Guest Post by Anita Breland
In a country where trains are famously punctual and blissfully connected with buses, trams and boats, several special train lines make travel in Switzerland even more enjoyable. In Montreux a few weeks ago, along with tourists from all over, I hopped on the Swiss Chocolate Train for a day’s journey through the rolling hills between Lake Geneva and Broc, home to Maison Cailler – Chocolate Factory. We spent the day taking in the scenery from the train’s vintage and panorama cars, visiting the picturesque town of Gruyères, and sampling cheese as well as chocolate. Here are the highlights of a day traveling with the Train du Chocolate.
Swiss Chocolate Train Highlights
The train departs Montreux on the Swiss Riviera, ascends to Gruyères, home of the famous Le Gruyère AOC, and continues to Broc, and the chocolate factory.
The Chocolate Train’s route curves up from Lake Geneva through manicured hillsides and forests, everything extraordinarily green in mid-summer. Cows on steep hillsides seem to balance on two lower legs as they munch clover, grass and flowers. The track curves steadily upward, and children aboard exclaim as the train pops in and out of short tunnels.
As the Chocolate Train chugs up a hillside above Montreux, passengers have a panoramic view of Lake Geneva.
The train may be called the Chocolate Train, but the excursion gives equal time to cheese and chocolate: it’s cheese before lunch, with chocolate saved as an afternoon treat. Plus, time for exploring Gruyères offers a glimpse of a living village with medieval roots, and a chance to try authentic foods of the region. Yes, Gruyères is a tourist magnet, but with good reason!
First comes a stop at the La Maison du Gruyère, a laboratory and demonstration dairy just outside the hill-top town. Visitors are taken through the entire cow-to-consumer cycle of producing Le Gruyère AOC, and with small samples, invited to appreciate the results of affinage (aging) of this popular cheese.
It’s impossible NOT to appreciate the exactitude–and art–of cheese-making. The facility follows the same process as that handed down through generations of cow-herding mountain families, only on a larger scale. Cheese is produced here three times a day, using these 4800-liter vats and a cellar where up to 7000 wheels can ripen.
To tour the facility, we are given audio guides in our language of choice. I could have done without the “talking cow” providing our audio guide introduction, but once into the demonstration area, it’s possible to watch master cheese-makers at work and another voice clearly explains the process, without the annoying “let’s-talk-to-the-humans” routine.
Gruyères (town and castle)
In Gruyères, there is plenty of time to explore Gruyères Castle, with its intricately painted walls and great views from every room.
The castle at Gruyères was constructed about 1270, and modernized a few centuries later. The Canton of Fribourg purchased the property in 1938 and founded the present museum. Today, the richly decorated interiors offer and elegant voyage through successive periods and styles.
The annual book fair in the main square of Gruyères is good for browsing, with titles (mostly in French or German) ranging from fiction to cookbooks, to military history and children’s books. Restaurant terraces overlooking the square make for good people-watching.
A time-out for lunch provides a chance to try the local specialties: here, Croque-monsieur, Gruyères style.
After lunch, we are taken by bus to Cailler’s chocolate museum and factory in Broc—finally, we reach chocolate! At the Maison Caillier facility, we learn more about the history of chocolate and its impact on Europe after being brought back from Mexico. And we hear the story behind the business of turning Switzerland into a world center of chocolate making and distribution.
Passengers from the train are divided into English-, French-, German- and Chinese-speaking groups , everyone ending up in the tasting room after the walk-through tour.
The tour is in the form of a walk-through, with lights and recordings telling the story of the factory, from its days as a small, locally owned business to global distribution as part of Nestle. It is a story well told, and, literally, keeps visitors on their toes!
The tour ends with a walk through the tasting room. Afterward, there is time for an afternoon coffee on the terrace, and shopping for chocolate-related gifts in the Cailler shop.
For an artisanal experience, it is possible to take a truffle-making class in the “Atelier du Chocalat”, guided by a Cailler chocolatier. Reason enough to return for a longer visit!
If you go:
The Swiss Chocolate Train is a joint venture of GoldenPass Services and Cailler-Nestlé, the world’s largest producer of chocolate products. Goldenpass, a private railway company, offers not only chocolate-themed travel, but also other excursions, such as panoramic rides up to the picnic grounds and lookout at Les Rochers-de-Naye.
GoldenPass organizes special trains for Swiss National Day and other holidays. On board, tour guides offer personalized introductions to the sights and activities of the day. Morning coffee and croissants are included in the ticket price, and light snacks and other beverages are also available for purchase.
Current schedules and ticket information are available on the Goldenpass website.
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The Chocolate Train offers a great introduction to the Gruyères region, but for travelers who want to spend more time soaking up the charms of hilltop Gruyères completely on their own, public transportation is convenient, as well. Swiss National Railways runs an “old-timer train” from Montreux in summer. Check with Gruyères Tourism for details.
Photos courtesy of Anita’s Feast
About the author:
Anita Breland is an avid traveler who delights in sharing her discoveries of cultural traditions around the world. She is on a never-ending quest for good food and the people who make it. Anita’s Feast is her blog about food, art and culture.