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. The Swiss Chocolate Train journey through the rolling hills between Lake Geneva and Broc, home to Maison Cailler – Chocolate Factory.
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.
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.
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.
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.