Fondue in Fribourg
On the train line between Bern and Lausanne there is an 800-year-old town, little known to most travellers, that is one of the best-conserved medieval cities of Europe. Fribourg: “City of Art and Study,” not to mention foremost in Switzerland for fondue.
Curled up into the bends of the Sarine River, Fribourg is a perfect stopping-off point or day-trip destination from either Bern or Lausanne. The whole of the old town is classified as an historical monument and a self-guided walking tour is a great way to see it. So leave your backpack in a locker at the station and follow these easy directions.
The tourist office is right next to the train station – grab some pamphlets and maps and head straight down for some window-shopping along Avenue de la Gare and Rue de Romont.
Rue de Romont leads to Place Georges Python, a square named for the founder of Fribourg University. On your right Ruelle de LycÃ©e rises steeply to the peaceful grounds of the early Baroque St Michael’s Church and College. The church is part of the university and the courtyard is favoured by students as a lunchtime retreat.
Past the courtyard you will find a terrace offering a viewing platform and photo opportunities. From the terrace, descend the ancient covered steps, Escaliers du CollÃ¨ge, to join the bottom end of the Rue de Lausanne. You may want to double back up this picturesque street to relish the atmosphere and be drawn into bookshops, boutiques, or a sidewalk cafÃ©.
Continuing down Rue de Lausanne you will come to St Nicholas Cathedral whose soaring steeple and bauble spires have been tantalisingly appearing in view since you set out. This High Gothic edifice, built between the 13th and 17th centuries, is regarded as one of Switzerland’s finest cathedrals. The late Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass here in the 1980s.
If, by this stage, your mood is ABC (Another Bloody Church) and you crave something out of the ordinary turn left onto Rue de Morat for Espace Jean Tinguely. This small gallery houses the works of Fribourg’s favourite son, Tinguely, whose kinetic sculptures of junk captivate as they clunk, intrigue as they churn and mesmerise as they warble.
The focal point is his colossal mishmash “Retable de l’abondance occidentale et du mercantilisme totalitaire.” This contraption features, amongst other things, plush toys, a fan, a glowing crown atop a cow’s skull, a tricycle, a huge scrubbing brush, various wheels, a disco ball and a plastic plant. Press the red button to see it spin and rock until it seemingly exhausts itself.
More of Tinguely’s works, including a hodgepodge of cast-off workshed junk, are in the nearby Art and History Museum. Comprising three sections (one a French Renaissance-style mansion and another the old slaughterhouse), the museum’s collection ranges from the prehistoric to the present. Look out for the skeleton festooned in enough gold, jewels and fineries to fill a treasure chest.
Your appetite for the bizarre sated, double back to the cathedral and turn right onto Rue des Epouses. If you are here on a Saturday morning you will catch the weekly market. Follow this street through to Grand’Rue, the main market area. Here you can enjoy the rowdy market atmosphere along with architectural delights: Baroque, Rococo, Regency and Louis-XVI facades span the length of this historic street.
As you walk down the precipitous Stalden you enter the realm of the old German-speaking minority. It is well preserved because it was once considered the lower town for the lower class. Nestled right into the bend of the river, these days the putative upper classes would be falling over themselves for the views and the tranquillity.
At the bottom you arrive in Place du Petit St Jean, a delightful old town square where cafÃ©s abound. To your left is the much-photographed Pont de Berne: a quaint covered wooden bridge. Pont de Milieu, to your right, is an arched bridge on the other side of which lies an area with an almost suburban feel.
Pass through the ‘burbs, cross one more bridge, Pont de St Jean, and admire the majestic views of the tall, narrow buildings perched precariously above you, almost fighting for space on the rolling terraces.
Go straight, turn left at Rue de la Neuveville and continue along until Place du Pertuis where there is a welcome sight, particularly for those with aching legs: a cog and cable railway. Take it up and after alighting, follow the street in front of you to get back to Place Georges Python.
By this time you must have worked up an appetite so head for CafÃ© du Midi at 25 Rue de Romont for, reputedly, the world’s best fondue. Fondue is a regional specialty with the requisite Gruyere cheese being locally produced. So indulge while you are in town, especially if it is during winter.
The locals dip chunks of boiled potato as well as bread into the molten cheesy mix so you can experiment with new tastes. Two pieces of advice from the voice of experience: don’t lose your bread (or potato) in the pot or drinks are on you, and drink only warm tea or white wine or you’ll end up with a congealed lump in your stomach.
Now your Fribourg experience is complete and the station is a short walk up to your right. Do make time for a fling with Fribourg – if only for the fondue.
If You Go
Tourist Office of the Fribourg Region
Avenue de la Gare 1, CH-1701 Fribourg
Telephone: +41 26 321 3175
Fax: +41 26 322 3527
Bern – Lausanne train line: 30 minutes from Bern, 45 minutes from Lausanne