The usual reason one heads to Bellegarde is to jump onto the Geneva-Paris TGV, as it makes its first stop to pick up those living in neighbouring Pays de Gex. But next time, just before the downhill drive, swing a left to the Fort l’Ecluse where an exceptional jazz festival is taking place all summer long. The Fort was founded by a Duke of Savoy, completed by Vauban during the reign of Louis XIV, destroyed by the Austrians in 1815, but rebuilt by the French between 1816 and 1828, as a defensive sector of the Rhône.
While generally ignored and falling into disarray, the Fort l’Ecluse was bought by a syndicate of nineteen communities of the Pays de Gex and is now operated as a museum, open to the public since 1995.
But on a Saturday summer night, the dramatic backdrop of the rocky overhang and the Rhône quietly flowing below, make for perfect acoustics and a stirring setting for the annual Jazz Festival of Fort l’Ecluse. Now in its third year, the festival was born during a gathering of amateur astronomers who convene every summer to star gaze during the Orion Society’s Nuits des Etoiles at the Fort!
The musician/jazz producer Adriano Bassanini, together with Nicolas Rénard of the Communauté de Communes du Pays de Gex have led this effort with passion. In Adriano’s words, “A national monument of the French is magically transformed into a concert venue every summer!” And indeed, the growing crowds each year are a testament to its success.
The music is good old, old-timey jazz – which started with a Tribute to Ellington in June to swing in July. At the session on 11 July, an energetic young group called Lost in Swing, followed by The Benny’s Goodies, a separate dancing stage had been set up. Coco Charleston, a self-taught young Romanian woman dressed in a period outfit, with exceptional footwork dancing…yes… the Charleston, added to the charm and romance of the night. An event not easily forgotten.
However, more is yet to come, including The Fantastic Harlem Drivers, the Silvan Zingg Trio, fireworks, more dancing and great music till 5 September. Click here for the full programme.
Get there early to visit the Fort and to get a good parking space.
By Renu Chahil-Graf