I was exhausted last night and struggled to write my blog before I fell asleep. Hopefully I gave a good impression of the magnificent walk to Pontarlia and the extravagant feast we enjoyed st Buffalo Grill, a USA steakhouse.
This morning we decided to delay the alarm until 6am. We slept very well in the Ibis budget hotel, 57 Euro per room. Our objective today was to get to the first town in Switzerland, St Croix, just 25km. Paul suggested we eat breakfast in the Ibis hotel before departure. You wouldn’t expect much beyond the normal French breakfast of bread, croissants and coffee. We grabbed a tray and the bread etc but beyond these staples was a plethora of cereals, fresh fruit salads, dried fruits, yoghurt, cheese, ham, fruit, pastries and more. Plus a coffee machine which made the best cafe au lait. Why couldn’t any of the other hotels have risen to these standards?
Pontarlia was buzzing as we walked out of town. Shops, shops, shops everywhere. We climbed into the hills past scenic castles towards the Swiss border. But before we reached it there was one more delight. We found ourselves on the absinthe trail. This area produced the distilled, highly alcoholic herbal drink which defined so much of French bohemian culture towards the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Absinthe was banned in most countries by 1915 and it’s only in recent times that production has resumed, following the introduction of new EU laws.
Paul spotted the first distillery, Pernot, and marched in, sniffing the air in expectation. Annabelle came to meet us in the reception and I asked her if it would be possible to have a tour. I wasn’t too hopeful. Two gentlemen of the road wanting a tour of an absinthe distillery? However Annabelle was so charming in that endearing French way and broke away from her work to show us around the distillery and the stills, all of which date back to the 19th century. She told us the fascinating story of absinthe and explained why it had been banned.
Pernot (just 7 staff) acquired numerous local recipes and now produces dozens of flavours of absinthe using local herbs from the mountains. But could we taste a sample? Oh dear, yes we could! Out came bottle after bottle. “This one is very special” said Annabelle and down it went. A table top machine dripped water into the spirit to release the flavours. “And here’s a 65% spirit”. Gulp. “This is green absinthe”. “Here is Pontarlia absinthe”. “And here is one that’s very special indeed…”
I was rather taken by it and didn’t get any of the infamous after effects experienced by the great artists of the day. Just the normal one as we staggered out into the sunshine to continue our walk to the border. Thank you Annabelle.
The Swiss border (cover photo) is manned but very low key. There is no need to actually present yourself except to get a stamp on your pilgrim credentials. We walked on and were soon under the care of the Swiss footpath signs indicating the estimated walking times to popular destinations.
Remember The Sound of Music? It has not always been so easy to enter Switzerland. I think about that every time I come here. Of course Europe is criss-crossed with borders that are now largely open and long may that remain.
Paul and I stumbled into St Croix and drank a beer in the little bar by the station. We have not had a rest day since Reims and during the past two weeks we’ve walked many super long distances in difficult conditions. But now it is time for a rest. Paul’s brother lives in Luzern and he collected us from the bar and has taken us to his home for several days R&R. We’ll then return to St Croix to continue our pilgrimage to Rome from that little bar.
Now we all have a well earned break from the blog. When I return, I hope you’ll follow my progress across Switzerland. We’ll walk along the shores of Lake Geneva past the UNESCO listed vineyards to Montreux and then up the Rhône valley and over the Great St Bernard Pass into Italy.
Lovely climb out of Pontarlia this morning
Inside the Pernot distillery