Do you believe that a) cheese should be its own food group, b) it should be served at every meal and c) the meltier (is that even a word?!) the better. If you answered yes to all the above, then Switzerland should be on your must visit list. It is home to some of the most delicious and most expensive cheese the world has to offer.
On a recent whistle stop tour around Switzerland we spent an afternoon in Gruyères. Which, as you may have guessed, is home to the famous Swiss cheese Gruyère. The village has been well preserved and makes you feel as if you are walking back in time. It’s very small and won’t take you more than afternoon to explore.
We arrived by train and walked up a short hill to the main village. However, if you’re only interested in devouring melty cheese, look no further than across from the station where you’ll find La Maison du Gruyères (house of cheese, obviously). They offer tours and demonstrations throughout the day to teach you a thing or two about how their fromage comes to be.
Once we arrived in the village itself, we had a rather precarious situation on our hands due to large patches of ice. It was a case of taking it slow and walking round the edges, although the thought of just sliding down the hill on my rear end definitely crossed my mind! We successfully navigated our way through the village and up to Gruyères Castle with all our teeth in tact. Our breaths were swiftly taken away, and not due to the uphill walk or altitude. It was a cold and cloudy day when we visited which I think only made the views more impressive.
We had a Swiss Pass unlimited train ticket giving us free entry to the castle (and other places!), so decided to have a quick walk around. The medieval castle has been perched on top of this hill since the 13th century and offers Alpine views as far as the eye can see. For someone that has toured a lot of old buildings (thanks, dad!) I didn’t find this one to be any more remarkable than the next. For me it was all about the views FROM the castle as opposed to the inside of the building. So unless you’re pretty interested in history I would say it isn’t worth the 12 CHF entry fee. Save your pennies for melted cheese instead!
Gruyères is now home to the works of Swiss surrealistic H.R. Giger, probably most famous for designing the Alien for the movie Alien. As we were pressed for time (as usual) we skipped the museum and went straight for the bar (as usual). Officially the first, and almost certainly the only, time I’ve sat in a bar constructed of concrete Alien skeletons. It’s definitely worth stopping in to warm up with one of their famous boozy coffees, or in my case, yet another glass of Swiss rosé.
It was at this point, on day 4 of our Swiss Alps adventure, that Olive announced he didn’t think he could eat any more fondue. So, we had more fondue! I mean when in Gruyères, it simply has to be done. We walked into Le Chalet de Gruyères and it almost felt like stepping onto the set of a movie. It was the real Swiss chalet experience we had been craving since we arrived. Top tip: enter through the door closest to the castle higher up the hill. This is where you’ll get the most authentic experience, downstairs is far less exciting.
We enjoyed tiny his and hers jugs of red and white wine, a beef bouillon soup (aka beef stock) for the person who “couldn’t eat anymore cheese” and of course a traditional fondue. This was by far my favourite of the trip. It came with potatoes, bread, cornichons and pickled onions. Every other place we ate at served some version of this but not all the trimmings in one meal. The meringues and double cream also looked amazing but we had to save room so shockingly passed on this occasion.
Two other places offering free entry for Swiss Pass holders are La Maison du Gruyères that I mentioned previously (7 CHF without the pass) and the Cailler chocolate factory in nearby Broc. We only had time to do one, and after 4 days of cheese overload we chose chocolate. However we did briefly stop by the house of cheese and would definitely recommend visiting, especially if you have the Swiss Pass!
So we jumped on yet another train from Gruyères to Broc via Bulle. Train travel is a fantastic way to get around Switzerland. Clean and on time it is the antithesis of most countries public transport systems. But as with everything else in Switzerland, not cheap. We made the most of our 270 Franc tickets by taking around 30 trains with our 4 day unlimited pass.
As soon as you step off the train in Broc the smell of chocolate hits you. Just a few minutes walk and you’re in line for the factory tour. Cailler was the first Swiss chocolate producer, founded in 1819. It is now owned by Nestle who’s headquarters are in nearby Vevey. Olive said the tour was reminiscent of Disney but with lots of free chocolate. It is well worth doing, even if you have to pay 12 CHF for it. At the end there are samples of all the major chocolates produced by Cailler, all of which are delicious!
With a belly full of cheese and chocolate, we jumped on the train back to Geneva for our final night in Switzerland. I highly recommend stopping by Gruyères if you are anywhere near it in Switzerland. Train journey durations vary, but by car it’s 1 hour 20 from Geneva, 50 mins from Bern and 2 hours from Zurich, which makes this cheese lover’s paradise a doable day trip from pretty much wherever you’re staying.