Winter Switzerland is well loved and admired for its snow-capped mountains and ski slopes, but the summer also has its charm.
When you travel to the country in May or June, ski gears aren't needed, yet you will see snow still on top of many mountains. The white patches hanging over a predominant green make awe-inspiring views - a real treat for hikers and bikers.
Also, if you are in Switzerland on the right weekends of summer, you will be able to taste the nation’s finest wines at various festivals. And best of all: some of them are free.
Yes, you've heard that right. You can drink wines and eat the pairing food at no cost. Considering that Swiss wines are excellent, the free tag is not to be missed.
We all know that Switzerland is expensive. 15 euros for a 30-minute train journey, 4 euros for the three-stop bus ride and 65 euros for a light breakfast for two (with a view) - those are just a few examples of how pricey a Swiss holiday was for us.
When our friends, who live in Vevey by Lake Geneva, told us about the free wine tasting, we couldn’t quite believe them. We took their suggestion, nevertheless and found ourselves in vineyards drinking one glass after another. It was fantastic, and it was all free!
So if you are interested, here what you need to know:
During the last weeks of May or the first weeks of June, many caves welcome visitors to taste their wine. The Swiss calls it "Caves Ouvertes," an open cellar event participated by most producers in a region or a Canton.
In some regions, it's a large-scale festival with free shuttle buses running from one village to another. Visitors can buy a glass for CHF15 at the information centre and get a map of all participating vineyards in the region. You then go around and taste all the wine without having to pay anything.
We went to the Caves Ouvertes des Vins in du Valais in the last week of May this year.
When the bus dropped us off in one of the villages in Valais, it was early afternoon of a scorching day. The sun was high and bright in the sky. We had to hurry into the first cellar we found to get away from the heat. Though it's not an actual cave dug into the ground, the air was cold, and the light was dim.
As soon as we sat down at one empty table, a man came to talk to us. Then they brought out the first wine, some food, and then more wine. All were pretty decent.
After a series of glasses spreading from white to red, I started to feel like I should go for a walk, so we left after thanking the host. The air was still hot, but we strolled along lush grapevines nesting under mighty mountains both tipsy and merry.
In the second cellar, we had a table in the garden, overlooking vines on slopes. A bit further stood a mountain range in a dark shade of green.
Though the hostess didn't speak much English and we not much French, we somehow managed to go through the whole menu from the driest white to some full-body red.
Each time a bottle of wine was brought out, the hostess explained what went in it, the type of grape, the barrel material, the age, etc.
You try one after another, and if you like anything, you can get a bottle right there or fill in an order form. If you don’t find anything special, there is no pressure at all to buy.
Swiss wine, in general, is delicate and light, as there is not as much sun as in some parts of France or Spain. One hardly finds Swiss wines outside Switzerland, though, as they don't make enough for the Swiss (or it could be that their bottles are rather expensive compared to the average income in most countries in the world).
As far as the cost goes, such an open-cellar weekend is a great chance to taste wine from bottles that you might not buy for an everyday occasion. Besides, we found the whole thing a good excuse to have a fun day, out and about in the countryside of beautiful Switzerland.
Here are more logistic details if you are serious about experiencing the open cellar weekends.
First, you want to find a place to stay. Lake Geneva would be a great place to find affordable accommodation. As Valais and Vaud produces a third and a quarter of Swiss wines respectively, the areas around Lake Geneva are bustling with wine enthusiasts in the summer.
From a place around Lake Geneva, you can easily find a village and many vineyards within an hour drive (if you have a designated driver who doesn’t drink). Alternatively, you can take public transport to the nearest village then use the free shuttle bus which runs around, chauffeuring all the merry visitors.
Lake Geneva is absolutely stunning. You should see it if you are already in the region. Better yet, take a swim or two. There are also many of hiking trails nearby for nature lovers so you can make your trip whole.
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