Swiss residents and tourists alike are partying like they haven’t since 1999.
The Swiss town of Vevey has kicked off the 12th Fête des Vignerons, or Winemakers Festival, the latest installment in a centuries-old tradition of celebrating vineyard workers—which nowadays takes place only once a generation.
Festival organizers have pulled out the stops for the celebration in Vevey, a lakeside town near Switzerland’s famous terraced vineyards that are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. In 2016, the U.N. cultural agency classified the festival itself as part of the “intangible cultural heritage” of Switzerland.
As many as a million people are expected in Vevey while the festival runs through August 11.
During the kickoff parade on Thursday, kids in butterfly or ladybug costumes marched through town, while marching band players took a break from the Swiss sunshine with glasses more often filled with cold beer than wine.
Some 5,500 dancers, actors, and extras are working at the festival, which features parades, music, and lots of alcohol consumption. But the centerpiece is the awards given to winegrowing standouts.
The festival has its roots in a competition that began in the 17th century to ensure quality wines from the region, with a grading system that often got censorious—with some winegrowers who didn’t pass muster all but shunned. The festival began a more upbeat approach by “crowning” standout winegrowers in the first formal festival in 1797.
Frederic Hohl, the festival’s executive director, said many Swiss living abroad have booked tickets to attend the celebrations. “Honestly, we can say that Vevey will be the capital of Switzerland for one month,” he said.
Vevey was one of 25 global destinations to make AFAR’s list of Where to Go in 2019 for the wine festival.
>> Next: Plan Your Trip With AFAR’s Guide to Switzerland