Lonely Planet Writer

Try a legendary European tipple on the 'absinthe trail' in France and Switzerland

If you’ve grown tired of sampling the latest craft beers in Portland or scoping out the hottest new whiskies in Japan, then why not head back in time and sample an old classic – a glass of absinthe – in France and Switzerland.

The fountain of Fées-Buttes. Image by © Route de l’Absinthe/ Guillaume PERRET

There’s been a proliferation of new small distilleries in France’s Burgundy-Franche-Comté region and in neighbouring Switzerland, along the countries’ “Absinthe Trail”, a tourism route designed at getting people to sample the unique tipple that is often associated with European writers and artists like Vincent van Gogh, Oscar Wilde and Marcel Proust.

The Distillerie les Fils d’Emile Pernot. Image by © Route de l’Absinthe/ Guillaume PERRET

“Bourgeois, La Semilla, Marguet… the number of small distilleries on the Absinthe Trail is constantly increasing,” said Elisabeth Contejean, director of the Tourist Office of Pontarlier, in a statement. These smaller companies are growing alongside more established brands, encouraging travellers to come and explore and sample the famous green drink.

Route de l’Absinthe in France and Switzerland. Image by © Route de l’Absinthe/ Guillaume PERRET

It’s also a chance to learn about the history of the legendary drink. Absinthe was invented at the end of the 18th century in the Val-de-Travers valley in Switzerland, including ingredients like wormwood, aniseed, fennel, lemon balm and hyssop. But with high export duties, many Swiss distilleries moved across the border and into neighbouring France.

Route de l’Absinthe in France and Switzerland lets travellers sample the famous drink. Image by © Route de l’Absinthe/ Guillaume PERRET

Absinthe is also known for its unique method of preparation, in which sugar is placed on a special spoon above the glass, and water is slowly dripped through. The drink was hugely popular in the 19th century, with 25 distilleries around Pontarlier. But, with increased consumption came increased concern, and the French government banned its production and consumption in 1915, pushing its consumption underground.

But, starting in May 2011, the alcohol was once again allowed to be sold under the name absinthe. As the spirit began its comeback, the tourist trail “Route de l’Absinthe” was launched in 2009, and has been growing. Local tourism groups are pushing to get travellers to consider a jaunt along the trail, picking up the history

Check out a map of the route here.