Absinthes.com CEO Alfred went to Pontarlier, France, to take part in the French Absinthe Festival. Apart from the chance to taste local absinthes, a 8.5m hike is the main attraction of this festival. It takes place once every two years.
Usually, we’re visiting the Swiss Absinthe Festival, which takes place in June every year. We’re also big fans of the annual Absinthiades, which are schedulet in October of each year in Pontarlier. None of us went to this French Absinthe Festival before (maybe it had something to do with the hike), however this was only the second time this took place.
Read Alfred’s impressions of this day here:
I very well know the annual Fete de l’Absinthe in Boveresse, Switzerland and the Absinthiades in Pontarlier, but I hadn’t heard about this one taking place every two years. It’s organized by a collaboration of the City of Pontarlier and the representatives of the “Route de l’Absinthe“. The festival launches the annual wormwood harvest in the region.
What’s different about the French Absinthe Festival
This festival is not held in a village with a disco tent where lots of people drop by for just an hour or so. The main attraction here is a long hike to the place absinthe was invented – right between Switzerland and France. Me and my wife drove to Pontarlier the day before, and I took the Swiss route to show her the gorgeous Val-de-Travers. After we checked into our hotel, we went for a traditional French dinner and took a walk through Pontarlier.
On Sunday, very early in the morning, me, my wife, and 720 other enthusiastic hikers met a the central station. Despite the weather forecast that alarmed us it may rain, all of us registered for a bracelet and a free t-shirt or water bottle before we were split into groups.
It was all very well organized, and the crowd was split into two groups. We were assinged group two, which left bang on 9am counting no more than six coaches – to take us to the official starting point of our hike to the Swiss village “Le Cernil” at an 1.174m altitude. Le Cernil lies on the top of the Jura where Switzerland crosses France.
A 8.5m hike – consider it well
Once the coach dropped us off at Le Cernil, some friends we know from the Swiss Absinthe Festival greeted us with hot coffee and brioches. After that, we were once again split up into groups of about 20 people each, and were left to take the absinthe trail and begin our hike.
On rough tracks we made our way, passing meadows and a few gentiane flowers, deep into the Jura forests. Yellow tape showed us the way and made sure we don’t get lost. We walked and walked, until suddenly, we saw the green fairy, impersonated by artist Gwam. What a nice surprise!
We carried on, enjoying the breathtaking view of the Jura mountains. The next stop was at the Hotel Les Petits Cernet where we had a snack and some sandwiches. We enjoyed local cheeses, and a special “Jura sausage”. We weren’t served absinthe just yet, I believe some organizers were afraid we might get lost in the woods afterwards.
So far, we’ve mainly had to go downhill. That was about to change dramatically – from now on we were facing the difficult part of our route. Small trails led us through woods, across cow pastures and made us pass dangerous cliffs. At 1.322m altitude, we arrived at the highest point of our tour: Le Grand Taureau. We heard alphorns from far away.
We weren’t wrong, at the summit of our trip, three very talented alphorn blowers welcomed us with their music.
We’re finally handed some absinthe – and not just any – a special blend made of the five of the most popular absinthes by the local distilleries! Amazing, but unfortunately, not for sale. Unfortunately, the weather forecast from this morning turned out to be true in the end, as we carried on, dark clouds were starting to form.
At the end you’re rewarded with French absinthe
Now we were on the trail back to Pontarlier, to a place called Le Gounefay. This was the last and final stop of our hike. Many distillers presented their absinthes in stalls. Among them were mainy French distillers such as the couple from La Semilla – Aymonier, Francois Guy, Bourgeois, and Marguet Champreux. This was an open event and coach shuttles were taking visitors from the heart of Pontarlier up to Le Gounefay and back down. Apart from absinthe there were some informative stalls about absinthe and the Route de l’Absinthe, and an antique market.
Exhausted and happy at the same, we made our way to take one of the coach shuttles back down to Pontarlier, where people had the opportunity to look at some absinthe related artworks and visit a small exhibition about the history of the Pernod Fils distillery. In conclusion, I think this was a great event, but I’d like to have learned more about absinthe and it’s history on the way – not for my sake, but for everyone who joined that day and had little knowledge of the green fairy’s amazing history. I found out later through talking to some people who had been to the last French Absinthe Festival two years ago, that the hosts covered more absinthe history then. One can hope there will be more to learn next time!