Last week I was so depressed that I didn’t leave the house (or even my bed, really) for three days straight. Finally I decided fuck it, I need to go outside and take a long walk surrounded by nature. I looked at some local tourism websites for easy day hike ideas and found this 1h40m route in Canton Fribourg, which promised an idyllic stroll between two castles. Sign me up!
Fribourg is slightly east of Geneva and Vaud and straddles the border between French-speaking and German-speaking Switzerland. Fribourg is the name of both the canton and its capital city; in German it’s called Freiburg. For the hike, I started in the town of Bulle and ended in Gruyères – yes, Gruyères as in Gruyère cheese! This is the second time I’ve visited a town that was the namesake of a type of cheese, following Parma, Italy last year.
It took about 2.5 hours to reach Bulle by train, which included two transfers. I could tell that the elevation was increasing by the minute, because the views outside slowly transitioned from spring to winter.
It was cold and a little windy by the time I got to Bulle. I’m glad I packed a beanie, scarf and gloves to keep warm.
I started the walk at Bulle Castle, which is just a few blocks from the train station. Bulle was a very small town with small, quaint medieval-looking streets and alleyways; there were surprisingly a lot of people coming and going near the train station, many of them in hiking gear.
The castle was closed to the public, but there was a little garden in the back.
It was a quiet moment on a Sunday. Nearby, parishioners were filing out of an old church, but in the garden there were also two people sitting by themselves and reading.
I set out in the direction of Gruyères, which would take me further and further into rural farmland.
Walking to Gruyères
The hike started off easy. I was walking on paved sidewalks, looking at the Moléson mountain in the distance, and thinking, “Wow, this is great. I bet somebody could do this hike in a wheelchair.”
… Not so much, it turns out.
After a while, I turned left and found myself in the middle of a quiet, rural village. There was still a decent paved path, though, and I occasionally passed by locals on their own morning walk; they greeted me with a cheerful “Bonjour”.
And then suddenly there was just… no sidewalk. No path. I was caught between the motorway and what was probably someone’s private farmland, awkwardly trying to walk on lumpy, uneven grass that smelled faintly of manure. Oops!
It was probably only a 30-minute walk, but it felt like hours. Sometimes the grass was fenced off and I had to walk on the road directly, looking over my shoulder for incoming cars. The soles of my boots were caked with about an inch of thick mud.
Finally, just after noon, I reached Gruyères! Settling on a bench by the river, I cracked a ginger beer and ate a sandwich I’d bought earlier at the store.
The castle wasn’t too far from the train station, just a steady uphill climb away.
I was pleasantly surprised when I reached the top of the hill, because it wasn’t just the castle by itself. There was a whole medieval-themed little village up there, with hotels, cafe-restaurants, chocolateries, fondue places, crepe places, and so on. There was even a Tibet Museum. This would be such a fun little day trip in the summertime.
I visited the castle and found it to be pretty good. The thing about Swiss castles is that once you’ve seen Chillon, you’ve seen them all. This castle was a lot smaller, but it had some beautifully decorated rooms that made it easy to imagine the lives of the people who once lived there, as opposed to Chillon, which is a lot more empty and stark.
After the castle, I stopped by La Maison du Gruyère, which is a cheese factory/museum/gift shop next to the train station. Apparently they teach cheese-making workshops, which sounds pretty cool. Although their gift shop was kind of sneakily designed in that the only exit was through the cash register, and it would have been very awkward to walk through without buying anything because the cashier would be right there, staring at you. So I bought a little wooden cow as a souvenir.
For some reason, on the train back I ended up in this panoramic viewing car with a bunch of Russian tourists (??). It was a really scenic ride and I highly recommend it — just unobstructed visions of pristine snow, majestic mountains and pine trees.
I had a 30-minute transfer in Montreux and went down to the lake for a cup of hot chocolate. (My go-to place is Bellamia; their shop is super cute and the staff is so nice!) The park by the lake was insanely crowded, and almost no one was wearing a mask. I quickly left after drinking my hot chocolate outside.
All in all, I walked 7 miles that day. Not very strenuous, and a lot of time to be alone in nature and just let go. Interestingly, I didn’t think much about the things that were bothering me; I was really tuned in to the here and now, the grass under my feet, the snow-capped Alps in the distance. Switzerland is really a medicine in its own way.
Expenses (in CHF)
Roundtrip train trip – 60 (I splurged for first-class seats on the way back)
Lunch – 10
Castle entry – 12
Cow souvenir – 16
Hot chocolate – 4.5