Tolkien fans descend on spa town for ‘Middle-earth’ festival

Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, Gollum and company will be feted this weekend in Leukerbad in an event billed as Switzerland’s largest fantasy festival.

Tolkien fans descend on spa town for 'Middle-earth' festival

The Middle-earth festival, dedicated to the world of British writer J.R.R. Tolkien, has attracted 1,500 celebrants from 17 countries to the spa town in the canton of Valais, according to organizers.

The four-day extravaganza, which ends on Sunday, features concerts of medieval music, jugglers, acrobats, dancers, jousting between knights and participants wearing costumes of characters from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit.

This year marks the sixth time the festival has been held since it was launched in 2001, the last one being organized in 2005.

Since then, it appears there has been a pent-up demand from Middle-earth aficionados.

When tickets went on sale for this year’s edition last October, they were snapped up online in five minutes, according to the Leukerbad tourist office.

The resort community, known in French as Loèche-les-Bains, is otherwise famous for its thermal baths and as a centre for mountain sports.

The number of participants in the Middle-earth festival is limited to 1,500, although a small number of tickets are sold each day to curious punters.

Among the festival’s other attractions are workshops on everything from wool spinning to archery, guided walks and a parade through the town of Leukerbad.

A “banquet for hobbits” promising medieval dishes is planned for Saturday night, while a fireworks display set to the music from the Lord of the Rings film will provide the finale on Sunday.

Festival homepage (in German)

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Drownings claim four victims amid heatwave

At least four drowning deaths were reported in Switzerland on Tuesday amid the country’s continuing heatwave, which is drawing throngs of bathers to the country’s rivers and lakes.

Drownings claim four victims amid heatwave
Lake Neuchâtel, where two of the drownings occurred. Photo:

The deaths occurred in the cantons of Zurich, Neuchâtel, Vaud and Bern, according to police and media reports.

A 44-year-old tourist from Thailand drowned in the Limmat River near Dietikon, northwest of Zurich, shortly after 4pm, Zurich cantonal police said.

The man and his 41-year-old companion were seen drifting past Werd Island before he sank, police said.

His friend swam to shore to get help.

Two helicopters, boats and police divers were engaged to search for the man, whose body was discovered 150 metres from the Dietikon power plant.

Zurich cantonal police and the public prosecutor are investigating the exact causes of the man’s death.

Meanwhile, Neuchâtel cantonal police issued a plea for information from the public after a 17-year-old boy drowned in Lake Neuchâtel on Tuesday at around 6.30pm.

The youth was swimming with a friend near a jetty at Neuchâtel’s marina, police said.

His friend was unable to safe the boy and efforts by emergency medics to revive him were unsuccessful.

Police are continuing to investigate the case.

The incident happened about an hour after another drowning in the same lake off a beach in Yverdon-les-Bains in the canton of Vaud.

Vaud cantonal police reported receiving a call about a man who was in distress while swimming about 100 metres from Yverdon’s “grande plage” at the western end of the lake.

Other bathers were able to pull the man to shore but efforts by ambulance attendants to revive him were unsuccessful, police said.

Police said efforts to identify the man were under way and the cause his death is being investigated.

Meanwhile, 20 Minuten reported online that a young man drowned in Lake Biel between 8 and 9pm.

The newspaper cited a witness who said the man was swimming in the lake near the Biel city district of Vingelz when he suddenly cried for help.

The man’s girlfriend reportedly jumped into the lake to save him but was unsuccessful.

20 Minutes said police divers recovered the man’s body around 10pm.

Police have confirmed a swimming accident but did not immediately release any details.