VEVEY, Switzerland -- Every quarter-century or so, this quiet
resort town on the shores of Lake Geneva comes alive with an 18-day
pageant that attracts thousands of people and turns the local
population into a troupe of performers.
It is the Wine Growers Festival, a traditional celebration that
will next be held July 29 to Aug. 15, 1999.
On a recent visit, tourism officials outlined some of the plans
for the 1999 festival, without giving away the mystery that makes
the event special.
The highlight of each festival is a live show of about two-
and-a-half hours, scheduled this time to be performed three times a
day by up to 4,600 elaborately costumed actors and singers. The
last time it was held, in 1977, the shows attracted 200,000
spectators, and 4,250 people participated. Officials expect the
1999 performances to draw more than double that number of
The music for and the content of the shows are a closely guarded
secret, but this much is known: Performances are traditionally
themed on the four seasons, the work of wine growers and gods and
goddesses from Greek and Roman mythology.
The festival was founded and continues to be sponsored by the
Fraternity of Wine Growers, an ancient guild established at the
beginning in the 17th century. The guild's headquarters are in a
15th century chateau in Vevey, a charming lakeside town that is
better known in the 20th century as the home of Charlie Chaplin in
his final years.
The pageant takes place in Vevey's market square, where a
temporary, 18,000-seat theater is erected. A specially created
character named Arlevin, based on Harlequin, the famous figure of
Italian comedy, will be a mascot of the 1999 event. One of the
special highlights of the events will be on Aug. 11 when an eclipse
of the sun takes place during a performance.
Hotels in Vevey and nearby Montreaux are expected to sell out
soon for the event; spectators can also stay in hotels all over the
Lake Geneva area, including Lausanne, and take advantage of
Switzerland's network of trains and buses for day trips into
For information, agents can contact the Swiss National Tourist
Offices in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. Vevey has a Web site