A toast to the Absinthe Trail – Trips and trails themed around our favourite tipple are on the up.
In the UK, ever popular ale and whisky trails have now being joined by a proliferation of craft gin enterprises as a welcome stop-off for travellers.
Of course, in France it’s wine that dominates the drinks trolley tailored for tourists.
But something distinctively different is bubbling in the French Burgundy-Franche-Comté region and across the neighbouring border into Switzerland, where a boom in distilleries dedicated to absinthe has been taking place of late.
From Pontarlier to Travers, the Absinthe Trail – www.routedelabsinthe.com – now has 19 enthusiastic outposts promoting industrial, cultural, and historic sites connected with this famous drink.
“The number of small distilleries on the trail is constantly increasing,” says a delighted Elisabeth Contejean, director of the Tourist Office of Pontarlier who is equally pleased with the upsurge in visitors travelling the Absinthe Trail.
“Tourists are welcome in this French Swiss border region. They can discover the distillation equipment, try and buy absinthe and learn a lot about the history of this mystical elixir known as the green fairy,” added Elisabeth.
Absinthe was invented at the end of the 18th century in the Val de Travers valley in Switzerland. It is produced from a concoction of wormwood, aniseed, fennel, lemon balm and hyssop; they are macerated and distilled to produce the finished article.
Absinthe consumption really got going in 1830, when colonial French armed forces used it to purify their water. On returning to France, the habit stuck and absinthe became familiar and very fashionable in Parisian cafés and bistros.
The “Green Absinthe Hour” was particularly popular among artists and writers such as Rimbaud, Verlaine, Toulouse Lautrec and Van Gogh who sought artistic inspiration from a glass (or two) of absinthe.
All this conviviality, however, came to an abrupt end on 17 March 1915, when the French parliament unanimously passed the law banning the production and consumption of absinthe – following a Swiss ban introduced in 1910. Absinthe had developed a reputation as a dangerously addictive drug and hallucinogenic.
Nearly 200 brands of absinthe are now produced in a dozen countries, most notably in France, Switzerland, Australia, Spain, and the Czech Republic – but there is no substitute for the real thing.
So here’s a toast to Elisabeth Contejean and her colleagues, working to welcome visitors to the home of absinthe.