Rail route of the month: cheese, chocolate and a magical journey to the Swiss city of Gruyères

Rail route of the month: cheese, chocolate and a magical journey to the Swiss city of Gruyères

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 yr, following the fantastic Golden Cross rail route. Our prepare paused at Montbovon, the beginning of a steep climb as much as the road’s last dramatic mountain go. There was the prospect of beautiful views of Lake Geneva forward. To the suitable of the railway, I noticed the daring signal: “La Gruyère vous salue” (the cheese lacks the village’s last “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 Cross trains which now run by way of 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 prepare makes its first scheduled cease. That is Montbovon, a village that my previous Baedeker information advises is “famous for good cherry brandy”. I’m the only real passenger alighting from the prepare, which after a quick cease is on its approach once more, now following the Sarine valley upstream in direction of Gstaad.

The lakeshore cities of the Montreux Riviera makes excellent beginning factors for our sluggish journey prepare journey exploring the hills in Fribourg Canton above Lake Geneva. {Photograph}: Michal Ludwiczak/Alamy

Valley of La Sarine

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

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

So maybe this isn’t a prepare in any respect! Is it actually a tram that masquerades as a prepare whereas ready by platform 3 at Montbovon station? It’s the truth is a hybrid, typically operating alongside roads, however elsewhere looping by way of forests and skirting chasms and gorges. These hills are the Prealps, a sequence 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 approach. The journey of 27 miles from Montbovon to Palézieux skirts the jap, northern after which the western flank of Le Moléson, one of the vital 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 top however affords beautiful views of many Alpine ranges. You don’t must climb to the summit of Le Moléson to understand the surroundings. Even from the prepare there are outstanding views of distant, snow-covered peaks.

“Individuals come for the panorama, but additionally for the cheese,” says a lady on the prepare who tells me she is travelling to go to a buddy 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 stream down the Sarine valley and we cruise alongside the sting of a reservoir with turquoise-blue waters. We go the hydroelectric dam at Lessoc then pause at Albeuve the place the pink station constructing has shiny inexperienced shutters. Our prepare 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 prepare 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, though only a few of the cheese lovers who flock to Pringy ever go to Gruyères village itself, which is on a hilltop a couple of 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 potential to purchase a particular Gruyère version of Toblerone chocolate.

skip previous e-newsletter promotion

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

Again on the prepare in 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 observe because the prepare traverses excessive pastures with previous 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 ample altitude to gaze throughout to the distant French Alps on the far aspect of Lac Léman away to the south. Nearer handy 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 prepare earlier than evening falls. From Semsales, it’s simply 20 minutes right down to Palézieux, the place our prepare 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 prepare right down to Lausanne.

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

I liked this journey, and I’d 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 by way of Montbovon after which returning by way of 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 by way of Montbovon and again by way of Palézieux, takes three hours, however do enable time to cease off a couple of times alongside the best way. Trains run at the very least hourly on all the circuit, with a half-hourly service on weekdays between Gruyères and Palézieux. The most cost effective 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 complete 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 go 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 international locations 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.

Supply hyperlink