A trip to the quaint old town of Gruyere does not really need a travelogue to recommend. The name Gruyere is synonymous with cheese, the best there is. Pair that with a chocolate factory located in the nearby Village of Broc, and an image of Swiss cows grazing on the purest of greens there are in the world; the Swiss Alps, and paradise is just a road-trip away (if you happen to live in Switzerland). For others, there’s always an aeroplane and flight tickets!
So no more fantasizing as we drive to the town of Bulle. The rolling hills welcome me on both sides of the highway, and with Queen’s I want to Break Free playing in the car, the surreal beauty of the surroundings sets the scene for the adventure ahead.
1. Eat Drink And Be Merry For Tomorrow …
Bulle welcomed us with its cobbled streets and Christmas trees. It was late December, Christmas markets had just closed-shop, but the town still wore holiday garb as road-side patisseries and bars adorned festive lights and window displays with seasonal offers.
The Hotel des Alpes was small. Please note, every type of living quarters in Europe is small. But amazingly enough, it had all that we needed for our 3-day stay. A helpful receptionist, a happening bar and restaurant that doubled up for day-long meals. In fact, the in-house burgers turned out to be the best I’ve ever had. The coffee, Americano and Macchiato, was brewed to perfection and the array of cheeses and croissants at the breakfast table could only be compared to home-made Parathas or a well-fried desi omelette with all the works! When in Gruyere, do as the Gruyerians do and slice a thick morsel of that dairy offering – cheese is food of the Gods in this town! What do they say – eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow … is another day? I might have gotten that wrong but when tomorrow came, it was more of the same, and we happily obliged.
2. A Room With A View, After an Initial Climb!
On our first day, we planned a trip to the Chateau de Gruyere, home to the scenic Gruyere Castle where it all began. The cheese factory itself was nestled in the very heart of the region, at the bottom of the mountain.
Upon reaching the castle grounds, we were greeted by the beauty of a piazza showing off a town space where tiny shops, bars and cafes spilled out onto the promenade. The whiff of chocolaty and cheesy fondues, brewing behind warmly-lit cafe windows, lent a pictureque, medieval setting to a castle with many years of history. The castle has been set up as a museum with some of the original bedding, furniture, artefacts and artwork. What a fascinating thought that the heavily-brocaded, embossed fabric used throughout the interior – a sign of prosperity in those times – is favoured in fashionable drawing rooms across the world even today.
My favourite room was the knight’s room, resplendent in its long wooded table and wood-carved ceiling. The view from every window showcased a spectacular view of the surrounding Alps. Every room had a view and every view demanded to be captured!
3. Take a Piece of The Mountains Home – Big Things in Small Packages!
Our souvenir from the mountains was a treasured purchase of an original Swiss Cuckoo clock. Always remember to take a piece of the mountains with you – this is what ours looked like!
The Gruyere Cheese Tour began with a sampling of, you guessed it, Gruyere Cheese. The many flavours that combine to make a slab of Gruyere range from the fragrance of seasonal flowers, and taste and smell of the grass that the Swiss Cows feed upon. Oh, to be a cow in Gruyere, is tantamount to being Queen of the Alps…The cheese-maker’s art is one that involves precision timing, years of experience and a trained eye. It is little wonder then, that Swiss cheeses are of the best in the world, and a peak into the world of Swiss-cheese-making opened up a world of quality, respect for nature, taste, and perfection
Our take-away from this factory was the world renowned Gruyere Cream, which can be purchased from the Gruyere shop just outside the factory – wholesome and utterly delicious. Dare I say, well worth the calories! As I said, big things in small packages.
4. Sweet Surrender
Sweet follows savoury, as did in our journey on the train ride to Broc, a village home to the delicious Cailler Chocolate Factory.
Note to all: Do not eat breakfast before you board the train because, upon arriving at the factory, you will discover the most incredible Cailler Chocolate Cafe offering chocolate croissants, hot chocolate, chocolate-infused coffee and just plain chocolate, to set you in the mood for the chocaholic experience ahead.
Cailler’s seduction began at the ticket booth with festively-wrapped balls of chocolate! With the sweet taste of chocolate in our mouths, and the aroma of more chocolate ahead, we roamed languorously – tasting, devouring, savouring every part of the process that brings a slab of chocolate to our homes.
Chocolate had first been introduced in Europe through trade with the Aztecs. It was first consumed in liquid form, preferred to be taken lying down, and became a popular drink among the upper classes.
It is interesting that when one understands that quality chocolate-making is all about fresh ingredients, whether cacao beans, milk, sugar beads or nuts, one can easily forget the extra ounces on the scale that come with it.
The right way to eat chocolate, as we learnt, is not to bite into it and gobble mouthfuls *ahem* in case you were in the habit of doing that. You have to let it melt in your mouth, savouring the milky sweetness, the vanilla and the cocoa, each of which has a separate completeness. Only then will you really and truly taste the divine goodness inside. So next time, remember to take a deep breath and slow down the process.
Such is the temptation when you walk through the melange of flavours to the final room, where an all-you-can-eat chocolate buffet awaits, that we imbibed copious amounts of chocolate, and bought some off the shelf, too!
5. Do as the Swiss Do …
We could not let our last evening whimper into nothingness, but how do we top 2 days of cheese-and-chocolate indulgence combined with intense sightseeing? Well, we decided to try our best by doing as the Swiss do, which meant treating ourselves to a Fondue Night in a traditional Swiss chalet restaurant.
A Cheese Fondue in the dead of winter is perhaps the only way your body can digest the creamy depths of Gruyere. With freshly-diced bread and potatoes, we dipped in to the warm cheesiness and rolled it on until we were heavily satiated. The fondue experience marked a fitting finale to our Gruyere journey and as we walked back to the hotel that night, my fingers wrapped around a cup of warm, Swiss hot chocolate, I paid my final respects to the Swiss pastures without which, none of this would have been possible!
- We had some very nice savoury crepes in one of the restaurants in town. It was called La Boite a Crepes.
- Parking is very expensive in town. we were redirected to a cheaper parking spot by a kindly passerby. This was somewhere near a tennis/ sports facility.
- The local church is pretty from inside and located in the town centre.
- Do take time out to visit the local museum maybe on the morning you’re leaving. The kids will also enjoy it. It’s also located in the middle of town.
- There was a late night Migros in the town centre too, inside the train station in Bulle, just in case you need something last minute. We bought a pack of cards from there.
- You might not stay at the Hotel des Alpes but if you happen to be there, the coffee’s not bad and its open till late.
- We bought the Gruyere Passport from the website link below. It includes visits, among others, to both the Cailler Chocolate Factory as well as Gruyere Cheese Factory, the Hotel booking, the Swiss Cheese Fondue Night, Bowling alley, all of which we enjoyed.
With 3 children and 2 adults. We booked 2 Hotel rooms and our expenses for the entire 3 night, 4 day trip came to under 1000 Euros for the entire family. Including meals and accommodation, and visits to the factories (Air travel not included of course).