Travellers arriving in Vevey by train have a choice of exits. Our exit is unseen, back along the platform in the Valais direction almost to the end, a right turn onto an imperceptible path that leads into Rue de la Glergère.
This narrow street dissects Rue des Communaux, the road that fronts the buildings of the railway station, and Avenue de la Gare, the main thoroughfare through the town, and comes out on Rue du Simplon.
It is a short walk through a tree-lined plaza to Rue du Théâtre and the Läderach chocolate shop at number eight, a story for another day because we have arrived on market day in the expansive Grand Place, a short walk further along.
By chance we have arrived on the cusp between the last warm days of autumn and the first cold days of winter. There is a slight chill in the dry air. As the morning progresses the air begins to warm. The sight of dark clouds over the lake is a sign of rain.
The market at Vevey has a reputation beyond the Grand Place. Traders who frequent the circuit of market days between Vevey and the Valais towns arrive with produce from the region and from across the lake in Savoy. Grenoble grown fruit and vegetables add to the rich harvest from Vaud and the Valais.
Cheeses, salamis and sausages are among the artisanal specialities, but today the queues form between the bread stall, selling typical Swiss breads of all shapes and sizes, and an old man standing behind a small fold-out bench.
He is the mushroom man, selling the last fruits of the forest – cepes, chanterelles and oysters – of the season. An elderly woman, clearly of his acquaintance, shows him a large brown paper bag. He takes a sharp look inside, then weighs the contents on his machine. In seconds they agree a price. He adds the new bounty to his dwindling stock.
The area between the Rue du Simplon and Rue du Théâtre is artisanal Vevey. At the end of Rue du Théâtre where the street joins the Grand Place, a street faces towards the east. This is the Rue des Deux-Marchés.
On the left, a little further along, is Boulangerie-Pâtisserie Favrel Fils, a bakery specialising in the breads and pastries of the Swiss Riviera, and including taillé aux greubons and tarte à la crème.
Now we are back on Rue du Simplon where the Vevey branch of the Macheret Fromagerie chain of cheese shops offers much more. Like Wyssmüller, Macheret displays the artisanal produce of the region, including paté à la viande and saucisses aux choux.
We are now going to meet Françoise Lambert, curator of the Historical Museum of Vevey, to learn the history of the market. Vevey market is held in high esteem, she says, because the location – one of the largest natural squares in Europe – allows room for a diverse range of artisans and traders. It has been that way for hundreds of years.
‘It dates back to the middle ages and its actual location – the Place du Marché – outside the wall of the city is attested from the 14th Century. It took place on Tuesdays. In 1470 a part of the population asked the Duke of Savoie Amédée IX to bring it back in the city because of security and comfort reasons, others asked to keep it in the Place du Marché. Finally, the “big market” continues to be present at the square every Tuesday while other smaller markets are in the city every Thursday and Saturday. Amédée IX established four trade fairs – St. Antoine (January 14), St. Georges (April 23), St. Marie-Madeleine (July 22) and All Saints Days (November 1). Nowadays the fair of St. Martin (November 11) still exist and it’s always a big success.’
‘During the 18th Century the market was organized in a rigorous way. We know, for example, that various sounds from Savueur’s Tower (the actual entrance of the “rue due lac”) indicated the opening of the trade for different goods: 7am for the butter, 8am for the wheat and so on. At the bottom of the Place du Marché, under rows of chestnut trees, cheese, butters and others dairy products were sold. The Grenette, built in 1808, became used as a covered place for the wheat.’
‘Being so close to the lake with a lakeshore, easily reachable, the expansive square was an important crossroads from north, east and west and linked Vevey to several villages and important cities. Everything helped the development of the market, which was known in the whole region.’
Local produce continues to attract a regular clientele. ‘We find all the regional products that are not necessarily in the big supermarket, like the fresh fishes of the lake,’ she says, adding that the amount of produce from France has been increasing since the mid-2000s.
The market is held on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 7 am to 6 pm.
It is presently suspended until the first of September because of the Fête des Vignerons (the winegrowers festival). Go here for updates.