Absinthe is fascinating – once beloved then banned, its history is full of controversies. Discover in this article the even more mysterious secret absinthe fountains of the Val-de-Travers.
The thrilling history of the green fairy starts in the middle of the 18th century in Switzerland. Its golden age was in France during the Belle Epoque era but not only as its success spread in many other European countries. The 1910s brought about bans on this strong spirit.
The beliefs and reasons that led to its general prohibition were numerous: it was rumoured that it was causing hallucinations, madness and sometimes even death. Read more about why it was banned and discover its fascinating destiny.
Those elements add up and explain why the green fairy was and still is surrounded by fascination, fear as well as mystery. It is all the more true as its creation itself is questioned: some claim it was first distilled by an enigmatic doctor, Pierre Ordinaire, and others by Henriette Henriod. From the first moment on, that spirit was to be out-of-the-ordinary, constantly at the center of debates. It is today still shrouded in mystery and the few existing secret fountains may just be one of the reasons for that…
The secret absinthe fountains of the Val-de-Travers
In the Val-de-Travers, a small valley overlapping France and Switzerland, wanderers have stumbled upon a handful of secret fountains. Enigmatic, beautiful and at times concealed deep in the forests of the marvellous Val-de-Travers region, those places offer the possibility for the visitors to find a bottle of green fairy and enjoy the spirit with fresh spring water. The bottle is often lodged in a small wooden box, most of the time lovingly hand-carved by the mysterious figures who look after the fountains, and from time to time carved in a trunk. These are perfect places to pass few moments with fellow absintheurs and to soak up the atmosphere.
The Fontaine à Louis is one of them. It is located at the entrance of the of the Poëta-Raisse gorge. A bottle of local La Bleue absinthe site in a wooden box waiting to be enjoyed, perfect refreshment mixed with the cool water from the fountain beside it. The landscape is straight out of a fairy tale: the trees nearby look enchanted with their mighty roots and all around, moss, ferns and limestone rocks cover the ground. A visitors’ book can sometimes be found. “We are thirsty!” is one among many messages. In case you forgot you were in the 21st Century, there is also the possibility to send a text message to a mysterious phone number in case the bottle is empty…
A bit further north close to Couvet, there is another secret fountain: La Discrète. Located in the forest, the small wooden box containing the bottle is placed next to a table where the visitors can sit and take advantage of the serenity of the place. Spring water flows out of a moss-covered fountain carved from a tree trunk.
What is most striking, whether here alone or with a large group, is a feeling you are in a special and sacred place. Our team has already been there a couple of times for the Fête de l’Absinthe at Boveresse.
You are now probably asking yourself a lot of questions such as: who first dreamt up the idea of these absinthe fountains in the woods? Who manages their upkeep? Is there a meaning for their locations? The list goes on. The hidden fountains seem even more mysterious than the green fairy itself. Here are at least some explanations to why they were created.
A tradition inherited from the ban on the green fairy
During the ban in France and Europe, the production and consumption of absinthe were strictly prohibited. But it was so popular at that time that some kept on distilling the precious spirit – this time illegally. Clandestine bottles were circulating under the counter, among them Swiss bottles such as the Clandestine or those distilled by the grandmother of Gaudentia’s Persoz husband. We can thus easily imagine that those secret fountains were a way to circumvent the law as well as maintain the tradition of the aperitifs with an absinthe glass. By hiding bottles at a precise place, the true lovers of the spirit would know where to look for it and would be able to carry on the tradition. We also believe that those fountains were meant to encourage courageous wanderers, allowing them to sit down a bit and refresh themselves at the same time.
Its safe to assume that the people taking care of the fountains are passionate distillers who wish to pass on that beautiful tradition. The fountains are in a way a pleasant reminder that the green fairy used to be illegal.
Today, the tradition still exists but somewhat changed: the bottles are no longer placed under a tree, but often put in wooden boxes to be visible to everyone passing by. It is no longer reserved only for those in the know – and maybe that is a good thing, enabling the mysteries and fascination surrounding absinthe to spread and last a little while longer. For that matter, the existence of the hidden fountains is well-known among the inhabitants of the Val-de-Travers. Nonetheless, only a few know their exact place. Even the ones living close by in the valley.
All in all, the secret absinthe fountains are like the spirit itself: mysterious, with a thrilling history. The mystery keeps on living…