Expat life ~ celebrating la fête nationale Suisse in Washington, D.C.

One of my absolute favourite thing about living in Washington, D.C. is getting to know people not just from every state in the United States but also from all over the world. With 176 resident embassies in the city, and the World Bank, the IMF and countless other international organizations you can make friends from around the globe without leaving the district. Over the weekend, I got to meet a lot of Swiss and learn a lot more about Switzerland when I attended the Schweizer Bundesfeier celebration thrown by the Swiss Club of Washington, D.C. at the Embassy of Switzerland on Saturday.

Every August 1st, some 8 million people around the world celebrate one of four holiday: the above mentioned Schweizer Bundesfeier, Fête nationale, Festa nazionale… or Fiasta naziunala depending depending on which part of Switzerland they are from and which of its four official languages they speak. The holiday commemorates the Federal Charter of 1291 which unified the then 3 Alpine cantons into the foundation of modern day Switzerland. Despite growing up in the country next door , I must confess I didn’t know much about how my neutral neighbours celebrate their national holiday. Here’s a few things I learned…

The celebration at the Swiss Embassy was one was one of the most family friendly one I’ve ever attended. It’s not an official event thrown by the embassy but rather one that is hosted on the grounds of the embassy. Let’s talk about these grounds. Who knew the Swiss Embassy has such expansive grounds? I guess anyone who’s ever attended the infamous Swiss Soiree probably knew that. I’m still hoping to get an invite some day… I’m also dying to check out the Hemingway bar tucked inside the Cuban interest section (update: with the recent opening of the Embassy of Cuba in Washington, the Cuban interest section at the Swiss Embassy is no more.) We’ll see which invite comes my way first… though probably neither 😉 Anyway, Switzerland is clearly a small but mighty (wealthy) country, with the Embassy to show it. The afternoon garden-party on Saturday kicked off with alphorns (also known as the Alpine Horn) and took place for the most part on the grounds between the embassy and the Ambassador’s residence, which occupies a modern charcoal color concrete and sand-blasted building.

alphorns, alpine horns, swiss embassy dc, switzerland, suisseEmbassy of Switzerland in Washington DC, suisse embassy, suisse ambassade









Many of the guests brought their own lawn chairs or picnic blankets and just hung out around the embassy while children went to play in the pool or took rides on carts pulled by gorgeous (and huge!) Swiss dogs. There was traditional music, yodeling, dancing and Fahnenschwingen (hope I spelled that right!) And of course, there were sausages, and beer and wine. We tried two different beers, Schloss Eggenberg hopfen konig, which is actually Austrian, and an Erdinger Hefe-Weizen, neither one of which it turns out, was actual Swiss (they’re Austrian and German respectively.) The wine, on the other hand, was Swiss! I loved sharing a bottle of Amigne Valais AOC with one of my favourite wino, mlle Lisa C. In case you’re wondering, Amigne is a rare grape grown only in the Valais region. Valais is  Switzerland’s largest wine-producing area, in the upper Rhone Valley, where most of the vineyard sit on terraced Alpine slopes. Ambassador Manuel Sager, who will be returning to Switzerland very soon and was wearing a bright red Swiss shirt over his checkered collar shirt, treated us to a different wine for the wine toast after the Swiss national anthem and the speeches, but I didn’t get the name of that wine. The wine toast was nice, of course. But, you know, we toast with bubbles only where I’m from…

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But the highlight of the whole event for me was the lampion parade and the bonfire. How the Swiss embassy got a permit to light a huge bonfire in the middle of the city, I am not sure… but Höhenfeuers are typical of the national holiday celebrations in Switzerland and I loved the whole experience. Children were provided with paper lanterns with a lit candle inside (another fire hazard I was surprised to see…) and paraded down to the bonfire led by flutists. In Switzerland the bonfire would have been followed by fireworks but it was quite enough excitement just with the huge bonfire to be honest…

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If you’re in Washington, D.C. next August 1st, I recommend you look up the Swiss national holiday celebration organized by the Swiss Club of Washington, D.C. especially if you have children, but not only. I had a great time with Lisa learning all about Schweizer Bundesfeier. And while I didn’t win round trip tickets to Zurich during the raffle, as a French person I left the embassy feeling quite secure knowing that  yes, Switzerland may have the upper hand in chocolate, watches, tennis players and, apparently, bonfires… but we beat them 5-2 during the World Cup and still make better wine 😉


Vive la revolution (française)

Marianne02Well, July 4th is behind us and that means only one thing: July 14th is just around the corner! Cocorico. Dust off your béret and French maid costumes… it’s time to parté*!! I’ll be updating this post as more events are announced but for now, here is a guide, in chronological order, to all things Bastille Day in Paris on the Potomac:

Bistrot Lepic is one of my favourite little French restaurant in the city and they’re celebrating France’s Fête Nat’ with a special 3-courses $34.95 special menu the whole week leading up to le quatorze juillet. Chose from soupe de légumes et haricots au pistou (soupe de pistou is the best thing ever, trust me), pied de cochon désôssé et croustillant or escargots des bois de Bourgogne au beurre d’ail for starters before moving on to rognons de veaucassoulet or moules provençales. Finally round up the meal with a mousse au chocolat or a coupe Mont Blanc. On Monday, Wednesday and Sunday enjoy live jazz performances as well! 

French Chef Cedric Maupillier celebrates his national holiday at Mintwood Place with a Provence inspired menu that includes a pissaladiere (I *love* anchovies*,) moules au pistou (gosh, it’s been ages since I’ve had a good soupe au pistou!), filet de daurade royale au fenouil and a warm peach croustade. The menu must be ordered by the whole table and will set you back $65, plus an additional $35 for the wine pairing.

French painter Georges Braque’s revolutionary approach to art is the point of departure for musical interventions, a let-them-eat-cake dessert bar, cubist cocktails, and much more at BYT’s “Unstill Life: A Party Worth Losing Its Head Over.” $22 get you into the event at the Phillips Collection (5-8:30PM), $10 get you into the after party at Georgetown’s Malmaison (9PM-2AM). $30 get you in both.

The Kreeger Museum of Art, Washington, D.C. © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

The Kreeger Museum of Art, © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Cork on 14th street is hosting Ryne Hazaard of Potomac Selections for a French white wine tasting between 5-8PM. Perfect timing for those who want to enjoy a bottle of something French on the 14th.

On Friday, July 12, 2013, the French Embassy in Washington, DC welcomes Washingtonians and their guests for le Comité Tricolore’s  annual Bastille Day Gala fundraiser. The list of restaurants involved goes on and on (2941 Restaurant – Bastille Restaurant – Bistro La Bonne – Bistrot Lepic – Cafe du Parc at Willard Intercontinental – Central Michel Richard – Chez Billy – Ici Urban Bistro at Sofitel Lafayette Square – Pâtisserie Poupon – Paul – Petits Plats etc.) though yes, they’re pretty much all French. (7PM to midnight. $95) Earlier in the day (starting at 5PM), drop by Bell Wine and Spirits on M Street for a French wine tasting and sale

L’Alliance Francaise has two different events planned that day, one more family friendly, the French Festival at Hillwood Museum and Gardens during the day (10-5PM, $18. $15 for seniors. $10 for AFDC members, Hillwood members, and students. $5 for children 6-18. Free for children under 6. more info here) and the Bastille Day Rooftop Party for those 21 and above, at the Beacon’s Skybar rooftop with Art Soiree (5PM-midnight, $20, tickets here.) You can also “storm” Central Michel Richard’s French wine list during their “let them eat cougères” special dinner. There’ll be free cougères (ie cheese puff deliciousness, make some at home following this recipe), a special menu, a live performance by Laissez Fourre and 20% off all French wine bottles from 5-11PM. 

Also on the 13th, L’Enfant Cafe Bar‘s infamous annual Bastille Day street party (3PM-11PM), which I’m actually looking forward to attending for the very first time since, for once, it doesn’t conflict with the French expat community’s garden party at the French Embassy. Admission is $6 and there will be the usual French maid race (at 6PM), a meet-and-greet with Louis XVI (pre-loss of head I assume), DJs, can-can dancers, and new for 2013, aerialists above the Vernon Street fête. In the same part of town, Napoleon is throwing a Bastille Day Celebration in its champagne lounge with a complementary flûte of champagne and some French beats.


Looking for something a little less crowded? In France, we celebrate the night before July 14th with bal des pompiers or firemen’s balls. I don’t think any fire station in town will be throwing a party, but dinner and/or drinks at one of D.C.’s fire stations-turned restaurant could be really fun. May I suggest Sixth Engine on Massachusetts Avenue (the bistro filet and frites sounds French enough to me…) or maybe a visit to Hook and Ladder Brewery‘s Fire 1 Station in Silver Spring?

I’m always looking forward to more options and events celebrating my national holiday, so I welcome Living Social’s entry into the mix with their Bastille Day Bar Crawl through Penn Quarter (11Am-noon, $9 + $4 drink specials at each stop). Let’s hope next year they actually hit a French bar though (no Bar Louie doesn’t count!)

For a healthier option, you can also run 4 miles  in celebration of the French Revolution with the D.C. Road Runners. The race starts at 7PM at Fletcher’s Boat House (4940 Canal Rd NW, Washington, DC. Free for DC Road Runners members, $5 otherwise. Register here.) If 4 miles sounds like a lot to run, you can also run around the Navy Memorial with Paul Bakery’s Bastille Day Baguette Relay Race. The 3rd Annual Baguette Relay Race will take place at 2PM (Kids Race) followed by the 2:30PM adult race. Teams of 6 people are encouraged to register on the event’s facebook page and can win $25 gift cards to Paul if they managed to cross the finish line first without eating their baguette. There will be other activities, organized with l’Alliance Française, like fishing for gifts in a mini-pool or building our own Bastille tower.  Or, if you’d rather watch other people run, you can also catch the waiters’ race at 4PM at Malmaison. After partying it up on the 11th with BYT, the new Georgetown hot spot is celebrating again the day of with a Bastille Day Extravaganza from 2-9PM. I don’t know if you remember the days of the course des garçons de café at Bistro les Halles, but I do (I guess I’ve been in DC for a long time…) and I’m stoked Malmaison is bringing it back! In addition to the race, there’ll be crêpes bien sur, free face painting for kiddies and lots of Marseillaise singing. You can brush up on the lyrics here (how cute is this little girl singing about soldiers cutting the throats of our sons and consorts? *adorable*) Oh, and after Malmaison, why not pop over to the Graham. The Georgetown hotel is celebrating all things Bleu Blanc Rouge Rosé from 5-9PM. Guests arriving between 5-6 pm enjoy free Vie Vite Rose Wine sponsored by Vie Vite Domaine Sainte Marie (merci for the tip Rock the Rooftop DC!). 

Paul's 2012 Bastille Day Baguette Relay Race - photo by moi.

Paul’s 2012 Bastille Day Baguette Relay Race – photo by moi.

Of course, many of the area’s French restaurants are celebrating the holiday:

  • Café du Parc is bringing the Champs Elysées to Pennsylvania Avenue with a special lunch and dinner menu on their terrace. There’ll be live music from the Gypsy Roots Quartet (12PM-4PM) and a strolling violinist and accordionist from (5PM-9PM) as well as à la carte grilled French specialties like grilled salmon, lamb chops with Provençale ratatouille, and a petit filet with béarnaise sauce, crêpes and desserts.
  • Terasol, a French-owned neighbourhood Restaurant and gallery in Chevy Chase, has a 3 courses, $39 special menu (which is a pretty good price given that there’s sole on the menu) and accompanied by musical performances.
  • For Virginians who don’t want to come into the city (or Washingtonians who don’t mind getting out of it really), 2941 in Falls Church is throwing a day-long Bastille Day Food and Wine festival that looks pretty awesome. Executive Chef Bertrand Chemel and his team are hosting two separate events: the Food and Wine Festival earlier in the day (11AM-2:30PM, $48 all-inclusive, children under 10 free. Advance tickets here) that includes a buffet of cheese, charcuterie, fruits de mer, mini croque-monsieur and merguez (miam miam) sandwiches and a seated 4 course tasting menu dinner in the evening (6-8:30PM, $95 all inclusive. Tickets here, check out the complete menu on their website, it looks really fabulous!). 
  • Also in Virginia, Bastille Restaurant and Wine Bar is offering a special $39 “Menu du Citoyen.” I must say I want to go just so I can try the hibiscus crême brulée and the foie gras burger.
  • Bistrot du Coin has been throwing the go-to Bastille day dinner for years and 2013 is no exception. No special menu there, just the usual bistro fair + DJ and possibly some dancing on the tables… possibly.

And of course, we all know the French love wine. So do some Texan. Cordial is marking the day with a free French wine tasting at their shop in Union Market (noon-3PM). Cork on 14th street is “decapitating” the prices on its French wine. Just mention “storming of the Bastille” to get 10% off all your French wine purchase that day. 

Finally, your last option is to just stay at home and watch a good French movie. I’ve got a list of some of the best available on Netflix right here.

As for me… I kind of wish the French Embassy had moved its Garden Party to start a little bit earlier since 6-10PM on a Sunday isn’t exactly the most convenient time to celebrate (4-8PM would have been a lot better). But I still wouldn’t miss our annual expat gathering for anything… follow me on Instagram to see how the French community celebrates, I’ll be posting some pictures (it’s me, so probably of champagne and macarons) throughout the evening.

Who says we can’t celebrate beyond July 14th? The French-American Chamber of Commerce is keeping the party going with a wine and cheese tasting on the terrace of Miller & Chevalier, overlooking the White House (Members $20, others $35, 6-8PM.)

Finally, since it rained on June 7th when Casablanca was first scheduled to screen at The Heurich House Museum garden for the Golden Triangle Cinema Series, you can catch the Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman classic on the 19th. If you’ve ever watched the film, you know it features the BEST Marseille scene EVER (and yes, I like that “we’ll always have Paris” line too…). If you’ve never seen it… well, this is your chance!!

Joyeuse Fête Nationale everyone!!

* parté is not actually a French word.