HOW TO ENJOY THE FÊTE DE L’ESCALADE 2019 IN GENEVA
If you’ve been in Geneva for a while, you’ll know that the Fête de l’Escalade brings the firing of canons, a parade of soldiers on foot and on horseback, the sound of drums, the opening of secret passageways and, of course, the ever-present and delicious chocolate cauldrons (marmite en chocolat). This year’s festival takes place from Friday, 6th to Sunday, 8th December.
The activities take place throughout the weekend and it’s well worth taking a stroll through the Old Town and down to the Parc des Bastions. You’ll feel like you’re on a movie set.
PHOTO CREDIT: Main image and marmite images: Caro Blackwell – of Taste of Savoie – here is an article about the history of the Escalade on her site.
WHAT IS THE FÊTE DE L’ESCALADE IN GENEVA?
The Fête de l’Escalade celebrates Geneva’s victory against the Duke of Savoy’s troops in 1602. As the story goes, soldiers attempted to attack Geneva in the dead of night, while the whole city was asleep. But one woman, known as Mère Royaume, happened to be preparing soup for the next day. She heard the soldiers climbing up the city walls, and promptly dumped a cauldron of scalding soup onto the head of an unfortunate Savoyard to stop him. The ensuing racket woke up Geneva’s soldiers, and the rest is history.
Today, Geneva still celebrates their victory by drinking mulled wine (vin chaud) and eating chocolate cauldrons. To enjoy the cauldron the old-fashioned way, the oldest and youngest members of a family use their hands to smash the ‘marmite en chocolat’, filled with marzipan vegetables, while reciting: “Ainsi périrent les ennemis de la République.” (Thus did perish the enemies of the Republic!).
WHAT TO DO DURING THE FÊTE DE L’ESCALADE?
Smash the biggest “marmite en chocolat” you can afford, and enjoy it with family and friends. There are little sweets with tiny fire crackers inside in the shops too – but personally, we’d go for the chocolate.
Marmites can be bought in supermarkets and chocolate shops throughout Geneva.
LOOK THE PART – DRESS UP
Throughout the whole weekend, the Compagnie 1602 will reenact scenes from 1600s in the Old Town. Expect to see historical figures in traditional costume, including horsemen, soldiers armed with ancient guns such as the musket and arquebus. There will also be demonstrations of ancient skills throughout the weekend. Feel free to dress up – be as creative as you want! More details about the events can be found here (in French only).
For dress up costumes – read this article on our site.
You can find the weekend’s full programme on this site.
WHAT TO EAT
Try some spit-roast pork, old-style sausages, lentils and the typical vegetable soup with hot apple juice and mulled wine.
These historical treats will be on sale throughout the city, including Place de la Treille and the St Peter’s Courtyard.
WATCH THE PARADE
See the procession of around 800 people in period costumes marching or riding through the Old Town on horseback on Sunday. 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.
The parade starts at the Parc des Bastions and 5pm and ends at the St Peter’s Cathedral courtyard at 7.30pm.
Best vantage points: Take a seat at one of the cafés at Place du Bourg-de-Four, or defy gravity and climb to the top of St Peter’s Cathedral for a bird’s eye view.
A MARCH BY LANTERN LIGHT open to all takes place on Satuday at 7.45pm.
Departing from the Rue de l’Evêché 1, where you can buy your lantern from 18h30.
You are going to need to warm up as it will be freezing outside. You may wish to either get a bowl of veggie soup at one of the various stands set up throughout city, or bring your own in a thermos. If you’d like to cook your own – check out the recipe on the Geneva Tourism website here (this one includes bacon) and recruit the kids to help chop the vegetables. And of course, nothing warms you up like a cup of vin chaud. Why not raise a cup and join the crowds in humming the C’e que’ laino (traditional anthem, meaning “Ah la belle Escalade!”) – life’s too short to learn the words, but if you’d like to challenge yourself, click here for the full lyrics. Those looking for a heftier meal will be pleased to find another favourite as part of the festivities – ham on the bone.
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 once a year, during the Escalade. Find the entrance to the passage at rue du Perron 19 – as a bonus you’ll receive a glass of hot vin chaud at the passage’s end (Saturday 7th, from 10h to 22h and Sunday 8th, from 10h to 17h). Be prepared to wait in line!
ONCE UPON A TIME there was… L’Escalade – MAH
To coincide with the Escalade celebrations, the MAH (Museum of Art and History) offers an exposition for families in different parts of the museum which explains the history of the Escalade.
More info on their website here.
L’ESCALADE AT MIR
The MIR (Musée de la Réforme) offers guided visits (registration required) with two historians who explain the history of the Escalade. There will also be a family event on Saturday, December 7th, which entails a nighttime guided visit by torchlight which will take visitors back in time to the events of 1602.
MORE INFO on their website here.