We, a family group of three generations, decided to drive up into the Jura to make a fondue, a favourite and traditional Swiss dish of melted cheese mixed with white wine, on an open fire high up in the Jura above Lake Geneva.
The Jura mountains rise up to the North-West of the lake and the way up is like an illustration from a children’s picture book. First, the lake with its pretty lakeside villages, then the many hectares of manicured vineyards which line the lake from Geneva to beyond Montreux, next the railway between Geneva and Lausanne, then the busy motorway, followed by a few kilometres of rising agricultural land with corn and cattle, and then the dark, coniferous woods.
You enter the woods by a farm track between two villages, St George and Longirod, and drive slowly and windingly up to about 1200 metres where a crest with a cross and a Swiss national flag can with a short but steep walk be reached. Here you park, pick up your picnic things, chairs, rugs, and fondue pot and climb up to a wonderful view South to the Alps and North-East towards Lausanne and Montreux, West towards Geneva.
A wonderful, bright, clear light suffuses. First, the fire, made in a small stone lined pit with fallen branches. Next, the fondue mixture of grated Gruyère and other cheeses and white wine in an earthenware pot, heated until it boils and thickens.
Meanwhile some 120 beef cattle, mothers and calves up in the hills for summer grazing, come noisily by to inspect us, clanking their bells. They stay a safe distance, curious but not in any way aggressive.
They are a mixture of breeds, Evolènes, Simmenthal, Ratisches, Hérens, Swiss brown and whites, and others we are beginning to recognise, mostly in groups of about 10 or 12 owned by different local farmers, and watched over by a local cowman, who joins us for a glass of wine, and who spends his summers in a chalet high up in the alpages where the grass and wild flowers are rich and plentiful, contributing to the quality of the beef or milk these beautiful animals produce all over Switzerland.
When the fondue has thickened, we dip lumps of fresh bread into the mixture on long forks and eat the rich, tasty, and very filling result with a washing down of white wine. Deadly for weight watchers, but irresistibly good provided not indulged in too often or too greedily.
The views improve as the evening cools. Mont Blanc to the South appears in full. Sunlit, pinkish glory and the whole range is visible. Aircraft coming in to land at Geneva mark a sharp right turn over the centre of Lake Geneva and start to descend West from a VOR signal or other signal. The impression of looking at a children’s picture book grows stronger.
Picnic finished, we extinguish the fire, tidy up, put on warm coats as the evening temperature cools rapidly at this altitude. We say goodbye to the cattle, who bat their long eyelashes at us and munch steadily on.
As we drive down the track we see two roe deer, males with short and sharp horns, squaring off at each other in the middle of the track.
One is clearly bigger, and older, than the other and we watch them for long minutes as the jab back and forth in more than play. Is it an older male protecting his harem from a younger aspirant?
We wonder. We could stay till fully dark, or as dark as it gets in midsummer up here, but feel we must get the younger children home to bed.
And so, down again to the village. The baked hard, dry residues of cheese will be a mission to clean off the pot but that can wait until morning. A very successful impromptu family party. But nothing is achieved without planning by an efficient and provident daughter.