The train from Lausanne to Gruyères cut through vineyards, golden in the morning sunshine, with just the slightest hint of snow accenting all the mediterranean colors. The train wound its way up and up through the grape fields, rising high over Lake Geneva, until the vineyards became stacked layers balancing over the lake, seeming ready to spill right into the water. It was a landscape just like this that first enchanted me with Switzerland. As the train made a final turn inland toward Gruyères, the landscape changed entirely, and suddenly everything was coated in a layer of snow—even the cows and sheep.
Castles and Cheese
Located in Western Switzerland’s Fribourg region, cheese lovers won’t be able to resist a visit to Gruyères, famed for its cheese of the same name. Here, cheese aficionados can visit a cheese dairy to learn all about cheese making, then hop over to the quaint town of Gruyères nearby, dominated by its towering castle. This adorable town has it all: colorful buildings, medieval wells, crisp mountain air, and deer grazing in the meadows—all nestled in a valley surrounded by snow capped peaks and fertile pastures. At the end of town sits the magnificent Chateau de Gruyères (Gruyères Castle) with its storybook turrets and frescoed interiors. Gruyères definitely gets my vote for being one of the cutest small towns in Switzerland.
Aliens in Gruyères
Wandering through Gruyères, I unexpectedly came across spiky metal sculptures submerged in the snow. Doing a double take, I realized I was at the HR Giger Museum, a very special treat for fans of surreal art. The collection is huge (it’s the largest collection of art by HR Giger in the world) and includes the Swiss artist’s paintings, sculptures, film sets, and Oscar award for “Best Visual Effects” in the film “Alien”.
Next door is the HR Giger Bar, a science fiction aficionado’s fantasy, with a vaulted ceiling linked by bones that form spiny arches, giving the impression that you’re inside a live creature. The floor is patterned like a techy spaceship and all the chairs are made of bones, with black motherboard-patterned seat cushions. It was seriously the coolest bar ever, and is apparently mostly frequented by residents of the old folks home next door.
A Fondue Party
Having been in Switzerland for a bit now, it was high time to try some fondue. Our friendly guides Gaelle and Guil brought us to La Fleur de Lys, a cozy restaurant filled with checkered tablecloths, flowers, and wooden chairs with hearts carved out of them.
Here, the air thick with the scent of cheese, I had my first fondue—the perfect treat on a cold winter day. The meal began with a course of smoked meats and bread, followed by the arrival of a warm bubbling fondue pot filled with a mixture of two cheeses, garlic, onions, and wine, accompanied by a basket of bread and a basket of small potatoes. Gaelle and Guil gave us the lo-down on proper fondue technique and etiquette. For fondue virgins, sharing a pot of fondue is a cinch: you just stab a chunk of bread or potato, swirl it deeply in the bubbling cheese (to prevent the cheese from burning on the bottom of the pot), then lift it out of the pot, twirl it gently until all the stringy cheese tendrils are gone—and enjoy!
From Cheese to Chocolate
With a belly full of cheese, I followed my stomach to the next best place: a chocolate factory, La Maison Cailler to be exact. I have always wanted to visit a chocolate factory (who hasn’t?!?) and with Willy Wonka-inspired visions of chocolate rivers and golden candy bars, I was on my way. Can you believe there is even a chocolate train that runs here?
First of all, the place smelled heavenly. Heady whiffs of chocolate filled the air in the same way coffee envelops a room with its tempting scent. The journey begins by passing through a series of theatrical rooms that trace the history of chocolate from its Aztec origins to its Parisian decadence, and finally its emergence in Switzerland. At the end you reach a room filled with barrels of chocolate ingredients: nuts, cocoa butter, raw cocoa beans and more, which you can touch, taste, and smell. Next is the production room, where an assembly line churns out chocolate on a conveyer belt, which gets coated with nut chocolate, cut, then wrapped—all by machine that is. The factory floor is filled with white-suited workers and big, fancy machinery. You half expect to see an Oompa Loompa in there somewhere. At the end of the line is a chocolatier who oversees everything, and yes—hands out samples!
The best part comes at the end: the tasting room. Piles of chocolate await, stacked in neat, delicious rows of chocolatey goodness. It’s truly a sweet tooth’s paradise.
In a region that is packed with wonderful towns and culinary hot spots, the charming and uniquely bilingual town of Fribourg is no exception. Its well-preserved medieval old town has cobbled streets that wind up and down steep slopes that straddle a river, dividing the city into two parts. On one side of the river, the town speaks French, while on the other side, German. By crossing an old wooden bridge in the center of town, you can move from French to German—just like that.
Foodies won’t want to miss a meal at Restaurant Hotel de Ville. The cuisine is Swiss French, fresh, and unpretentious. I love Swiss cuisine because it draws from culinary roots at the heart of Europe, and as a result you end up with a unique fusion that combines the best aspects of multiple culinary traditions, creating something that is distinctly Swiss. Just have a look at these photos to get an idea of what I’m talking about.
For dessert? A creative creme brûlée topped with pink cotton candy, meringue, and a fruity cocktail shot to top the meal off—truly delicious.
The Fribourg region is a must-go spot for all culinary travelers, who will find themselves constantly wowed by an abundant buffet of two of Switzerland’s greatest specialties: cheese and chocolate.