When you think of Switzerland, what pops into your head? Trains? Cheese? Heidi? Well, a day trip to Gruyeres from Montreux offers two of three and I am sure you could recreate some Heidi moments while you are there. We took a day trip to Gruyeres on the best day of the year to do so. Join us for our accidental day trip to Gruyeres festival.
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Oh, a quick note on spelling. The cheese is Gruyere and the town is Gruyeres. I have tried to get it right throughout but I can’t guarantee it!
The Belle Epoque
We decided to use our Interrail passes for one of their coolest perks and get special trains both ways. In fact, this was half the reason we wanted to visit Montreux. To reach Gruyère we first boarded the beautiful 1930s style Belle Epoque train. By rights, a train this gorgeous and vintage should be hauled by a steam engine. You’ll forget that it’s not as soon as you enter the carriage lined with turquoise brocade and gleaming wooden seats.
We ordered a glass of champagne to share (budget travellers over here) and our bad influence got the guy next to us to get one too! The views were gorgeous as we climbed the switchbacks by the lake and then we trundled up through the valleys for about 40 minutes.
We changed at Montboven. It was a tight connection, just four minutes so everyone that was due to change was getting very twitchy as we pulled in. More fool us to doubt the Swiss Travel System. Our train to Gruyeres was across the platform and someone was there to point us right to it.
La Maison du Gruyere
Our first stop was right next to the train station and one, not to be missed. The cheese that has taken its name from this area is made right here in town and you can see them creating the mildly nutty delight on site. Even if people aren’t visiting the museum, they can see the giant cheese cave. This is a huge room with row upon row of maturing cheeses. They sit here for 5 – 12 months before being demolished by happy diners, picnickers…and me.
The first choice you have to make is whether or not to buy the little tasting packet that is on offer. We jumped at the chance and with our cheese in one hand and audio guide in the other, headed into the busy museum. There was a small area dedicated to what makes the milk here so special. It all comes down to grazing. The cows are free to roam /on the mountains for half the year and on the plains for the other half. They munch their way through all kinds of delicious wildflowers, grasses and herbs so their milk is full of yummy things too.
As with most audioguide-led exhibitions, people shuffle along nodding and smiling at each other while they listen intently to the commentary. This was designed for all the family so it was slightly…well…cheesy. Fun though!
The guide leads you into an observation area that surrounds the production floor and people gather to gaze down upon the cheese makers. This kitchen, with its floor slick with ivory milk, has about 30 cheese moulds full to the brim with milk. There are also huge copper vats with swirling milk, churning away. It is strangely fascinating to see the workers follow their daily routines, filling, draining, flipping and measuring the proto-cheese. We did our little cheese tasting as we watched the milk spin, moving from the mildest to the punchiest (and saving one of the packets for a later lunch…we are such backpackers).
Up the Hill to Gruyeres
The old village of Gruyeres is a 15-minute walk away from the station and we followed a steady stream of tourists heading in that direction. Already slightly stuffed with cheese, I wasn’t too keen on the steep hill that led up to the grand ramparts. I am not convinced you can see just how steep it was but trust me, we were very much out of puff at the top of the 53m hill. At the top of the hill are the walls of the town you can climb them and take in the view (but catch your breath first).
The Gruyere Festival
We emerged through an arch onto a street heaving with bemused tourists, satiated cheese fans and plenty of locals who clearly knew all the best spots. It was so blooming pretty. The town and its walls date back to the 1190s so it had serious medieval/fairytale vibes. We took a wander around the stalls. There were local handicrafts and lots of food offerings including some gorgeous baked goods and of course, cheesy treats.
More Cheese Please
By watching the people, we clicked who knew lots of people and what they were doing. These casual strollers didn’t have walking shoes on or rucksacks strapped to their backs. After a short investigation, we realised they were all heading for one particular food truck. We sidled over and found it offered raclette and a glass of white wine for just 6 CHF. This sounds like a lot but for Switzerland, it’s quite the bargain. We perched on a wall and luxuriated in the joys of melted cheese and crisp Swiss wine.
We also grabbed free cheese samples from the official Gruyeres Festival tent, and samples of hot, unctuous fondue from another. How much cheese is too much? I will tell you when I have found out.
Taking a Stroll Through Gruyere
We had planned to pop into the incredible Giger Bar, featuring the artwork of H. R. Giger. He is a Swiss painter whose strange art is most commonly known from the film Alien. However, it was rammed and very hot so we had a quick nosy and then backed out. If we go back, we will take the time to visit the museum and the bar for sure!
Gruyere has a castle, Chateau de Gruyeres, which perches on the edge of the town, raised and with amazing views across the Fribourg hills. It was built in the 1200s and now houses an art museum inside the medieval walls. You can see murals and stained glass windows that have been created over the centuries.
We wanted to give the castle a quick visit but decided to circumnavigate it first. We took a path that looped around the castle…or at least, that was the plan. The path actually ended up going down a hill so we just followed it. Distracted by the views and having a nice natter, we hadn’t quite realised the length of our descent until we looked back up. We didn’t fancy walking up again so we followed the trial to the church.
As we came out, we caught the strains of Alpine horns on the gentle breeze. We scrambled up some stairs and came out right to where the horns were performing. Alpine horns are long wooden instruments with a rounded end. They are designed to send sound a LONG way across the hills and valleys of the Alps. You can see Alphorn players across Switzerland but in Gruyeres, they have a rather fun extra flourish in the form of a flag tosser. As the horn orchestra blew melodically, the tosser (no giggles please) threw his flag high into the sky, catching it with ease and a cool nonchalance. He had two flags, one with the Swiss flag on and one with the crane, the symbol of Gruyeres.
Greedy Cream Creatures
Every menu in Gruyere has the same dessert: cream, meringue and fresh fruit. It is an Erin neat if you will. Gruyere doesn’t just make delicious cheese, but that same world famous milk is turned into unbelievably thick double cream. Well, we couldn’t find this dessert for less than 10 CHF which felt excessive but Mr Fluskey REALLY wanted one. Luckily, he found a hack in the form of an adorable village shop. Inside they had pots of rich, silky cream and packets of meringue. We were missing the fruit but that is what imagination is for right?
We sat on the step outside the shop and dipped mini meringues into the cream, both delighting passers-by and our tastebuds all at once. It was a little embarrassing but tasted so good that I was equally ashamed and ecstatic. We managed to stop halfway down the pot and meringues, stuffing them into our bags….until we finished it for dessert at dinner time.
I can’t bear to look up the caloric intake we put our tummies through that day….whatever it was, it was worth it.
The GoldenPass Panoramic
We rolled back down the hill, past the cows that make all that magical milk, en route to the station. we had a date at Chillon Castle and had to get there before it closed. We took the connecting train before making another quick swap at Montbovon.
Our train back to Montreux was the GoldenPass Panoramic which takes it name from the huge windows and the small extensions that edge the roof. These give fantastic views across the valleys, up to the snowy peaks that almost touch the sky.
The first class cabin is a little raised giving even better views. However, even better than this is the very, very front of the train. Here, the driver is elevated allowing passengers to sit and enjoy the giant windscreen (complete with windscreen wipers). This costs extra so we decided not to bother, we could see some of it anyway. However, the conductor invited an adorable little boy and his grandma to sit there. As she took them down, she waved us to sit there too and so we jumped at the chance, revelling in the special treat.
I can’t believe how lucky we were to time our trip to the Gruyeres Festival. It was a total fluke but really made our visit special. That being said, even if it hadn’t been a festival day, Gruyere is such a worthwhile trip. The factory was really interesting and got us very much in the mood for cheesy feasting.
Oh, and there is a double cream festival in early June too so you have two chances to stuff your faces festively!
The old village of Gruyères was incredibly picturesque, resembling a scene from a fairytale. We would have certainly visited the castle if there hadn’t been so much activity happening outside. It would be brilliant to return and see the castle and that super cool Giger Bar properly so maybe we will see you at the next Gruyeres Festival!