This wine festival only happens once every 20 years

The charming Swiss town of Vevey knows how to host a party.

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When it comes to celebrating the noble grape, forget France, Italy, or Spain, it’s the Swiss that really know how to throw a party.

This summer, the quiet town of Vevey tops the oenophile itinerary. Starting on July 18, 2019, and running over three weeks, the village of less than 20,000 will welcome around 400,000 visitors for the Fête des Vignerons, one of the world’s largest—if most infrequent—wine festivals.

Founded in 1797, the festival was initiated by the Confrérie des Vignerons, or Brotherhood of Winegrowers, to promote the region’s wine harvest, one of the area’s largest industries. Over the centuries, the winegrowers’ festival has evolved from a one-day feast into an all-out extravaganza with tastings, live music, parades, costume parties, wine education, and cellar tours.

Thousands of people gather during the 1977 Fête des Vignerons.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ERLING MANDELMANN, GAMMA-RAPHO VIA GETTY IMAGES

While the region’s pinot noirs may be subtle, the celebrations are elaborate, with 5,000 local artisans, actors, and volunteers participating in a series of 20 wine-themed performances. There’s also an over-the-top, three-and-a-half-hour inaugural show—directed by Daniele Finzi Pasca, a Cirque du Soleil artistic director—that could rival an Olympic opening ceremony.

The event isn’t just special for its size and bacchanalian revelry but rather its rarity: the festival is held only once every 20 years. So remarkable is the Fête des Vignerons’ cultural scope and spectacle that in 2016 the event was awarded status as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Adding to the event’s cache is Vevey’s incredible location. Set along the serene shores of Lake Geneva, the town is also smack dab in the middle of Switzerland’s famed Lavaux vineyard terraces, a UNESCO World Heritage site that dates to wine-making monks in the Middle Ages.

Even if you’re not a wine lover, the Fêtes Des Vignerons is a lavish affair steeped in Swiss winemaking and culinary culture—an opportunity to experience a once-in-a-generation festival.

The historic Grand Hôtel du Lac is in the heart of the festivities.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY GRAND HOTEL DU LAC

How to go

The one-hour train ride from Geneva to Vevey is your best bet for a relaxing, spectacularly scenic ride through the Lavaux vineyards. Tickets to an official performance range from $80 to $350, but there are plenty of gratis, family-friendly, non-alcoholic events.

Where to stay

The historic Grand Hôtel du Lac is in the heart of the festivities with an ideal lakeside location and a Michelin-starred restaurant. Elegant Hôtel des Trois Couronnes has a well-appointed spa and Le Baron Tavernier in the nearby village of Chexbres is surrounded by vineyards.

What to do

Whether or not you’re into wine, Vevey offers lots to do. Set in the sprawling estate he called home for 25 years, Chaplin’s World is an entire museum dedicated to the legendary Charlie Chaplin. The self-declared “world’s first-ever food-themed museum,” the Alimentarium is especially famous for the massive fork sculpture in Lake Geneva just outside its doorstep. If you’re travelling with children, check out Nest, an interactive museum dedicated to Nestlé, which is headquartered in Vevey. (See 10 of the world’s weirdest museums.)

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