I arrive by bus in the medieval village of Saillon, in Switzerland’s Valais region. The sun is shining over the Rhone Valley with its legendary river, terraced vineyards, thermal baths, orchards and surrounding Alps. It is a perfect day for a pilgrimage.
My guide picks me up, and we begin to walk the Farinet Path. It was a spiritual pilgrimage that traces the life of Switzerland’s legendary outlaw, Joseph-Samuel Farinet, known as the Swiss Robin Hood. “The Farinet Path is a personal journey about finding happiness,” says my guide. It starts in Saillon village, goes uphill through the terraced vineyards and ends on top of a hill at the world’s smallest vineyard, owned by Dalai Lama. It is 3 km and takes about one hour.
At our first stop we saw a beautiful stained glass window. The guide tells me about the 19th century criminal who loved women, wine, and making counterfeit money and giving it to the poor. On the run from the law, he sought refuge in Valais. Buried in Saillon, he died in mysterious circumstances. “Murder or an accident, no-one knows,” says my guide. Farinet has been memorialized in a novel, songs, movies and local currency – as a defender of freedom and peace, values he shares with Dalai Lama. The village also has a museum of counterfeit money.
Along the path, we passed 21 extraordinary stained glass stations. Each tells a story of the counterfeiter’s life. Tales of Farinet from his childhood – to self-discovery, injustice, suffering, prison and escaping, to pleasure, to giving away his counterfeit money to the poor and to his untimely death.
“ THE WORLD’S SMALLEST VINEYARD IS REGISTERED AT 1.618 SQ. METRES, IT HAS ONLY THREE VINES”
Walking through Saillon’s vineyards is a dream come true. The Valais is one of Switzerland’s most important wine regions where several grape varieties are grown, such as Pinot Noir, Syrah and the indigenous Fendant. Vehicles are not allowed, to protect the vines from pollution. The only sound is our shoes trampling the dirt and the whir of my Canon.
We reach the top of the hill overlooking Saillon and, finally, the Dalai Lama’s vineyard, which was bequeathed to him in 1999 and is a memorial for Farinet. The land is registered at 1.618 sq. metres – the Pythagoras Golden Mean, or divine proportion. It has only three vines. Their grapes are used in the production of wine that is sold to raise money for charity. Although the Dalai Lama has only visited once, the vineyard is taken care of by many celebrities, such as Gérard Depardieu, Peter Ustinov and royalty; with their names appearing on signs.
This is a welcoming place for silence and contemplation. There are small plaques as reminders of the universal human condition, such as destiny, love, suffering and courage. Inspirational signs left by many famous visitors, including Madonna, hang along the path; and there is a slab where you can write messages.
Here is the last and most impressive Farinet window, immortality. As the story goes, Farinet has been stripped of all material possessions, and all he has is his essence.
He is free.
“The wind blows where it wants.” ~ St. John
On full display around us is the magnificent Rhone Valley and Valais Alps. The wind whistles through my hair. At this moment, with nothing but my camera, I feel free.
After our walk, I check into my hotel, Les Bains de Saillon, to relax in its thermal baths, located alongside the Rhone River in the valley. With the sun setting, I look up to the hill where I walked amongst the vines and thought of Farinet.
If you go…
Where to stay: Les Bains de Saillon (Baths of Saillon) 4-star resort and Thermal Park, with contemporary-style rooms, several restaurants, and spa/wellness facilities.