Canons firing, soldiers on horseback, the sound of drums, secret passageways and cauldrons of soup … the aftermath of a natural disaster? Nope, the celebrations of the traditional annual festival – The Fête de l’Escalade in Geneva, which is not to be missed. There’s no better way to learn about the city.
WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH THE ESCALADE?
The Fête de l’Escalade celebrates Geneva’s victory against the Duke of Savoy’s troops in 1602. Seems like a good enough excuse to drink mulled wine and eat chocolate to us – but if you need to know more about the history, a quick Google search will suffice.
WHERE DOES CHOCOLATE COME INTO IT?
The legend goes that a courageous old woman Mère Royaume, happened to have been boiling soup at midnight as soldiers try to enter the city. She promptly dumped a cauldron of scalding soup onto the head of an unfortunate Savoyard to stop him climbing the walls of the city. Et voila! A perfect excuse for eating more chocolate – this is Switzerland after all!
Traditionally, the oldest and youngest members of a Genevan family use their hands to smash the ‘marmite en chocolat’ cauldron, filled with marzipan vegetables, while reciting: “Ainsi périrent les ennemis de la République.” (Thus did perish the enemies of the Republic!).
TOP 5 THINGS TO DO DURING THE ESCALADE IN GENEVA
Just in case you haven’t got the message yet – this is your chance! Smash the biggest “marmite en chocolat” you can afford – and scoff it all up. There are little sweets with tiny fire crackers inside in the shops too – but personally, we’d go for the chocolate.
WATCH THE PARADE
See the procession of around 800 people in period costumes marching or riding through the old town on horseback. You’ll feel like you’ve been transported back to the 1600s or at least imagine yourself on a movie set for a historical period film.
Best vantage points: Place de Bourg or climb to the top of St Peter’s Cathedral for a bird’s eye view.
Get your bowl of veggie soup at various points throughout city or cook your own – check out the recipe below. Let the children help you to chop the veggies. Sip vin chaud and hum the C’e que’ laino (traditional anthem) – life’s too short to learn the words, we think. Ham on the bone – is another favourite, warming meal to enjoy.
Check out the secret Passage de Monetier – not for the faint hearted. The Passage de Monetier, a path that runs through the Old Town’s walls, is only open during the Escalade. Find the entrance to the passage at rue du Perron 19 – as a bonus you’ll receive a glass of hot mulled wine (vin chaud) at the passage’s end. (Saturday from 10am-10pm and Sunday from 10am-5pm.) Be prepared to wait in a queue.
Don’t miss the demonstrations such as muskets firing, street defence manoeuvres and skirmishes in the city on Saturday and Sunday. Listen to concert by the Great Choir of the Escalade; attend a workshop on Botany and Pharmacopoeia at the time of the Escalade, or listen to some fascinating stories of the Escalade in the Hôtel de Ville. More details about events on the English programme. Download here. Feel free to dress up – be as creative as you want!
The 2017 Escalade Festival will be celebrated from Friday 8th December to Sunday 10th December 2017.
Friday 8th December: Tribute to victims procession from the old town to Saint Gervais from 6pm-7.30pm.
Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th December: Activities in the old town.
Sunday 10th December: Great historical procession with 800 participants from 5pm–8.30pm.
Dice the vegetables and bacon, and finely chop the spinach. In a large saucepan, sauté the onions, bacon, rice and lentils. Add the vegetables. Cover with water, season with salt and pepper, and boil. When cooked, add the spinach. Serve on a large slice of wholemeal bread.
4-5 white radishes
A little spinach
CREDIT: Soup recipe and photographs: GENEVA TOURISM