Magnificent Switzer­land

Snow-capped moun­tains stand out against a daz­zling blue sky, cre­at­ing the per­fect back­drop for green foothills and pic­turesque moun­tain lakes. Switzer­land truly has the best of ev­ery­thing.

Maxx-M - - 360° - Text by Me­lani Se­muel | Pho­tos by Me­lani Se­muel & Cour­tesy of Fri­bourg Re­gion Tourism

When peo­ple ask me if Switzer­land is as beau­ti­ful as in pic­tures, I say no. The real Switzer­land is far more beau­ti­ful than the pho­tos. Switzer­land is one of the few coun­tries that nei­ther pic­tures nor words can truly cap­ture. You just have to see it for your­self.

Old Town, New Charm - Fri­bourg

Founded in 1157 by Duke Berthold IV of Zlhrin­gen, Fri­bourg is a trea­sure trove of Gothic ar­chi­tec­ture. The Old Town, with Switzer­land’s best-pre­served for­ti­fi­ca­tions, is un­der a preser­va­tion order and there are still more than 200 Gothic-style houses to be ad­mired. In ad­di­tion there are aris­to­cratic town houses, mon­u­ments, St. Ni­cholas Cathe­dral and nu­mer­ous churches. Fri­bourg is known for its cul­tural plu­ral­ity, univer­sity and bridges over the Sarine River that link the French-speak­ing part of Switzer­land to the Ger­man-speak­ing part.

Walk through Old Town

The Old Town of Fri­bourg is bet­ter known as Basse-Ville and of­fers nar­row wind­ing streets to churches, foun­tains, an­cient bridges and me­dieval build­ings, with more than 200 Gothic fa­cades dat­ing from the 15th cen­tury. There are also many cosy cafes and warm restau­rants through­out the area. Old Town is easy enough to find, just look for the 76-me­tre-high tower of St. Ni­cholas Cathe­dral. Other sights worth not­ing in Old Town are the Town Hall, the Church of Notre-Dame and the Musée d’Art et d’His­toire.

St. Ni­cholas Cathe­dral

En­ter St. Ni­cholas Cathe­dral and be awed by the grandeur and grace of the Gothic ar­chi­tec­ture. Be in­spired by the artistry of the builders, stone­cut­ters and crafts­men who cre­ated it over the cen­turies. Climb the 365 steps of the spi­ral stair­case to the top of the cathe­dral tower, where you can gaze out over the Old Town and lis­ten to the chimes of some of the cathe­dral’s 13 bells, amongst the oldest in Switzer­land.

Lake­side Murten

The next day, we went to the lit­tle me­dieval town of Murten, on the southeast bank of the lake of the same name. Its orig­i­nal ap­pear­ance has been pre­served, with the pic­turesque al­ley­ways of the Old Town and pleas­ant, shady ar­cades. Sit­u­ated on the lan­guage bor­der be­tween French and Ger­man, the town has a lovely lake­side prom­e­nade and of­fers a wide range of wa­ter sports, cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties and other ex­cur­sions. While in Murten, you have to try one of the best desserts in the re­gion, Nidelkuchen, a very unique cream tart. This pas­try is pro­duced ex­clu­sively at Ae­ber­sold bak­ery, in the heart of Murten. For three gen­er­a­tions, this fam­ily has re­fined the taste, qual­ity and sim­plic­ity of this wildly pop­u­lar and de­li­cious tart.

Es­tavayer-le-Lac

From Murten, we went to Es­tavayer-le-Lac, set­tled in pre­his­toric times, colonised by the Ro­mans, plun­dered by bar­bar­ians, cov­eted by barons. Thrilling traces of the civil­i­sa­tions that have shaped this re­gion can be found, for ex­am­ple, in the re­con­structed Ne­olithic vil­lage of Glet­terens and in the nearby Ro­man mu­seum.

In Es­tavayer, you can see many signs of its rich his­tory: Savoy Cas­tle from the 12th cen­tury, the Gothic abbey church and the cob­bled streets. You can walk along the for­mer town walls, where you will en­joy glo­ri­ous views of the town. It is from Moudon Square that you have the finest panorama over the Jura Moun­tains to the north of the lake. Nu­mer­ous ru­ral inns and bars serve re­gional spe­cial­i­ties. There are many foot­paths and cy­cle tracks so you can dis­cover the ru­ral sur­round­ings of Es­tavayer. The gen­tle hills in the hin­ter­land form the back­drop for an en­joy­able ex­cur­sion by cov­ered wagon that will ul­ti­mately take you to Por­tal­ban, a fish­ing port.

Pic­ture-Per­fect Gruyères

A pic­ture-per­fect me­dieval town on a small hill with a cas­tle and three to­tally dif­fer­ent mu­se­ums, Gruyères of­fers vis­i­tors 800 years of re­gional his­tory and cul­ture. Gruyères stands in the midst of the Fri­bourg green pre-Alpine foothills. The cas­tle, one of the most pres­ti­gious in Switzer­land, tow­ers ma­jes­ti­cally above the me­dieval town. Cas­tle tours of­fer a walk through eight cen­turies of ar­chi­tec­ture, his­tory and cul­ture. The crane (in French, “grue”) – its heraldic rep­re­sen­ta­tion – in­spired the name Gruyères. De­spite the im­por­tance of the House of Gruyères its be­gin­nings re­main quite mys­te­ri­ous. Nine­teen counts are ac­counted for in the pe­riod be­tween the 11th and 16th cen­tury. The last of them, Michel, had been in fi­nan­cial trou­ble al­most all his life only to end in bank­ruptcy in 1554. His cred­i­tors, the can­tons of Fri­bourg and Bern, shared his earl­dom be­tween them. From 1555 to 1798 the cas­tle be­came res­i­dence to the bailiffs and then to the pre­fects sent by Fri­bourg. In 1849 the cas­tle was put up for sale and sold to the Bovy and Bal­land fam­i­lies, who stayed at the cas­tle dur­ing sum­mers and re­stored it with the help of their painter friends. The cas­tle was then bought back by the can­ton of Fri­bourg in 1938, made into a mu­seum and opened to the pub­lic. Since 1993, a foun­da­tion en­sures the con­ser­va­tion as well as the highlighting of the build­ing and the col­lec­tion. While you are vis­it­ing the town and its cas­tle, you should also stop at La Mai­son du Gruyère cheese dairy. No visit to Switzer­land would be com­plete with­out some cheese. At La Mai­son du Gruyère, you can learn ev­ery­thing you ever wanted to know about cheese. You can see first­hand how they make their cheese and sam­ple a few va­ri­eties.

The City of Art and His­tory

Saint-Mau­rice is lo­cated at the en­trance of a pass lead­ing to the up­per part of the Rhône Val­ley. Washed by the Rhone River, this lit­tle town full of charm and char­ac­ter spreads out at the foot of a ma­jes­tic cliff. Deep in the heart of the rock strange se­crets lie hid­den, buried over time by men and na­ture. This year is an ex­tra spe­cial time to visit Saint-Mau­rice as the town cel­e­brates the 1,500 ju­bilee of the Abbey of Saint-Mau­rice, which dates from the sixth cen­tury. It is sit­u­ated against a cliff, be­tween Geneva and the Sim­plon Pass, and is best known for its con­nec­tion to the story of the mar­tyr­dom of the The­ban Le­gion,

its orig­i­nal prac­tice of per­pet­ual psalmody and a renowned col­lec­tion of art and an­tiq­ui­ties. The abbey is now the cen­tre of the pic­turesque vil­lage, which was va­cated in the mid-20th cen­tury and is wholly owned by the ter­ri­to­rial dio­cese. It is a Swiss her­itage site of na­tional sig­nif­i­cance. The abbey has been built and re­built over the cen­turies. Ex­ca­va­tions on the site have re­vealed a bap­tistry dat­ing to the fourth and fifth cen­turies, a se­ries of four main Carolin­gian-era churches built over one an­other dat­ing from the 5th to the 11th cen­tury, and crypts built be­tween the fourth and eighth cen­tury. The cur­rent church was first built in the 17th cen­tury while the tower dates to the 11th cen­tury. The Ro­manesque tower was re­con­structed in 1945 to re­pair dam­age caused by a mas­sive fall­ing rock. The newly in­stalled car­il­lon is the largest built to date in Switzer­land. Pil­grims and trav­ellers have been stop­ping off at the Abbey of Saint-Mau­rice d’Agaune for 15 cen­turies. Founded in 515 by Sigis­mund, king of the Bur­gun­di­ans, the abbey is cel­e­brat­ing its 1,500thanniver­saryin2015.Itis­the­old­estabbey in the West to have been in con­stant use. To­day, its walls still shel­ter a com­mu­nity of Au­gus­tinian monks. A long se­ries of events and in­no­va­tive projects will punc­tu­ate the an­niver­sary year in 2015 to help cel­e­brate this big birth­day with the sup­port of UNESCO. The vis­i­tor trail is based on light and im­agery, the sym­bols of knowl­edge and faith. It tells an ex­tra­or­di­nary story: that of a mirac­u­lously pre­served, liv­ing reli­gious com­mu­nity that bears sole wit­ness to a spir­i­tual and cul­tural ac­tiv­ity that is not found any­where else in the western Chris­tian world. The visit starts from the cur­rent basil­ica, which dates back to the 17th cen­tury and was re­stored and en­larged in the mid-20th cen­tury. After the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal site, the visit con­tin­ues with the cat­a­combs and then the abbey trea­sure. It was once the spir­i­tual cen­tre of the Bur­gundy Em­pire and houses one of the rich­est ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal trea­sures in Eu­rope.

Mil­i­tary Fort of Cindey

Adventure-lovers will thrill to visit the Mil­i­tary Fort of Cindey. It was my first ex­pe­ri­ence vis­it­ing a mil­i­tary fort and I was ea­ger to ex­plore ev­ery nook and cranny. Fort de Cindey is a com­po­nent of Fortress Saint-Mau­rice, which is in turn one of the three prin­ci­pal for­ti­fied re­gions of the Na­tional Re­doubt of Switzer­land. Fort de Cindey was built be­tween 1941 and 1946 in the Scex cliff face im­me­di­ately to the west of Sain­tMau­rice to com­ple­ment the ex­ist­ing Fort du Scex, built ear­lier in the same cliff. With Fort du Scex, it com­prises a fortress com­plex en­cased in rock high above the strate­gic Saint-Mau­rice val­ley. The fort was de­ac­ti­vated in 1995 and is now open for pub­lic tours dur­ing the sum­mer months. Fort de Cindey is ar­ranged along a mined gallery par­al­lel­ing the face of the Scex es­carp­ment at a dis­tance from the rock face of about 25 me­tres, with side gal­leries ex­tend­ing to the cliff face for ob­ser­va­tion posts and ar­tillery po­si­tions. Lat­eral branches to the in­te­rior of the moun­tain lead to troop ac­com­mo­da­tions, the com­mand post, am­mu­ni­tion mag­a­zines and util­ity ar­eas. The fort was planned as a mixed ar­tillery and in­fantry po­si­tion that could pro­vide sup­port­ing fire to the anti-tank bar­rier across the Rhône Val­ley at Lavey. Cindey is con­nected to the ad­join­ing Fort du Scex by the nat­u­ral caves of the Grotte aux Fées. Rou­tine ac­cess to the fort for sup­plies was pro­vided by an aerial ca­ble­way. Although the port has been de­ac­ti­vated, some of the weapons re­main in place.

“We live in a won­der­ful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the ad­ven­tures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” –

Jawa­har­lal Nehru

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