How on Earth did I let this happen? Here I am, surrounded by shops and restaurants dishing out meringues, local biscuits, cheese and chocolate in almost every possible form. Gruyère et vacherin, offers one sign; raclette et fondue; crème double de la Gruyère; caramel à la crème. And do you know what? I’m on a diet. Now that’s what I call a monumental piece of bad planning.
In Your Bucket Because…
- If Switzerland was a supermarket, Gruyères would be top of your shopping list
- It’s a wonderful unspoilt medieval village in a beautiful scenic setting
- Great for lovers of cheese and chocolate (though less so for weight watchers!)
It was all going so well. Having opted to take the do-it-yourself approach rather than visit Gruyères on an organised trip, everything’s gone like clockwork. We’ve discovered the beauty of Swiss rail travel, with steep gradients and expected stunning views to match, not to mention the fact that (this being Switzerland) all the rail connections, like everything else here, work perfectly.
Victuals and Views in Gruyères
And make no mistake – Gruyères is worth the trip. The dens of dairy temptation line the wide single street of a medieval village atop a crag, with wonderful views of a soft and verdant valley to the north and the first crumpled mountains of the Alps to the south. The place is car free so there’s no vehicular traffic to trouble us, no smell of diesel. Instead, the air is heavy with the fragrances of cheese and chocolate.
After a quick lunch we wander up the street. It isn’t far and you’d think it wouldn’t take long. But before we know it we’ve spend over an hour exploring. We’ve wandered up and down the square wondering whether the houses are original or in fact have been rebuilt out of gingerbread; we’ve taken the path round the castle to photograph the unbelievable views; and we’ve dropped down to enjoy the tranquility of the village church and its flower-filled cemetery.
Taking photographs is a hard business: we really do need to stop for a little more sustenance. I’m adamant. “I’ll just have coffee.” My companions, however, though quick to pay lip service to healthy eating, have no qualms about wading in to the fruits of the countryside. “Shall I have the chocolate fondue?” wonders one of them aloud, “or just the house special?”
Coffee, Cake…and More Chocolate
In the end he goes for the house special (a platter comprising chocolate cake, meringue, the local whipped cream, a biscuit and some heavenly-looking strawberries) and sits across from me to eat it. The others compound my misery with the chocolate fondue. I just sip my coffee, and even that comes with a pot of cream instead of milk. I put the cream in my coffee and give the pot to my daughter, who eats it. Yes, even some of the crockery is made of chocolate.
I’d like you to think I leave the village feeling virtuous and looking slim. But of course Oscar Wilde was right when he said “I can resist everything except temptation”. In fact by the time we reach the coffee and cake stage I’ve already fallen at the first (lunchtime) fence. I might even have resisted then if I hadn’t seen someone at the next table tucking into a bubbling fondue of melted cheese. But it was my When Harry Met Sally moment. “I’ll have what they’re having!”
And I did. We ordered cheese fondue for two and cleared the pan. And as I walk down the hill to the station in the hope that I’ll at least offset a calorie or two, the smile that plays on my lips isn’t so virtuous after all, but one that has me licking my lips again at the delicious memory of creamy, sinful cheese….
- Swiss trains are easy and a delight to use. The village is on a hill and the walk is steepish, though not far. There’s also a bus that meets the trains.
- You can go to Gruyères as part of an organised tour – the ‘chocolate train’ from Montreux includes a chocolate factory visit as well, but if you don’t want to do everything it’s much cheaper to do it yourself and you won’t be so rushed.
- If you want to do more than just look (and eat) you can visit Gruyères castle (there’s an admission charge) or the cheese making centre (opposite the station, free admission).