Only one week to go and I am already beginning to miss the Tour, yes I know it is still going on, but I hate waiting a whole year for it to start again. Sure there are lots of other races and a lot of them are in France. But they aren’t on TV every day and they don’t have special magazine issues all about them. It is bad enough on the two separate rest days, what will I do by next Monday? How about we enjoy the last week and soak in every single second, because the last week is going to be good!
So onto stage 15 we go, they will be leaving France and heading into Switzerland and then this week it will be a short stop in Italy and right back into France. As much as I love France, my second favorite may just be Switzerland. Long ago, 1706 to be exact a distant relative, Henri-Gabriel de Mestral updated an old fortress from a cold and uncomfortable place into what it is today, Chateau Vuillerans. All of the old towers were restored, well except one, that one blocked the view of Mont Blanc and the lady of the house wanted it taken down. My grandparents visited Vullierens many times and I have boxes of pictures of the many buildings on the property, including the winery that still produces wine today. Seven hectares of vineyard that sit below the ramparts and provide a delicious white wine, the Appelation Morges Grand Cru Pinot Blanc is full of character and are pressed and vinified in the cellars of the Chateau. The Chateau has stayed in the family for over three centuries and currently it is my Cousin Robert that lives there and maintains it. In 1950 my grandpa’s cousin Doreen planted the now famous Iris garden that can be found on postcards and in European gardening books. You can even buy some of the Vullierens iris online to plant in your own garden. I could go on for days, but we need to get back to the Tour.
The Tour starts in the French town of Pontarlier which is just 9km from Switzerland and in the Franche-Comte region. Sitting as the capital of the Haut-Doubs region and was a pioneering city in the French aviation industry. Pontarlier was once famous for the making of Absinthe, the very high in alcohol aperitif that was later banned in 1915. In 1805, Henri-Louis Pernod, a native of Switzerland, established Pontarlier’s first Absinthe distillery. At the same time the vineyards of France were being destroyed and consumption was down, much to the benefit of the Absinthe distillers. In 1906 the town was overrun by local water holes with 111 for its 7000 citizens and the “Green Fairy” of Absinthe had just about seen its last day. In 1915 Absinthe was prohibited in France and the distilleries had to find other ways to survive. In 1916 the factories began creating the licorice flavored aperitif, Pastis. In 1988 the French government lifted the ban on Absinthe with a few modifications and Pontarlier began producing the “green fairy” elixir once again.
When the Tour crosses into Switzerland it will go right through the Canton of Vaud, one of the most populated Cantons of Switzerland. Encompassing the area surrounding Lake Geneva and the vicinity of Yverdon-les-Bains, Vaud is fourth in terms of size of all the Cantons in Switzerland. Vaud is also home to the International Olympic Committee, the IOC, since 1915. Located in Laussane Switzerland, it became the official Olympic capital in 1994 and home to the Olympic Museum.
Just 23km into Switzerland on the shores of Lake Neuchatel lies the spa town of Yverdon-les-Bains. The town dates back to Neothilic days around 5000 BC. In 1886 the Menhirs-Statues were discovered just outside of Yverdon in Clendy. Dating back to 5000 BC, the Clendy stones were reset into their original positions in 1986. The Romans were the first to discover the healthy benefits of the local waters of Yverdon and enjoy the local hot springs. The 14,000 year old water rises from the earth and 500m before the ground picks up the healing salubrious properties from within the layers of rock and comes to the surface. The waters have been specifically therapeutic to rheumatism and respiratory ailment sufferers.
Dating back to 965 the town of Lucens with its perfect location amongst the rivers, forests and hills is a nature lover’s dream vacation spot. Rebuilt in the 12th century Castle Lucens sits on the hill above the town. Owned by the Canton of Vaud until 1801, it was sold to private owners, the most recent being Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s son, Adrian. He lived there until his death in 1970. It is now owned by the Kohler family and they retain the castle for personal use. In 1965 Adrian Conan Doyle decided to create a museum dedicated to his father and his father’s greatest work, Sherlock Holmes. Originally set up in the castle, it was moved in 2001 to the Maison Rouge Museum just below the Castle Lucens. Many of Sir Doyles treasures, writings and furniture.
The medieval town of Romont sits floating atop a round hill with a view of the town and the surrounding valley below. Peter II the Count of Savoy, fortified the town in 1240 and created the castle. Along with the castle the towers and the Collegiate Church all date back to 1240. Today the castle is the home for the Swiss Museum for Stained-Glass and for Glass Arts.
Sitting at the base of the Pre-Alps in the Vanils mountain range in the heart of the Moleson Country is the city of Bulle, the capital town in the district of Gruyere. Sitting in a farming region, Bulle has hung onto its roots with local fairs and markets. Dating back to the 10th centuries the town was under the Bishopric of Lausanne and the Earldom of Gruyere until 1536 when Bern declared war on the Duke of Savoy. Upon invasion of the Canton of Vaud the town refused to be taken over and became a part of Fribourg until 1537 when it swore an oath of loyalty and remained part until 1798. By 1848 it had become the capital of the Gruyere district and remains unchanged to this day. The region became an economic center in the 12th century and began making cheese and breeding cows. The cow’s milk cheese Vacherin Fribourgeois is made in this area. A semi-soft and all the way to a firm texture depending on the aging cheese is a classic in the Gruyere tradition with its grassy and nutty taste and a smell like a fresh cut field. Depending on the age, the taste & texture varies from smooth and perfect for fondue to acidic with a delicate texture. It melts perfectly and is great for fondue, but can be eaten sliced with a glass of Pinot Noir as well.
Gruyeres is a relatively small town with a very big name. There are a few spots in France and Switzerland that their name presides them. Everybody knows the name because of a famous wine or cheese that is what I love about France and Switzerland, there is history and tradition in everything that they do. The Medieval village of Gruyeres sits at the base of the Pre-Alps with picturesque architecture and oozing with charm. The Chateau de Gruyeres was built in 1270 and was home to the Counts of Gruyeres until their bankruptcy of Count Michael in 1554. It was home to the seat of the Fribourg bailiffs from 1555 to 1798 and then fell to the State Prefects until 1848, by 1849 it was sold to the Balland and Bovy families who used the chateau in the summer and restored it to its original glory. In 1938 it was purchased by the State of Fribourg and was established as a museum. Also in town is La Maison du Gruyere, where the AOC cheese is made three times and you can also take a journey into the full process from milk to cheese in videos and pictures and even taste the cheese at different ages.
In a true sense of a chalet, the Grand Chalet de Rossiniere located in the village of Rossiniere sits like a majestic diamond on a crown. Built in 1752 for David Henchoz who was a judge, governor and vicar, it has 113 windows and 60 rooms, including 40 fully furnished bedrooms. Originally built as a cheese cellar for storing over 600 rounds of Gruyere, it became a hotel in 1852 and attracted celebrities, Victor Hugo being one of them. In 1997 it was purchased by Balthasar Klossowski de Rola also known as Balthus, a Polish-French modern artist. He lived in the house until his death in 2001. The Chalet is now owned by Balthus’ widow, Countess Setsuko Klossowska de Rola and has many of his works of art in the house. The grand cheese cellar will be converted to house a museum dedicated to his great works.
Lying on the east edge of the Rhone Valley and only 6 miles from the French border sits the town of Aigle, Switzerland. Aigle sits between a lake and at the foot of the Swiss Alps. During Roman times the town was on the road to the Grand Saint Bernard pass by way of Vevey to Avenches. The 12th century Chateau d’Aigle has been locally owned since 1798 and served as a prison until 1972. Today it is home to the Vaud Museum of Vine and Wine and the Maison de la Dime, the International Wine Label museum.
The finishing village of Verbier in the southwestern part Switzerland in the canton of Valais is one of the largest ski resorts in the Swiss Alps. The first hotel was opened in 1934 in the small sleepy village and the first ski lift was built in 1947. In 1960, the ski boom hit and Verbier turned into the bustling resort complete with the European high society. Located in Les Quatre Vallees (the four valleys), a massive ski complex that has more than 100 chair lifts and a 150 person cable car. From the top of its 1468 meters it offers a panoramic view that includes the Bagnes Valley, Grand Combin and Mont –Blanc massifs.
We are in Switzerland, so what else should we have? If you guessed Fondue, you are correct. A classic and traditional Swiss fondue has to include Gruyere and Emmental. Gruyere is the King of Swiss cheese, and Emmental is its very close relative. Emmental is one of the largest cheeses, reaching up to 130kg, it takes 1000 litres of milk to make. The holes in the cheese at first were a huge source of debate; some thought it a waste or lack of cheese. Children named it “mouse cheese” This cows milk cheese has a 45% fat content and a slight taste of hazelnuts.
I like to call it Chateau Vuilleran classic Fondue (in homage to my family)
1 loaf of country bread
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 lb. gruyère cheese, grated
1/2 lb. emmental cheese, grated
Pinch of nutmeg
1 tbsp. cornstarch
2 tbsp. kirsch
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1. Cut bread into bite-size pieces. Set aside. Grate cheese and combine in a large bowl. Sprinkle with cornstarch and set aside.
2. Rub interior of a medium stainless-steel pot with garlic clove, then discard garlic. Add white wine and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add gruyère cheese and nutmeg. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until cheese melts (cheese and wine will not yet be blended).
3. Add kirsch and stir into cheese mixture. Continue to stir and simmer until cheese mixture becomes smooth, about 5 minutes, then season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, adding up to 1/4 cup more wine if fondue is too thick.
4. To serve, transfer to a fondue pot or chafing dish set over a flame. To eat, spear bread pieces with fondue forks and dip in cheese, continuing to stir with forks as you dip.
I served it with boiled potatoes, bread, mushrooms, cornichons, and some sliced meats and bratwurst. It was very rich and really good. I use my moms fondue pot she gave me long ago, it is from the late 60's, as you can tell by the great color and plugs in and it is better then any stainless steel one that I have ever tried.