Rail route of the month: cheese, chocolate and a magical experience to the Swiss city of Gruyères | Switzerland holidays

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By Stacy Connor


It was a handpainted signal on a wood barn that piqued my curiosity in Gruyères. I used to be travelling from Emmental to Montreux final 12 months, following the great Golden Move rail route. Our practice paused at Montbovon, the beginning of a steep climb as much as the road’s remaining dramatic mountain cross. There was the prospect of beautiful views of Lake Geneva forward. To the fitting of the railway, I noticed the daring signal: “La Gruyère vous salue” (the cheese lacks the village’s remaining “s”).

Swiss map, Montreux and round

With time to spare earlier this month, I returned to Montbovon to discover the department railway that runs from there down the Sarine valley to Gruyères and past. This time I arrive on one of many new Golden Move trains which now run by from Montreux to Interlaken, counting on some technical magic to slide from narrow-gauge to standard-gauge tracks alongside the best way. The vacationers within the posh status class are tucking into platters of charcuterie accompanied by Swiss wine. The climb up from Montreux is as magical as ever, twisting and turning up into the hills with Lake Geneva far under. Forty minutes out from Montreux, the practice makes its first scheduled cease. That is Montbovon, a village that my outdated Baedeker information advises is “famous for good cherry brandy”. I’m the only passenger alighting from the practice, which after a quick cease is on its means once more, now following the Sarine valley upstream in the direction of Gstaad.

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Montreux is the proper start line for our sluggish journey practice journey exploring the hills in Fribourg Canton above Lac Léman. {Photograph}: Michal Ludwiczak/Alamy

Valley of La Sarine

On a aspect platform, one other practice awaits. It’s a humble native service, with not one of the aptitude of the Golden Move practice, which will be heard tooting its horn because it climbs up the ravine carved by the Sarine River. The native practice is signed for Palézieux through Gruyères. Quickly we’re on our means and inside a minute rattling proper down the primary avenue of Montbovon, passing the dairy and the baker to our left.

The native practice to Palézieux waits to depart from Montbovon. {Photograph}: Hidden Europe

So maybe this isn’t a practice in any respect! Is it actually a tram that masquerades as a practice whereas ready by platform 3 at Montbovon station? It’s in truth a hybrid, generally operating alongside roads, however elsewhere looping by forests and skirting chasms and gorges. These hills are the Prealps, a collection of folded ranges that give actual character to Switzerland’s Fribourg Canton. Not fairly the true deal, you could assume, however very particular in their very own means. The journey of 27 miles from Montbovon to Palézieux skirts the jap, northern after which the western flank of Le Moléson, one of the crucial distinguished peaks of the Fribourg Prealps. For Baedeker, Le Moléson was “the Rigi of western Switzerland,” an allusion to the mountain by Lake Lucerne that achieves no nice peak however affords beautiful views of many Alpine ranges. You don’t have to climb to the summit of Le Moléson to understand the surroundings. Even from the practice there are outstanding views of distant, snow-covered peaks.

“Folks come for the panorama, but additionally for the cheese,” says a lady on the practice who tells me she is travelling to go to a good friend in hospital in Riaz. “However not on days like this,” she provides, alluding to the vagaries of climate on this early March day that has seen threatening clouds and hail showers.

The Sarine valley within the Fribourg Prealps. {Photograph}: Alex Schleif/Alamy

Dams management the river circulation down the Sarine valley and we cruise alongside the sting of a reservoir with turquoise-blue waters. We cross the hydroelectric dam at Lessoc then pause at Albeuve the place the pink station constructing has vibrant inexperienced shutters. Our practice slips by meadows with loads of cows and beehives. Then comes the announcement: “Prochain arrêt: Gruyères”.

Cheese and chocolate

I take the cue and alight from the practice to find that we are literally not in Gruyères in any respect, however in a neighborhood known as Pringy. However the station identify Gruyères pulls the crowds, regardless that only a few of the cheese lovers who flock to Pringy ever go to Gruyères village itself, which is on a hilltop a few 20-minute stroll away to the east.

La maison du Gruyère, simply by the station in Pringy, has plastic cows on the roof whereas inside there are cheese-themed excursions and tastings. For actual devotees of all issues Swiss, it’s even doable to purchase a particular Gruyère version of Toblerone chocolate.

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A plastic cow welcomes guests to La Maison du Gruyère, which presents cheese-themed excursions and tastings. {Photograph}: David Taljat/Alamy

Again on the practice in the direction of Palézieux, the surroundings will get higher and higher as we skirt the northern flank of Le Moléson, its steep, forested slopes rising as much as the left of the railway. Now there are snow fences alongside extra uncovered sections of the monitor because the practice traverses excessive pastures with outdated farmsteads dotted right here and there throughout the panorama. The heavy clouds are clearing to present late afternoon solar, so I break my journey on the highest station on the road within the village of Semsales the place an indication on the wood station constructing proclaims that we at the moment are at 858.1 metres above sea degree.

With a few hours in Semsales, I hike up into the hills, gaining enough altitude to gaze throughout to the distant French Alps on the far aspect of Lac Léman away to the south. Nearer at hand is the craggy summit of Le Moléson, its northern slopes nonetheless holding the final of the winter snow. I’m chased down by gathering nightfall, making haste again to the village to catch a practice earlier than night time falls. From Semsales, it’s simply 20 minutes all the way down to Palézieux, the place our practice arrives not in the primary railway station however on a platform by the road outdoors. This being Switzerland, there’s a fleet of ready buses providing connections to surrounding villages. However I stroll to the station and catch the native practice all the way down to Lausanne.

There are lots of wood railway stations on this route. Semsales is the very best station on the road. {Photograph}: Hidden Europe

I beloved this journey, and I might fortunately do the identical once more. It makes an ideal spherical journey for anybody staying in Lausanne or alongside the Montreux Riviera, travelling out from Montreux through Montbovon after which returning through Palézieux. Serene, pastoral landscapes with excellent views of mountains make a successful mixture.

The journey from Montbovon to Palézieux takes simply 80 minutes. The total circuit from Lausanne or Montreux, out through Montbovon and again through Palézieux, takes three hours, however do permit time to cease off a few times alongside the best way. Trains run a minimum of hourly on all the circuit, with a half-hourly service on weekdays between Gruyères and Palézieux. The most affordable one-way fare from Montbovon to Palézieux is 17.40 Swiss francs (£15.75). Purchase tickets at Montbovon earlier than boarding. This ticket is legitimate for 3 hours, giving time for a brief stopover alongside the best way. A return ticket is 34.80 francs (£31.50), and is legitimate a whole day with limitless stopovers, not merely on this route however on most public transport in Canton Fribourg. When exploring this line as a part of a wider itinerary, an Interrail cross is usually the very best deal. Grownup passes legitimate solely in Switzerland are €165 for 3 days’ journey inside a month, whereas a world passes legitimate for 33 nations is €283 for 4 journey days inside a month.

Nicky Gardner lives in Berlin. She is co-author of Europe by Rail: the Definitive Information (Hidden Europe, £18.99). To assist the Guardian and Observer, order your copy of the seventeenth version from guardianbookshop.com. Supply prices might apply.



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