A “County Fair” Unlike Any You’ve Ever Been To: Les Automanales

Events, Food, Things to Do, What's New — By Sonja Holverson on November 20, 2010 at 2:52 pm

Autumn is a wonderful time to visit Geneva, Switzerland. Besides the beautiful fall colors contrasting with the early snow on the peaks of the French and Swiss Alps, there is the Geneva “County Fair”. Called “Les Automnales”. Every year in Geneva at Palexpo (a gigantesque exhibition center at the Geneva International Airport) “Les Automnales” is held for a 10 day exposition of just about everything you can imagine and much more placed in 157’480 square feet.

Swiss sausages: image courtesy of automanales.ch

I was fortunate enough to go last Friday as well as this Friday, so it was not as busy as it will be this weekend with families. But then there’s nothing like having kids around to really appreciate the “County Fair” atmosphere. However, it still was fairly overwhelming with more than 400 exhibits of some fascinating expositions and activities. The organizers, Palexpo, are expecting 120’000 attendees this year and seem to be very well prepared. There are huge amounts of local Swiss foods offered by 18 restaurateurs offering everything from fondue (of course) to Thai cuisine, as well as local Swiss wines which you will not find anywhere else.

However, there is another Swiss drink available which was made famous by the Impressionist painters of the 19th century in France and which is illegal in most other countries (including France). Yes, you’re right. It’s the “Green Fairy”, absinthe, an anise-like spirit. I recommend hovering at this stand towards the end of your visit if you’re interesting in tasting as your perspective of the Fair’s activities may change a bit. Just to reassure you, my pals and I had a designated driver for the return from Palexpo both times.

“Les Absinthes”. The Green Fairy Swiss Made. Image courtesy of automanales.ch

However, it is not just about indulging yourself with culinary delights and delightful beverages. There is everything else from artisanal jewelry and other handicrafts, to swimming pools and spas, kitchen appliances, farm animals, second hand furniture (not quite old enough to be called antiques), travel and leisure company displays, every imaginable article existing for babies, everything possible for senior citizens, sports demonstrations and equipment, Do-it-yourself supplies, multi-media expositions, organic products and sustainable equipment all the way to sexy lingerie.

The largest French Swiss ski area in the region “Portes du Soleil” was a special guest this year. This company ski area is comprised of 12 different ski resorts and you can ski from Switzerland to France for lunch and back again or vice versa. They out did themselves at the county fair this year. Even though I missed the celebrities that were there earlier this week such as Vancouver B.C. Olympic champions Deborha Anthonioz, snowboarder, and Didier Defao, downhill slalom, there still was lots of fun chatter and great goodies for snacks such raclette, other cheeses, and local Swiss and French wines followed with delicious caramels from Champery, one of the ski resorts on the Swiss side. “Les Portes du Soleil” are also hosting some local Alpine artists and artisans with ongoing demonstrations. The most fun was “skiing” with the wii and getting advice from the ski instructors. Do not do this after you’ve been to the absinthe stand.

Future chess champions practice: image courtesy of automnales.ch

But it’s not just about the fun exhibitors,  displays or even the shopping or viewing the latest of the latest, there is also an extensive schedule of concerts and other entertainment during the 10 days of the Autumn Fair. Last Friday night was a concert by Marie-Paule Belle, a much loved French favorite singer who performed the well known “La Parisenne” which you can listen to here as well as sing along if you can. It’s very French. This was followed by a DJ and getting down until 2:00 AM.

Last night DJ Chris helped us find our second wind and then there was a fabulous tribute by Ben Jack’son and his dancers to Michael Jackson. Jackson actually lived some time in Switzerland above Montreux and tried unsuccessfully to purchase the Charlie Chaplin estate above Vevey. He also spent a lot time in Gstaad further up from Lake Geneva from Lausanne (this usually went unnoticed as the Swiss are so discrete).

Swiss wines only found locally: image courtesy of automanales.ch

And a real highlight for parents at the Autumn Fair is the day-care center for little children under 5 years old in case Mom and Dad also want to hover around the absinthe stand.

Sorry I missed you this year, but do plan a trip for next November and I’ll see you there!

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Tags: absinthe, fondue, France, Geneva, Gstaad, Lausanne, Montreux, Palexpo, raclette, Switzerland, Vevey, wii, “Charlie Chaplin”, “County Fair”, “Geneva International Airport”, “La Parisenne”, “Les Portes du Soleil”, “Marie-Paule Belle”, “Michael Jackson”, “Swiss Alps”, “Swiss wine”


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