Swiss village on the 'money'

Switzerland: Where life really is like a box of chocolates


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CHOCOLATE-BOX TOWN: Relaxing in the sunshine outside a hotel in Gruyeres.

CHOCOLATE-BOX TOWN: Relaxing in the sunshine outside a hotel in Gruyeres.

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England has Robin Hood, Australia Ned Kelly but Switzerland has a legendary figure to rival both of them.

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JOSEPH-Samuel Farinet (1845-1880) was the scourge of the authorities during his lifetime.

Switzerland's most famous counterfeiter distributed his "money" among the poor, making him their hero - and they helped him evade arrest for many years.

Today it appears all is forgiven. The museum of counterfeit money in the centre of the village of Saillon in the canton of Valais bears his name, and banknotes - accepted as local currency by the authorities - bear his portrait.

The Farinet connection is not this area's only unusual feature.

Les Amis de Farinet, the world's smallest registered vineyard, is owned by the Dalai Lama himself.

The vineyards at Saillon, Canton Valais. Photo Switzerland Tourism

The vineyards at Saillon, Canton Valais. Photo Switzerland Tourism

Located high above the village, it has only three vine stocks but thousands make the pilgrimage here each year to leave messages of hope, peace and love on the rock walls.

For a time, this tiny vineyard belonged to Abbe Pierre, who bequeathed it to the Dalai Lama. Each year the grapes are pressed and a few precious drops mingled with other wine to produce a few thousand bottles sold for charity.

Saillon is less than 100km from the beautiful medieval town of Gruyeres where we are staying.

This traffic-free town boasts a fortified 13th century castle with eight centuries of art, history and legends contained within its walls.

But continuing the Swiss tradition of coming up with the unexpected, Gruyeres also is home to the Museum of Swiss surrealist artist HR Giger, best known for his Oscar award for visual effects in the 1980 film Alien.

His weird and wonderful biomechanical designs, sculptures, pictures, stage sets and private art collection happily co-exist in this 400-year-old historic walled town of castles, cobblestones and flower-boxes.

The medieval town of Gruyeres. Photo: Shutterstock.

The medieval town of Gruyeres. Photo: Shutterstock.

Just across the street, the HR Giger Bar is also a work of art with its ceiling, walls, floors, fittings, tables and chairs all modelled by the artist.

Say cheese

Of course, this chocolate-box town is also synonymous with the famous Swiss cheese.

Production of La Gruyere cheese dates back to 1115 and in cafes throughout the town's squares people gather to enjoy the raclette or Swiss fondue.

The town attracts a huge number of daytrippers so do yourself a favour and stay the night. That way you can enjoy the relative peace and quiet after the coaches have departed and savour the sights and aromas of this special place.

Sue Preston was a guest of Switzerland Tourism.

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