Who would have thought a randomly selected overnight stop could end up being so inspirational and so full of surprises?
Mist over the water as we leave Lausanne
We entered our camper van stop just outside the medieval village of Saillon in Switzerland thinking it would simply be somewhere to lay our heads for the night but how wrong could we be?
Surprise number one was that we had parked in front of one of Switzerland‘s famous Valais Mountains thermal spas.
I was all geared up to plunging into those beautiful pools but sadly was completely put off by the overwhelming smell of chlorine when we walked in.
We had 20 Swiss Francs left over from our stay in Lausanne to spend and as we weren’t going to dive into those warm chlorine waters (even though they looked inviting) we decided to spend it in the little store in the lobby of the spa.
That’s when we received our second surprise – Saillon has the world’s smallest vineyard – and guess who owns it? The Dalai Lama! And how come this world famous tee total Tibetan Buddhist leader owns this tiny plot (a mere 1.67 square metres) of land? Well it’s a fascinating story.
We had decided to use it to buy our first ever bottle of Swiss wine and while we were browsing through the wine bottles read the tale of the Dalai Lama’s vineyard.
The vineyard was planted in 1980 by a group of people calling themselves the ‘Friends of Farinet’. Farinet was a famous 19th Century adventurer and notorious counterfeiter who took refuge at Saillon and became a legend for his love of life and his generosity to the local people (with the counterfeit money he produced) – he was a sort of Swiss version of Robin Hood.
The Dalai Lama became the owner (or as I imagine he would prefer, custodian) in 2000. Before that the French priest Abbé Pierre, a champion of the marginalized, “owned” this tiny patch of land. No-one knows who will succeed the Dalai Lama as the guardian of Farinet’s vines.
What the vineyard lacks in size it makes up for in its charitable spirit. The proceeds from its sales at auction of its modest amount of wine go towards helping disadvantaged children.
The vineyard has apparently become a sort of pilgrimage site for the free spirited, a place dedicated to freedom, love, peace and living the good life – values Farinet has come to embody.
Our third wonderful surprise was something that has cemented Saillon as a place of pilgrimage- namely a series of stunning stained glass windows that are placed on a trail that takes visitors on a spiritual journey based on Farinet’s philosophy of life.
The trail starts below the village’s medieval ramparts (where we left our bikes) and winds up the hill continuing through Saillon’s narrow streets and then climbing up the steep hill covered in vines behind the village – up to the top where the world’s smallest vineyard is found.
The first set of windows deal with the discovery of self – through childhood, love, money and even suffering.
The second section concerns the desire to interact with others. These windows are entitled Freedom, Friendship, Sharing and Listening.
The final section deals with man’s search for fundamental absolutes in life – Action, Contemplation and finally, Death.
At the top of the hill is the Dalai Lama’s tiny vineyard and one last stained-glass window, entitled Immortality. Signs with words of inspiration from past visitors, many famous, such as Madonna, Gérard Depardieu and Peter Ustinov, hang along the path.
In 1880, at the age of 35, Farinet who had been on the run for years was cornered by police in a gorge above the Saillon where he fell, jumped or was possibly killed – a mysterious death that only added to the intrigue of his life.
We were entranced and inspired by the gorgeous windows, loved the story of Farinet and the Dalai Lama’s vineyard and uplifted by the walk up the hill along this life enhancing trail. We felt especially fortunate to have these experiences as this all happened quite by chance. What serendipity!
According to Pascal Thurre, one of the founders, if you want to be a Friend of Farinet all you have to do is visit the trail and vineyard and “love the Dream”
“There’s no membership fee. All you have to do is accept that we are on Earth to achieve happiness.”