It’s called féra in France and lavaret in Switzerland, which vaguely translates into whitefish. But in English? No idea, so here’s what it looks like.
On the French shore (the lake is two-thirds Swiss, one-third French) of Lake Geneva féra, along with perch and trout, are mainstays, providing a livelihood to the 48 professional fishermen who still fish these waters.
Guillaume Mouchet is one of the 48. He specializes in féra – there aren’t enough perch to make a living.
“The perch is a victim of its success,” said Guillaume. “When restaurants began selling it, perch became the specialty and there are not enough. Many are now imported. So we started to specialize in féra.”
Guillaume’s little lakeside shop just outside Thonon-les-Bains sees a steady stream of customers. He works hard and seeing people is a welcome respite from the difficult job of fishing.
And it is hard. Late at night Guillaume sets up his nets, which he gathers before sunrise, rain or shine. On weekends he repairs the nets and greets customers, his father dropping by to lend a hand. Little has changed since Guillaume’s great-grandfather first started fishing in Lake Geneva.
Guillaume loves the lake.
“When it is quiet and I have time, I take photos.” He may earn his living as a fisherman, but in his heart of hearts lies a true artist. A quick look at his photos and you’ll easily see why.
That he loves the lake is no surprise. Most who have visited the region have been captivated by its beauty. Voltaire and Rousseau, Charles Dickens and Tolstoy, Audrey Hepburn and Graham Greene – all visited the lake and fell hopelessly in love with it.
But back to our féra for a moment.
It provides the ideal meal for people who love fish – as well as for people who hate it. Those who love it will find its tender fillets utterly moist and perfect, while those who hate fish will find it innoffensive, almost comforting in its absence of… fishiness.
The féra at the Chateau de Coudrée in nearby Sciez is delectable and the chef, Marina Reale-Laden, is also an artist, wringing gastronomy from féra of course but also from her herb garden, her flowers and her fresh produce.
“Féra is my favorite product,” she explains. “It’s difficult to cook – if you overcook it it becomes too dry. But I know where it’s from, I know the lake, I know what the fish eat – and I know how to be creative with it. I’m also very interested in medieval cuisine.”
Convenient, since her restaurant is part of a 12th century castle.
“The walls have been untouched for years,” said Catherine, Marina’s mother and owner of the Coudrée. “It once had seven kilometers of lakeshore but no one wanted to buy it because of all those forests and mosquitoes. That’s how it ended up in my family.”
Hard to imagine not wanting a stretch of lakeshore, when a single meter of Lake Geneva must now run in the millions.
I understand why, since this lovely corner of the lake has an air of peace, which locals call the molle du lac – the ‘soft’ of the lake. Something about the water and the view make you weak at the knees.
And maybe that’s why I can’t find the English word for féra. I’m ‘weak’ from the lake, happy to press the pause button on life until the word eventually finds its own way to me.
Things you should know
- Guillaume’s wonderful Lake Geneva photos can be seen on his Facebook page. Or visit his shop in Anthy-sur-Léman.
- For an unforgettable meal and to stay overnight, visit the Chateau de Coudrée and try their féra. And leave some space for their giant Grand Marnier soufflé if it’s being served that day.
- While in Thonon-les-Bains sample some of their famous spas, like the newly-renovated and ultramodern Valvital or the traditional thermes, or thermal baths of Thonon.
- Thonon is also a great place to sample the waters in other ways – by tasting them: the Rhône-Alpes region has more bottled waters than any other part of France.