Sunbeams shot through the forest, lighting up the wispy fog on the path ahead. For over an hour, I’d been walking up the mountain trail without seeing a soul, marching to the off-kilter orchestras of Swiss cowbells ringing their dull symphonies in nearby meadows, to which I added my own contrapuntal exhalations whenever I stopped to catch my breath. For several minutes, I was certain that I had lost my way. But eventually I spotted a sign for the goal I was seeking: La Fontaine Froide, it said, was somewhere up ahead.
A “cold fountain” wasn’t the only reason I’d come to this tiny Francophone valley in northwest Switzerland, just across the border from the Franche-Comté province of eastern France. I was looking for the fountain because its chilly water was said to be ideal for diluting — or “troubling,” as locals put it — a glass of absinthe, the area’s traditional alcoholic beverage. An intense spirit flavored with a bouquet of powerful herbs, absinthe had been the favorite drink of impressionist painters, romantic poets and the bons vivants of the belle epoque before being banned around Europe on the eve of World War I. There was supposed to be a bottle of the good stuff, as well as a glass, waiting to reward any visitor who survived the long hike up the mountain.
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