A double V, really, as Vevey is in the canton of Vaud, down on beautiful Lake Geneva. Most people have heard of international and UN-centric Geneva, many know of Montreux and its famous jazz festival, some are aware of Lausanne’s cathedral and university, but little Vevey sitting quietly on the shore seems to just be “on the way” to Montreux and the large canton of ski resorts, another V, the Valais (Leysin, Villars, Zermatt, Verbier, Saas-Fee…). Even its coat of arms shows a double V…
However, Vevey would be the place I would choose to go – and not necessarily because milk chocolate was invented here in 1875 (Nestlé’s HQ has been here since 1867 – though it was Fry’s who marketed the first chocolate bar!). Its history goes back to the Romans – they were pretty busy in Switzerland! – and it was known as Viviscus or Vibiscum. The food museum still has a Latin name: Alimentarium.
Locally, the town is probably best known for the Fête des Vignerons, which takes place only every 20-25 years or so – it’s a wine festival, for this is wine-growing country, the Lavaux. Most of the grapes are Chasselas (Fendant wine in the Valais) and the white wines of this area are popular throughout the country – there is little to no export of Swiss wines, which often surprises visitors, as they are excellent. Particularly in conjunction with our traditional cheeses and meats. I’m sure I’ve got one of these still, somewhere – must have a rummage!
When I thought of writing about Vevey, I had MFK Fisher in mind. American readers are more likely to have heard of this foodie than British readers, but her writing is highly recommended. After stints in Dijon and Strasbourg, MFK Fisher spent several pre-war years at Chexbres, above Vevey, which she writes about in an idyllic fashion – only failing finances and her partner’s health forced her to leave (for Berne; in her writing, she calls her partner, Dilwyn Parrish, “Chexbres”), along with the advent of war, and they returned to California. My recommendation of her writing is a volume that contains five of her books, “The Art of Eating” (includes Serve it Forth, Consider the Oyster, How to Cook a Wolf – love that one! – The Gastronomical Me and An Alphabet of Gourmets). (Apparently, this is no longer in print, but available second hand.) The book tells of Fisher’s food history from her unorthodox childhood in early 20th century California, through her discovery and appreciation of European cuisine and how she interpreted it as the century wore on. Delicious!
Having gone to school in Geneva myself, I was made aware that “going to school in Switzerland” had another connotation, that of finishing schools (LOL – mine was not one!), where young ladies’ education was “finished” in the days when real education for women was considered improper. I believe the curriculum was often restricted to cooking, skiing, French and how to set a table – or so they say! This area on Lake Geneva was certainly a popular one for this kind of school and it pops up in literature occasionally, as you may have noticed. However, in Little Women, it is young Laurie whose education is completed at a boarding school in Vevey, where Amy visits on her European tour. For the more literary-minded, Rousseau’s Julie, or the new Heloise is also set here – a novel of passion which made him the first celebrity author! Henry James’ Daisy Miller is partly set in Vevey, and more recently, Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac – so there’s your reading during your peaceful visit as you sit overlooking the lake… …and of course, Charlie Chaplin chose to live near Vevey and is buried here!