Text: Keir Plaice | Photography: Tim Bardsley-Smith | Video: My Media Sydney
Gothic buildings with red tile roofs cling to the sides of the Sarine river gorge, as it winds around the jut of land where Fribourg’s old town is built. There, cobbled alleyways open onto squares lined with shops and cafés.
From simple stone arches and a wooden covered bridge to soaring viaducts and a work of modernism that hangs from two 110-metre-high pylons, there are many ways to cross the river. On its western shore, French is spoken. German is spoken to the east. That bilingualism, plus the local university, make Fribourg a lively cultural centre, with great nightlife and a superb restaurant scene.
The cycling is just as good. From the main square by the water, a hard pavé climb that features regularly in the Tour de Romandie leads up to the Loreto Chapel. From there, you can see out over the cathedral and the old city to the countryside beyond.
It is a hilly landscape. The canton of Fribourg, which is named after its capital, is situated on the Swiss Plateau – from the city, grassy farmland and forest roll off in all directions.
The well-preserved medieval town of Murten lies to the north by the lake with which it shares its name. It is hardly bigger than a few cobbled streets, an old fortifying wall, and a castle, but the town is a very nice place to stay or stop for a coffee or ice cream. Murten prides itself on its heritage, featuring an impressive museum and magnificent views from the only town wall in Switzerland you can walk all the way around.
We stayed the night at the charming waterside Hotel Bad Muntelier, watching the sun descend over the water with views across the Jura. We also tackled the tough local climb of Mont Vully on the opposite shore, which makes its way up through the vineyards surrounding and overlooking Murten. From the top, you can see out over the forest to Lake Neuchâtel.
South of Fribourg, Gruyères is the place to head for. A tiny old village surrounded by craggy hills, it is known all over the world for its hard, salty cheese, which is a necessary ingredient in a good fondue. Sitting around a table with crusty hunks of bread to dip in melted cheese is a very good way to recover from a hard ride.
If you are keen, there are cheesemaking facilities you can tour in town. And if you can do with more richness, meringues smothered in double cream are the regional speciality and the Maison Cailler chocolate factory is nearby. The striking 13th-century castle built on a knoll above the village is worth a visit too.
To the southwest, the Moléson looms over Gruyères. At 2,002 metres, it is the highest mountain in the region and one of its emblems. By bike, you can climb a good way up its slopes to Moléson-Village, where the cable car that shuttles visitors to the summit begins. The steep ascent begins in Gruyères and is about five kilometres long.
Fribourg is located in the west of Switzerland, to the northeast of Lake Geneva, between the Alps and the Jura. The city is 30 kilometres south of Bern, about halfway between Geneva and Zurich.
Fribourg (or, Freiburg, in German) straddles Switzerland’s language border. Whilst it’s predominantly French speaking, there’s a sizeable proportion of the population who speak German as their native tongue, and you can rely on most inhabitants to be bilingual at the least.
The Fribourg region is situated in Switzerland’s west. Its largest town and namesake is a university town with a lively nightlife and significant student population. But Fribourg blends modernity with heritage – the old town on the hilltop is one of Switzerland’s best preserved, and the region is an undeniably scenic spot to spend a couple of days.
The Fribourg region is world-renowned for its delicacies – among them one of Switzerland’s best-regarded chocolate factories, and one of its most famous cheeses.
During our visit to Fribourg, we enjoyed:
Although Fribourg is reasonably small in size and population, it more than makes up for that in charm. Its genuinely beautiful capital was for centuries an important religious centre, and as such features more than its fair share of impressive churches and monasteries. The university adds both culture and vibrancy to the mix.
Outside of the capital, the region of Fribourg is home to a chocolate research centre, a thriving agricultural industry, iconic cheese production and bucolic rolling terrain.