If you’re looking for a fun weekend activity in the Swiss canton of Fribourg, The Fondue Train (or ‘Le train retro’ as it is known in French) may be just the ticket. It combines everything that’s admirable about Switzerland – impeccable organisation, a simple culinary concept, good wine and a picture perfect backdrop against which to enjoy it all.
I took The Fondue Train – run by the canton of Fribourg’s transport authorities – for the third time last autumn and was surprised to find I hadn’t tired of the experience.
The leisurely 40-minute ride on the bright green electric train, from the main station in the town of Bulle to the sleepy village of Montbovon, gave us enough time to enjoy a pre-lunch aperitif as we trundled through the Swiss countryside. It had been a long week and I could feel my shoulders relax as I sunk into my seat with my glass of wine and watched the little villages and the open fields with Fribourg’s signature black and white cows, roll by.
When the train came to a full stop in Montbovon, the ladies serving us got to work lighting the burners and handing out slices of crusty bread along with the vacuum packed sachets of grated Gruyère and Vacherin cheese.
Preparing a fondue from scratch can be a tricky endeavour even for those who know the ropes. To melt a mound of grated cheese into a creamy consistency requires, first and foremost, strong arm muscles for stirring. The correct amount of alcohol, corn starch and other ingredients then need to be introduced into the pot at the right time so that the cheese does not separate or become too thin in consistency. You needn’t worry if you’ve never made a fondue before as the sachets of cheese come prepared with all the necessary ingredients. We only needed to stir the mixture until it was ready to eat.
From the number of Swiss on the train that afternoon, it was clear that the outing has found favour with the locals as well as tourists. I did find this surprising as the Swiss will generally avoid buying pre-prepared fondue cheese, at all costs, as it goes against tradition. But from the remarks I overheard that afternoon, it was clear that the convivial atmosphere trumped the need for an authentic fondue experience.
By the time the meringues with double cream arrived for dessert, the ambience in the train had warmed up considerably and people felt comfortable enough to strike up a conversation with passengers at other tables. At this juncture I would like to offer the following words of caution: please do not take The Fondue Train if you’re unwilling to get up close and personal with strangers! The dining space is limited and I know a few people who did not enjoy the experience for this reason.
This time around, I was only slightly disappointed that we didn’t get to enjoy our pre-lunch drink at the bar or ‘Moléjon’ wagon of the train, which was the case when we took the evening excursion. Instead, we were seated straight away in the restaurant carriage, which meant we didn’t have to move places when the train stopped in Montbovon. I’m not sure if this was a one-off event to accommodate the number of people on the train that day, but it would be worthwhile enquiring about it when making your reservation.
The lunch hour train stops for enough time in Montbovon for a walk around the village and a visit to the local church, though the break in the journey may have been too long for some of the young children. Even the parents who were organised enough to come with card games seemed pleased when the train finally started on its way back to the station in Bulle that afternoon!
The train runs only on Friday and Saturday evenings and at lunch time on the weekends. It’s also possible to reserve the train for birthdays and other events. I know that there are similar excursions organised in other parts of Switzerland and if you’ve been on them, I’d be interested to know of your experience!
- Main train station in Bulle, Canton of Fribourg
- Adults: CHF 43
- Children: CHF 39 (13 – 20 years)
- Children: CHF 13 (until 13 years of age)
- These prices cover only the cost of the train ticket, the fondue and dessert. Drinks are not included and must be paid for in cash at the end of the trip.
Dates for winter-spring 2012
- Friday Evening: 20 & 27 January; 10 & 24 February; 23 March; 20 April.
- Saturday afternoon: 14 January; 21 & 28 January; 4 & 25 February; 17 March; 14 April.
- Saturday evening: 11 & 18 February; 3 & 10 March; 21 & 28 April.
- Sunday afternoon: 8, 15, 22, 29 January; 5, 12, 19 & 26 February; 4, 11, 18 & 25 March; 1, 15, 22, 29 April; 6 & 13 May.
This information is available in French and German on the following site: http://www.tpf.ch/fr/voyageurs/offres-speciales/train-fondue.html
- Afternoon trips leave from the main train station in Bulle at 11:30 and return around 15:30.
- Evening trips leave from the main station in Bulle at 18:30 and return around 22:00.
- Reservations are required. The phone number to call is +41 26 913 05 12
- You can collect and pay for your tickets at the station in Bulle on the day of your trip.