Absinthe: a Franco-Swiss story

Invented in the Val-de-Travers in Switzerland in the 18th century, this mythical drink was mass-produced in Pontarlier in France in the 19th century, thus intertwining the destinies of the capital of Haut-Doubs and the peaceful Swiss valley.

 

A member of the Artemisia family, wormwood is a highly aromatic hardy plant that grows throughout Europe up to an altitude of 2000 metres. However, it is only in the Franco-Swiss Jura that the plants produce such an unrivalled scent which is far superior to plants from other regions. Its medicinal and therapeutic properties for digestive problems have been recognised since ancient times.

At the end of the 18th century in Switzerland, in the Val-de-Travers area, wormwood blended with other plants such as hyssop, lemon balm, anise and fennel was used to produce a macerated or distilled drink. As a result of high export taxes, Swiss distillers decided to transfer their businesses to nearby Pontarlier in France, the capital of the Haut-Doubs département, 837 metres above sea level. Things were not easy at first and it was only from 1830 that absinthe consumption really took off, thanks to the unintentional support of French colonial troops who used absinthe as a water purifier on their travels overseas. Returning victorious to France, they not only continued their drinking habits, consuming absinthe in the grand boulevard cafés of Paris and the bars in garrison towns, but they were also viewed as heroes that the French public was only too happy to imitate.