The fact that Switzerland has its very own currency may come as a surprise to some, so a trip to the canton of Valais will come with a double shock. That’s because the people of Valais now have their very own currency – the Farinet, dedicated to famous philanderer and counterfeiter Joseph-Samuel Farinet.
The money runs parallel with the Swiss Franc and is worth exactly the same. So far it can be used in around 100 bars, restaurants and shops across the canton (which you can find on this handy interactive map). Around 500,000 notes are said to have been printed.
The dedication to Farinet may have raised a few eyebrows in Switzerland, but has been met with appreciation in Valais. Farinet was an Italian who came to be known as the “Robin Hood of the Alps”, not because he stole from the rich, but for his talent for forgery.
He came to Valais in the 1860s after fleeing his native Italy for the crime of forgery. It didn’t take him long to get up to his old tricks and he began minting fake 20 cents coins. But cunningly, he used the coins to buy off the local peasants, handing out the coins like candy, in return for food and shelter, and earning their long-lasting trust and loyalty.
Having the local people on his side helped Farinet to evade capture for nearly ten years. By this time, there were so many fake 20 cent coins in circulation, as many as one-third, that they began to be called “Farinets”.
The cantonal authorities went looking for Farinet and eventually cornered him in a gorge near the village of Saillon where he met his demise in 1880. How he died – an unfortunate leap or a push – is the subject of much speculation and has only built up the man’s legend in Valais.
The Farinet isn’t Switzerland’s first local currency, as the Léman launched in Geneva two years ago in an effort to encourage people to buy local produce. It can now be used in around 400 businesses around Lac Léman.