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.
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.
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.
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.
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