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Jonathan Fowler checks into an alpine pension along with a Druid

(Keystone)

You don't expect to run into a practising Druid in the average hotel garden. But then the Belvédère isn't an entirely average location, and neither is Corbeyrier, the small mountain village that is its home.

Corbeyrier overlooks the vineyards that line the eastern shore of Lake Geneva, and the Dents du Midi mountains. At 920 metres above sea level, it's the last settlement on the winding road up from the small town of Aigle, before you reach the Tour d'Ai mountain.

But it's the attitude and not the altitude that makes Corbeyrier different.

Solas the Druid was one of the guests staying in the small, seven-room Belvédère. She said she came there on retreat, appreciating the atmosphere provided by the owner, Kathleen Malcause.

Malcause took over the tenancy of the derelict century-old building seven years ago, and became the owner in 1999. She spent her time refurbishing it, while also running a physiotherapy practice, a second-hand shop, and jewellery workshop.

She set out to create a venue where people could come to meditate, enjoy friendly company, and the alpine environment. Rather than furnishing the Belvédère from a hotel supplier, she has relied on chance, picking up items she likes from house clearances.

Guests take their meals together, in the summer sitting at a long table in the garden, which provides an excellent view of the Dents du Midi. As well as the occasional druid, visitors range from passing tourists on their way over the mountain range, to those who get seduced by Corbeyrier and stay for a fortnight.

Kathleen Malcause is one of only 340 inhabitants of the village. Like many mountain settlements across the country, it has suffered from years of rural depopulation, as young people moved away to work or study. In the mid-1990s there were so few children that the local school was threatened with closure.

Few such villages in Switzerland have their own tourist or development office, and have problems promoting themselves either for holidaymakers or potential residents. In 1996 a group of citizens got together and set up the "Confrérie du Loup" - or Brotherhood of the Wolf - an association of enthusiasts of all ages and sexes dedicated to promoting Corbeyrier as a destination, but also to creating an ambience for the people who live there.

The esoteric name of the Brotherhood reflects the history of the village. The inhabitants are known in the local dialect as "robaleux" - or stealers of wolves.

The legend is that the last wolf in the canton was hunted down by the inhabitants of neighbouring Leysin, which, after being wounded, died at the gates of Corbeyrier. The villagers claimed the kill and the prize money that went with it.

The Brotherhood's members are more animal friendly than their forefathers. So much so that they named their grand plan to put the village on the cultural map after the victim of their ancestral attentions.

Their "Danse avec le Loup" festival links them to Corbeyrier's past, and draws not just druidic enthusiasts like Solas, but over 3,000 people a year.


by Jonathan Fowler


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