Dec 27 2017

Dalai Lama, Swiss Robin Hood and the pursuit of happiness

Shannon Skinner travels to Saiilon, Valais, switzerland on a pilgrimage to walk Farinet Path and visit Dalai Lama vineyard

Vineyards of Saillon

I arrive by bus in the medieval village of Saillon, in Switzerland’s Valais region, 150 kms from Geneva, in the southern part of the country. The sun is shining over the Rhone Valley with its famous river, stepped vineyards and the surrounding Alps. It is a perfect day for a pilgrimage.

Saillon is known for thermal baths, exquisite wine and the world’s smallest vineyard, owned by the Dalai Lama, which was bequeathed to him. The vineyard, a small plot of land only 1.6 square meters with just 3 vines, sits on top of a hill overlooking the Rhone and is a memorial for Switzerland’s most legendary outlaw, Farinet, the Swiss Robin Hood.

Shannon Skinner travels to Saiilon, Valais, switzerland on a pilgrimage to walk Farinet Path and visit Dalai Lama vineyard

Farinet Path through the vineyards

My guide picks me up and we drive a short distance where we begin to walk the Farinet Path, which traces the life of the Swiss Robin Hood and was designed as a spiritual pilgrimage inviting visitors to discover the essentials in life. “The Farinet Path is a personal journey about finding happiness,” says my guide. It starts in the village, winds uphill through the stepped vineyards and ends at Dalai Lama’s vineyard on top of Saillon hill.

Shannon Skinner travels to Saiilon, Valais, switzerland on a pilgrimage to walk Farinet Path and visit Dalai Lama vineyard

One of the 21 stained glass windows along the Farinet Path

We being at a beautiful stained glass window, glistening in the sun. The guide tells me about the legend of Farinet, a womanizer and wine lover who loved making counterfeit money and giving it to the poor. Buried in Saillon, he died in mysterious circumstances. “It was murder or an accident, no-one knows,” says my guide. Farinet has been memorialized in a novel, songs, movies, and now even local currency, because of the values he stood for – freedom, peace and living the good life. The village even has a museum of counterfeit money.

Shannon Skinner travels to Saiilon, Valais, switzerland on a pilgrimage to walk Farinet Path and visit Dalai Lama vineyard

The second-last window on the path, depicting the death of Farinet

Along the path, there are 21 extraordinary stained glass stations, made by Swiss artists, that tell the story of the counterfeiter’s life, from childhood, to self-discovery, to injustice, to escaping prison, to love, to giving away his counterfeit money to the poor, to death. For each station we reach, my guide shares more of the folklore and universal truths about love, friendship, injustice, pleasure, silence, contemplation, understanding, action and freedom.

Shannon Skinner travels to Saiilon, Valais, switzerland on a pilgrimage to walk Farinet Path and visit Dalai Lama vineyard

Stranger resting and enjoying the sunshine

Walking through the Saillon vineyards is a dream come true. The Valais is one of Switzerland’s most important wine regions where several grape varietals are grown, such as Pinot Noir, Syrah and the indigenous Fendant. Amidst the vines, a winemaker appears to be resting on a stone bench. Vehicles are not permitted in the vineyards, so the only sound is our shoes trampling the dirt and the whir of my Canon.

Shannon Skinner travels to Saiilon, Valais, switzerland on a pilgrimage to walk Farinet Path and visit Dalai Lama vineyard, wine

We reach the top of Saillon hill and stroll through the Pascal Thurre Passage named after the visionary who helped put the destination on the map. Along the walkway are small plaques with words etched into them to remind the pilgrim of the essence of life, like le destin (destiny). Metal signs with words of inspiration from past visitors hang along the path, and there is a stone where you can write messages (see my message below).

Shannon Skinner travels to Saiilon, Valais, switzerland on a pilgrimage to walk Farinet Path and visit Dalai Lama vineyard, wine

Pacal Thurre Passage, final window “immortality” awaits us at the end. Dalai Lama’s vineyard is to the left, on other side of the wall of signs.

Shannon Skinner travels to Saiilon, Valais, switzerland on a pilgrimage to walk Farinet Path and visit Dalai Lama vineyard, wine

Guess who?! I wonder if it is still there?

Shannon Skinner travels to Saiilon, Valais, switzerland on a pilgrimage to walk Farinet Path and visit Dalai Lama vineyard, wine

Destiny, one of the plaques in the ground of universal human values

Shannon Skinner travels to Saiilon, Valais, switzerland on a pilgrimage to walk Farinet Path and visit Dalai Lama vineyard, wine

Dalai Lama’s vineyard and the 3 “Farinet vines” amongst signs of celebrities who have tended to the vineyard

The Pacal Thurre passage leads us to the Dalai Lama’s vineyard with its 3 “Farinet” vines, which produce grapes that are blended in the production of a local wine and then sold to raise money for charity. Like so much in Switzerland, it may be small, but it has a big heart. The vineyard is taken care of by many celebrities, such as Gérard Depardieu and Peter Ustinov; and many of their names appear on signs in the vineyard.

Shannon Skinner travels to Saiilon, Valais, switzerland on a pilgrimage to walk Farinet Path and visit Dalai Lama vineyard, wine

Dalai Lama has visited the vineyard once. 

Shannon Skinner travels to Saiilon, Valais, switzerland on a pilgrimage to walk Farinet Path and visit Dalai Lama vineyard, wine

Book made of metal dedicated to the vineyard

And at last, we reach the final and most impressive Farinet stained glass window: immortality. As the story goes, Farinet by now has been stripped of all material possessions – he is free.

Shannon Skinner travels to Saiilon, Valais, switzerland on a pilgrimage to walk Farinet Path and visit Dalai Lama vineyard, wine

The final window of Farinet’s story, Immortality, next to the vineyard and overlooking the Rhone Valley and Valais Alps

Shannon Skinner travels to Saiilon, Valais, switzerland on a pilgrimage to walk Farinet Path and visit Dalai Lama vineyard, wine

“The wind blows where it wants.” ~ St. John. Plague in the ground at the base of ‘Immortality’ station.

 

 

Shannon Skinner travels to Saiilon, Valais, switzerland on a pilgrimage to walk Farinet Path and visit Dalai Lama vineyard, wine

Part of the memorial for Farinet, which was made for an anniversary event.

On full display around us is the Rhone Valley and Valais Alps. A few birds are fluttering about and the wind whistles through my hair.

Shannon Skinner travels to Saiilon, Valais, switzerland on a pilgrimage to walk Farinet Path and visit Dalai Lama vineyard

Bayart Tower 

And I feel free. I realize this, to me, is happiness.

After our walk, my legs a bit wobbly now, I check into my resort, les Bains de Saillon, and relax in its thermal baths, located alongside the Rhone River in the valley. With the sun setting, I look up to the vineyards, to the hill of Saillon where I learned about Farinet, and I wonder if my life is about to change.

If you go…

Where to stay: Les Bains de Saillon (the Baths of Saillon) 4-star hotel and thermal park, which has contemporary-style rooms, several restaurants and outstanding spa and wellness facilities. Reservations: https://www.bainsdesaillon.ch/en/.

Getting there: The closest major airport is Geneva (150 kms).  By train from Geneva (airport or city centre) to Saillon, with a transfer to bus in Martigny (15 mins drive) to Saillon (bus takes you to the doorsteps of Les Bains de Saillon). To drive is (1.5 hrs). Be sure to check out the Swiss Travel Pass offerings and schedule directly. Train and bus travel is Switzerland is easy and convenient.

ResourcesValais Tourism, and Swiss Tourism

Shannon Skinner is an award-winning host/creator of ExtraordinaryWomenTV.com, radio host, international speaker, author and travel journalist. She lives to travel the world, discover fine wines and write about it. Follow her on Twitter at @Shannon_Skinner.

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