Love your onions? An a-peel-ing festival awaits in the capital of Switzerland featuring 50,000kg of the vegetables

  • Each year in Switzerland’s fifth-largest city the Zibelemarit takes place 
  • The festival, which is hundreds of years old, is the only one that Bern hosts
  • The Daily Mail’s Hugo Brown gets up at 5am and joins in with the revelry… 

Where would we be without onions? Despite being at the root of countless dishes far and wide, the vegetable is rarely celebrated. Unless you’re Swiss.

Each year, in the country’s fifth largest city and capital, Bern, the Zibelemärit takes place.

On the fourth Monday of November the city’s inhabitants descend on the Old Town for a day of drinking, eating and confetti throwing at this folk festival — while local farmers arrive with 50,000 kg of onions, some in artistically woven plaits.

My girlfriend Elizabeth and I, wake bleary eyed at 5am on our first morning in Bern to join in with the action.

The Zibelemarit (above) is an annual festival in Bern that celebrates onions

We’re staying at Hotel Schweizerhof, a beautifully imposing building with 99 rooms, founded in 1859, which is just an onion’s throw from the drama.

What greets us is thumping music, a haze of cigarette smoke, the smell of mulled wine, onion tart and the beginnings of a confetti fight that will last for 15 hours.

We join in with a glass of prosecco and a mulled wine respectively, a bag of confetti, a couple of onion tarts and some garlands of braided red and white onions decorated with local flowers. The atmosphere is as joyous as it gets before 6am on a winter morning.

Our guide Beatrice, on a tour of the Old Town the next day, tells us that Bern doesn’t have festivals. Zibelemarit is the only one. You can tell — even before breakfast, there are plenty of revellers, the worse for wear, about.

Einstein, when asked what he would do if the world ended, joked: ‘I would stay in Bern [above], because everything takes longer there’

TRAVEL FACTS 

SWISS AIR (swissair.com) London to Bern from £110. Doubles at the Hotel Schweizerhof (schweizerhofbern.com) from £310. 

No one seems to know quite why the festival started. But most agree its origins are in the 15th century.

Some say that a fire in 1405 destroyed much of the town, including 600 homes and taking 100 lives. Local farmers came to fight the fire and, as a show of gratitude, Bern invited them to come and sell their produce at an all-day event in the heart of the city.

Onions aside, Albert Einstein once lived here and, although the Einsteinhaus is disappointing, it does prompt the realisation that I have no idea what the theory of relativity even is.

After the confetti has been cleared and the onions packed away for another year, the city seems much gentler.

After three days we prepare for departure, but I get the urge to linger longer — the pace and the calm is so at odds with London. So I have one thing in common with Einstein, who, when asked what he would do if the world ended, joked: ‘I would stay in Bern, because everything takes longer there.’

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