Voici la mi-été,
Bergers de nos montagnes,
Compagnons et compagnes,
Que ce jour soit fêté!
Voici la mi-été.

Gryon is a small village in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Moving eastwards along lake Geneva you come to the head of the lake and the beginning of the Rhone valley. This is flat-bottom valley, reaching some 100km into the Alps at an altitude of about 350m and whose bordering moutains are nearly as high as the valley is wide. Gryon nestles 30km up from the head of the lake, about 1000 metres above the valley floor. Unlike many other mountain villages of the area, Gryon is not way up a valley formed by one of the Rhone's affluents, but seems to hang precariously, threatening at any moment to crash down into the village below.

Nous autres montagnards,
Avons aussi nos fêtes,
Le ciel bleu sur nos têtes,
Fiers de nos fiers remparts,
Nous autres montagnards.

The act of foundation of the village, back in 1189, acknowledges the existence of the village of "Griuns", seemingly related to old high german "Griess", gravel. It was most probably settled when the rich lords of the valley (which is one of the most fertile in Europe) granted some of their less profitable land to their serfs. Records show that, in 1217, the village boasted a chapel, indicating a population of some importance.

Allons, jeunesse, allons,
La danse nous appelle,
Que chacun ait sa belle,
Sa rose des vallons,
Allons, Jeunesse, allons!

Nothing would greatly trouble Gryon for centuries to come. The village changed hands on few occasions and it's men were sometimes called upon to fight the battles which shaped the Swiss Confederation. Tending crops, herding cattle, cutting wood: this was the lot of those who call themselves the Tâtchis; a tough life and hard, with stories of the church-bells calling the hands to the fields as early as two in the morning during the summer months and of a fountain, a solid seven-ton block of marble, which took the village two whole days of toil to bring up from the valley below, before there even existed a road fit for horses; on the evening of the second day, the men were ready to retire for the night, exhausted, when all the womenfolk came out and joining forces with their husbands and sons, had the fountain in place by midnight.

Les roses de nos monts
Seules n'ont pas d'épines,
Telles, douces et fines,
Celles que nous aimons,
Les roses de nos monts.

Around 1850, wearied by the lights and bustle of Geneva and Lausanne, people began to seek the quiet of the mountains by building secondary residencies up in Gryon. Among them, the poet Juste Olivier, whose Mi-été de Taveyanne is famous even today, served as an advocate of the beauty of the surroundings. Roads were built and, eventually, a path was shaped allowing a cogwheel train to wind its way up past Gryon and on towards the village of Villars. This train is still in existence today, ferrying both the local kids to attend junior high in Bex and bewildered backpackers who only know they want to spend the night at the hostel in Gryon (which they pronounce to rhyme with dry on, much to the amusement of the tram drivers who barely speak ten words of English).

Peut-être bien après
Quelques quartiers de lune,
On en voit pousser une,
Qui pique, même exprès,
Peut-être bien après.

From then on, Gryon's main income was tourism. The ski-slopes are linked up to those of Villars and les Diablerets, reaching up to the 3000m glacier. What is more, Gryon boasts the best beginner's slope I know: not too short, regular and wide. Even the best ski resorts in the Switzerland can usually only manage to pick two of those qualities. The accomodation is mainly composed of rental apartments, something of a rarity in Switzerland. Add to that the marked effort by the local community to provide entertainment to visiting tourists, and Gryon certainly stands out as a choice winter destination for families.

Avant qu'il soit trop tard,
Avant que l'on en glose,
Sourions à la rose,
Avant qu'elle ait son dard,
Avant qu'il soit trop tard.

The great thing about Gryon is that, while still very close to the rest of the world (30mn from the valley, an hour from Lausanne and an hour and a half from Geneva airport) it spends most of the year sleeping. The village sleeps 3000 people and is filled to the brim for only a couple of weeks each winter. The rest of the time, the remaining 1000 locals are perfectly content to let you come and go as you please, organising other events (bringing the cows up in spring, the national holiday a few concerts and dances) more for their own benefit than anything else. Nothing here is put on, or artificial: The traditions are observed because that is the tradition; not to grab the money off rich loud tourists. Tourism is live and well, but no effort is made to cash in on it.

Notre salle de bal
Est la verte pelouse;
Si le ciel nous jalouse,
L'etape n'est point mal
Pour la salle de bal.

So! How do I get to this quiet secluded spot? you ask. Ha! This is the best part. Let us suppose you are a backpacker. There are few hostels away from Switzerland's larger cities, so you may feel rather forced into coming to Gryon through lack of choice. Don't worry! You arrive in Lausanne and know you have to catch a train to Bex. You dutifully step in, the train leaves on time almost to the second and spend ten minutes explaining your European railway pass to the ticket collector. I'm now in two minds: I don't know whether I want you to have nice weather or not. Let's pretend it's a beautiful day. The train is skimming by a blue lake and, as you pass the Chillon castle, you notice the valley I talked about earlier on. This will take your breath away.

Les filles, les garçons
A tourner se hasardent,
En tournant se regardent,
On connaît ces façons
Des filles et des garçons.

Another fifteen minutes and you are in Bex. You get out of the train and realise that, although you wanted to get away from it all, this is maybe a bit too quiet. Do they actually have running water here? A bright red train is sitting on the square in front of the station. You point at it nervously and say Gryon. The driver gets asked this ten times a day and can't understand why you feel so lost and confused. Oui, oui, he answers, ushering you on : the train must leave on time.

Plus d'un regard aussi
Qui n'est pas de la danse,
Mais il rêve en silence
Que jeune il vint ici.
Plus d'un regarde aussi.

The view as you go through the village of Bex and begin to levitate off the valley floor is amazing. You can almost imagine the centuries flying away. Everything is quaint and tidy and... OMFG those mountains are beautiful. The backpackers' hostel is run by an australian girl who is almost a native through marriage. She solves all your problems. There are no worries.

Ainsi nous de Gryon,
Dansons en Taveyanne,
Comme ceux de Lausanne
Dansent sur Montbenon;
Ainsi nous de Gryon.

The following morning... This is why I wanted you to have bad weather! You're worried, not too sure where all these famed mountains are. As sunlight streams through your curtains, you decide to take a peak. The trouble with describing beauty is that you run out of words. Believe me, you want to stay here! So you go log on to e2 and try to describe it better than I. The internet here spoils it? No! Nowhere else is it more amazing to be able to talk to the rest of the world.

Disclaimer: Yes, Gryon is my hometown, yes I love it. Come by some time and say hello.

Gryon, 8 siecles et plus!
Lyrics are La mi-été de Taveyanne By Juste Olivier, 1869

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