numerous stalls around the town square, benches and tables lining the road, and an enormous marquee erected for live entertainment and further seating, the town was ready for the onslaught. Old and young, local and foreigner, immersed themselves in the merry-making that continued well in to Saturday and Sunday evenings.

A variety of Swiss musicians kept the atmosphere charged, in particular a talented yodeller from Bern whose tiny frame defied the odds as she belted out songs that won the affection of the crowd. For the children, a display of farm animals, a bouncy castle and a trampoline were on hand. But for most, it was clearly the mouth-watering raclette and local wines that were the reason for staying… and staying some more.

Photographs by Barry Cox.

La Désalpe, return of the mountain cows

The month of September marks the official transition from summer to autumn in the northern hemisphere. Around the world ski movies premier and ski-bums begin to dream of copious face-shots for the season ahead. In the Alps, increasingly ‘wintry’ weather conditions prevail and snow begins to fall and settle in the alpine. Swiss mountain lore dictates  that the time has come for shepherds to drive their cows, who have spent the summer grazing lush highland meadows, toward the sanctuary of the plains and valley bottoms.

The tradition of this procession of shepherds and cows is celebrated with a festival called Désalpe across Switzerland. La Fouly,  a tiny settlement at the dead-end of Val Ferret (a valley on Switzerland’s southern border with France and Italy) is a 45-minute drive south-east from Verbier, and is the local centre for these festivities. It’s a  typically picturesque village surrounded by gothic-looking mountains and imposing glaciers. And, as if on cue for Désalpe, the weather turned overnight from weeks of glorious sunshine and high temperatures to a wet, misty and decidedly cooler day.

After four amazing years in Canada’s western interior it was fantastic to return to Switzerland and, within a week, experience a mountain festival that exudes the culture and history of Europe. Below are a selection of images from the day. Next weekend: the Raclette festival in Le Châble. Just part of the joyous induction back into Swiss life … cheese, and more cheese … wine, and more wine … cows, and more cows!

Photographs by Barry Cox.