Trail with treats: Chemin du Gruyère
Want to experience nature by foot this autumn – and enjoy some of Switzerland’s finest produce while at it? Look no further than La Gruyère and its ‘Chocolate and Cheese Trail’, says Emily Mawson.
The Chemin du Gruyère skirts woodland, traverses mounds and is sheltered by a craggy horizon as it navigates the Jogne valley between Gruyères and Charmey. However, so-called ‘the Chocolate and Cheese Trail’, this path is more than a scenic route in Canton Fribourg’s La Gruyère region. The golden valleys and grazing cows characterise an area famed for its dairy produce, while the route explores the wonders of this trade.
Legend goes that Roman Emperor Antonin the Pious died of indigestion here in 161 AD, after eating too much cheese. Officially, the popular local dairy product was first mentioned in a charter dating from 1115. By the fourteenth century, it had become a popular export. The Chemin du Gruyère then became an important trading route for farmers.
An ideal starting point for the 11-kilometre trail today, La Maison du Gruyère is one of 78 dairies in La Gruyère licensed to produce the famous local cheese Le Gruyère AOC. It also has a thoughtful interactive museum, with the trade helpfully explained during an audio tour with ‘Cherry, the cow’.
“The work is hard,” says Maître fromagier (master cheese-maker) Jacques Ecoffey, explaining that each wheel of cheese weighs 35 kilograms and that the cheese-makers must work in hot, humid conditions. The process, which involves biology and chemicals, interests Ecoffey. However, he also thinks ‘magic’ is involved in making the final product extra-special. I take a little of this magic with me – in the form of three complimentary samples of Le Gruyère AOC.
From La Maison du Gruyère, the Chemin climbs to Gruyères atop its 748-metre mound. The village’s gentile Château (castle) dates back to 1080 and crowns the main street that boasts over eight centuries of architectural styles. Sloping beyond the church, the trail continues into the fields. Le Pont qui branle (the wobbling bridge) traverses the River Sarine while, on the opposite bank, the path disappears into bronzed pastures.
Just beyond Broc, the 19th century façade of Maison Cailler reigns over the meadows so important to its chocolate-making tradition – the factory uses unpasteurised, liquid milk from the area. Although the chocolate factory is a popular highlight of the trail, you must take a detour to visit it. (Keep an eye out for signs from the village.)
After stopping to sample some Cailler, I have energy for the next stage of the walk. At the entrance to the Gorges of the Jogne, the terrain evolves from leisurely to unkempt, and with it comes a magnificent change of scenery. If Gruyères represents centuries of history in architecture, the gorge is a memorial to thousands of years of geology.
Fissures high in the limestone walls carve dramatic waves and enormous boulders sleep in the river, abandoned by a retreating glacier. A steep climb from the gorge and then – through the leafy canopy– a glimpse of the Lac de Montsalvens. The path continues onto a wooden walkway that balances beside the reservoir’s icy waters.
And finally, the first huts of Charmey appear in the distance. Although it is just a giant’s tiptoe away, the village’s backdrop is on a grander scale than that of Gruyères. It is protected by the lacerated silhouette of the 1,996-metre Gastlosen mountain – a view that can be enjoyed from the soothing pools of Les Bains de la Gruyère after the walk.
High above on the 1,617-metre Vounetz is a traditional dairy that makes Le Gruyère AOC. I smile as I realise I have come full-circle – and I think I will treat myself to a lump for the journey home, if only to accompany all my beautiful images from the day.
Good to know
The Chemin du Gruyère is 11 kilometres long and takes approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes to complete. If followed from Gruyères to Charmey, there is an ascent of 500 metres. It is least strenuous if followed the other way round. The route grade is easy, but there are more difficult sections in the Gorges of the Jogne. Find an itinerary and map at: http://www.la-gruyere.ch/en/top-hiking-trails/chemin-du-gruyere.html
Where to stay?
Hotel Cailler: An appealing, chalet-style hotel with 51 cosy rooms, Hotel Cailler boasts underground access to Les Bains de la Gruyère. www.hotel-cailler.ch