When you think of Switzerland, images of snowcapped Alps, cows roaming in pastures, and plates a plenty o’ cheese come to mind. Although that is true—and indeed so beautiful—I have to report that fall is an amazing time here as well. The Alps (blah, blah, blah!) get all the praise. Sure they are beautiful, but fall falling in Switzerland is the unsung hero.
On a clear sunny day, there is nothing more beautiful than the Jura Mountains covered with autumn colors. The trees are turning from their vivid green to robust reds and burnt oranges. Not to be outdone by the trees, vineyards are tossing up colors as well. The mix of texture between the rigid rows of vineyards, fullness of the trees, and colors of the two is breathtaking.
My friend Jean co-founded a company that organizes hiking, biking, snow shoeing, skiing—basically anything outside—trips in the Geneva region. Her latest trip, entitled “Walking and Wine” caught my attention. The walk was to take place in the La Côte Wine Region, which is situated between Geneva and Lausanne along Lake Geneva (or Lake Leman as the locals call it). On a clear day, the view is incredible as the burnt umber vineyards are in the foreground, the cool blue waters of Lake Geneva in the middle ground, and Mont Blanc and the Alps in the background.
How could I pass up the opportunity of being lead though a visual postcard, with vineyards, sampling wine, and local goods? Here was the itinerary: walk for a while, have a taste of wine, walk for a while, snack on some stinky cheese, soak in the scenery. I mean, does it get any better? I doubt it.
Jean corralled the hikers—eh, hem, walkers actually—and we set off. The sky had opened up, so it was a beautiful crisp fall day. Our journey started in Begnins where we wound through picturesque streets and quaint cafes. Apparently, Phil Collins used to live in the area and loved to frequent one of the local establishments. How cool would it have been to share a fondue with Phil while singing, “Sussudio?” Remember that song? “Su-Su-Sussudio … could you please pass the bread?”
Soon we found ourselves out of Begnins and surrounded by vineyards. Most of the grapes were already harvested, but a few still hung heavy on the lower vines. The rows of vines were that golden color that leaves turn—there is no exact color for it, but it is so beautiful. And it smelled of fall as well. What do you call that smell? It’s so crisp and fresh and brings back fall memories of football games, raking leaves, bonfires, and s’mores. A sensory postcard!
The rows of vineyards escorted us to our first stop, a winery in Luins. There, the proprietor showed our group the wine vats and let us sample the local specialties. Many of our group tasted the first fermentation, which was much sweeter than the final product. We even saw how the grapes were pressed—no, there was no woman stomping on the grapes Lucile Ball style, but rather a huge metal machine. The drum of the machine rotated and the fresh juice dribbled out. The grapes were picked that morning and we sampled them just a few hours later.
It was interesting to learn that many of the farmers in the La Côte Wine Region only farmed small, postage-stamp-sized plots of land. This particular farmer had only thirteen hectors (1 hector is 2.258 acres), but grew thirteen different varieties of grapes. I asked a fellow hiker how they survive on such small plots of land. Apparently, the government heavily subsidizes the farmers through taxes.
The word on the street is that for every Swiss child’s education that you are subsidizing, you are also subsidizing three cows in the field. To recap: one child equals three cows. Solid Swiss stats! The subsidies are really a way of preserving the culture, which I can’t say I argue with. It’s not like you can get around paying the taxes, so I figure you might as well enjoy it. It’s so incredible to walk through the vineyards, the vines turning colors and producing their sweet fruit––I’m incredibly happy that it is preserved. Yes, taxes are high, but so is Heaven!
Our journey continued with a stop in Vinzel for a cheese delicacy called a malakoff. This little cheese beauty consists of a piece of bread and stinky cheese, which is battered and deep-fried. Served with a mini-gherkin and a few pickled pearl onions, these specialties are something to behold. Seriously, if I counted Weight Watchers points, these would be about ten million. When you bite into a malakoff, the warm cheese oozes out, making it a perfect frigid temperature treat. Except, similar to fondue, one should not drink water after it or the cheese just forms a big ball in your stomach. I found that out the hard way—a little tip from me to you.
Something interesting to note is that there is a dispute between the two neighboring towns of Luins and Vinzel as to who invented the malakoff. I guess it’s a bitter rivalry too. Jean and I had visions of one town sabotaging the other town’s cheese stock for the year, rendering the malakoff totally defunct for the season. We could see the headlines: “Local Man Accused of Adding Bacteria to Luin’s Cheese: Malakoffs Ruined!” Maybe it was the wine and balls of cheese talking, but we were in stitches!
Our merry band of walkers headed on to our final destination of Bursins. This is a serious wine tasting route, with twenty-six wineries en route. We saw many testers with glasses in a sling—an official “tasters” contraption that enabled the glass to swing freely while the taster walked to the next stop. Worn around your neck, it was really a fashion statement … and a testament to one’s dedication to tasting. A small train also wound around the paved paths between the caveaux. Towards the end of the walk, that train looked pretty tempting.
The last stop brought a tasting in a dark cavernous establishment. The woman in charge poured samples with ease. She also brandished a special key to allowed lucky tasters to sample wines that were fermenting. A mini-tap was opened with the magic key and samplers enjoyed the new wines, called Bourru.
As we wound our way back to Begnins, our bellies full and our feet getting tired, it couldn’t be argued that experiencing the mix of sun, crisp air, fall foliage, and wine was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Never miss a “Stories from The Land of Cheese” column again. Just click on the author’s name at the top of the story, then select “Be notified when writer publishes” at the top of the page. We’ll send you an email as soon as a new column is published.
Related Story: Cowpie in the Sky: Stories from the Land of Cheese