As noted in our first-ever blog post, one of the reasons we wanted to take a career-break/sabbatical in Switzerland was that we had recently been diagnosed with a cheese and chocolate deficiency (if only). We have been looking forward to returning to Gruyeres since the last time we were there back in 2010. Jana was six months preggers with our youngest at the time and we gorged ourselves on the best cheese fondue in the world for two days. It was no wonder that a little over a year later, our baby daughter’s first word was “cheese.” For Father’s Day this year, Jana booked us a night at the Hotel De Gruyeres, which sits just outside the medieval town square. As with most locations in Switzerland, getting there by train was a breeze–just two and a half hours and three or four changes. The town and surrounding area, in the French-speaking corner of Switzerland, are surprisingly kid-friendly despite being 900 years old–I guess they had kids back then too. First stop off of the train was the cheese factory (La Maison Du Gruyere). We decided to eat our lunch we had packed before embarking on a self-guided tour of cheese making.
Amazingly, just behind the cheese factory was a new playground that the kids literally ran to upon seeing. With shady trees and a couple picnic benches, this was the perfect spot for lunch. The restaurant that was part of the factory had a patio area that backed right up to it, allowing parents to eat lunch while watching their kids play. The self-guided factory tour was a partial hit with the kids. They did have some nice interactive features where you got to smell different plants the cows in the area eat to create the unique Gruyere cheese flavor. But, the three year-old lost interest when it came to actually watching people make the cheese. The six year-old was generally interested the whole time, listening to her own headset and walking through the stations.
Gruyeres sits on the top of a hill and the train station and cheese factory are at the bottom of it. There are two ways to get up to the town, you can either take a bus from the train station for 2.90 CHF or walk it (which Jana had to do last time we were here, and it was no small effort given she was pregnant and carrying my luggage). We took the bus this time. Next up was a tour of the medieval castle that sits on the far-end of the town. I found it fascinating and worth the price of admission. You get to tour several rooms inside and have full access to the exterior courtyards and gardens. Dating back to 1270, there is plenty of history to walk through and read about. Our three year-old was not as impressed as I was and was ready to leave after about 15 minutes – good thing her admission was free. Perhaps these castle tours in Europe will open up their dungeons again to serve as “daycare” centers so the parents can enjoy the tours uninterrupted.
The cobblestone town center was full of tourists on this sunny Sunday afternoon. Most of the stores that line it are restaurants featuring fondue. We have yet to find one that doesn’t have great fondue. There was also a couple ice cream and chocolate places, as well. So, please don’t come here if you have just started on your new plant-based, raw foods diet.
The kids had fun walking along the ramparts of the old city wall. We also found another playground near the church for an after dinner run/swing. In the evening, the town empties out and those staying there are rewarded with great strolls on the empty cobblestone streets. It is definitely worth it to stay for the night, have fondue, drink wine and truly enjoy this little town.
The next morning we had an awesome breakfast at the hotel (included) that featured some of the best bread we’ve ever tasted and then headed off to the nearby town of Broc and the Cailler chocolate factory. The place was crawling with kids groups on field trips, but our wait time was only about a half hour. The tour itself started off like something out of Universal Studios with animatronic characters acting out the history of chocolate for about 15 minutes. It definitely had the kids’ attention and I didn’t hear one word out of them. The second half of the tour is self-guided with your own hearing devices that you point at certain areas along the way to hear about them. Again, the kids were engaged and enjoyed moving along at their own pace. You get to watch a couple small production lines that make some chocolate that you can taste and then, at the very end, you are presented with a buffet of all of Cailler’s chocolate offerings for you to sample. Definitely want to make sure you skip lunch for this one. Overall, I thought the chocolate tour was a huge hit with something for everyone. Again, the train takes you almost right up to the factory entrance.
With our cheese and chocolate deficiencies now well into the black we decided it was time to roll ourselves back to Basel, where someone has mistakenly turned the heat up to some unknown temperature measured in “C”, which I can only assume stands for “crazy hot even at 5:00 am.” Perhaps folks have tips for cooling off in town when you live in an attic apartment and don’t have air conditioning?