How a Visit to a Quaint little village gave me an Experience for a Lifetime.
Updated: Jan 29
On a cool summer day, under a clear blue sky dotted with specks of wispy clouds, I visited the village of Gruyères in the Canton of Fribourg in Switzerland. The quaint little village is part of the region of the same name and also gives its name to the famous Gruyères AOP cheese that hails from this region. Located on a small hill overlooking the Saane valley and the Gruyères lake, it is a picturesque little village nestled in the Voralpen (Pre-Alps) range of Switzerland overlooked by the lofty Le Moléson.
As I walked along the cobblestoned road that is the main artery of the village, I am welcomed with a plethora of restaurants and boutique souvenir shops flanking the road. The restaurants all were serving the traditional Swiss delicacy of Fondue with the cheese from the region on large red pots perched on a small burner to keep the cheese warm while the patrons were dipping an assortment of sides into the cheese and relishing every bite. After being rudely dropped on the ground from my cheese filled Seventh Heaven because of the exorbitant prices (yes, Swiss restaurants are expensive, more so in villages such as this), I decided that I should explore the village and the fortress that was built on the edges of the hill during the Medieval Ages. As the town was built on top of a hill, it was a strategic location for the ruling family to built their castle and the fortress here. Nowadays, this strategic location of the village provides a panoramic experience over the region of La Gruyère for the visitors.
Slowly walking towards the highest point of the village where the Chateau de Gruyères is built, I walk past a surrealistic looking bar and museum designed by the Oscar winning artist HR Giger, known for his biomechanical art which inspired the quite literal other worldly creatures from the original Aliens movie franchise. Among other places to visit in this village are definitely the castle, which provides beautiful views over the village and the surrounding ring of mountains, the Tibet Museum, which frankly speaking, looked quite out of place to me and of course the beautiful churches.
But for me, walking around the town, exploring the small walkways away from the thronging crowd of tourists, the beautiful pockets of flowers growing alongside the alleys with bees and drones buzzing around the gardens, was much more interesting.
Experience of a Lifetime
While walking around the village taking in the views and the fresh mountain air mixed with the heady smell of cheese wafting from every establishment, my eyes fell on a board which was giving information about an Alphorn* concert and its dates. Intrigued, I went closer to discover that there is a concert scheduled for that day itself. Not believing my sheer luck, I inquired with the Tourism office and after a conversation which comprised mostly of me speaking a combination of broken French, lackluster German and desperate English, I found out that the Alphorn concert is actually going to take place on that day.
Fast forward two hours (in the meantime, I was exploring Paris with Ernest Hemingway), I saw a group of dapper gentlemen carrying an extremely long instrument on their shoulders walking towards the village. After some time, all of them gathered at the entrance to the village and after a short session of formalities and introductions while a crowd gathered, they started playing their tunes.
The instruments made up of pine wood had a booming but soulful tune to it and the orchestra of five combined with a flag flipper mesmerised the crowd with their music. The orchestra played at four locations around the village starting from the entrance and moving towards the castle and then finally playing their last pieces at the village square.
Witnessing an Alphorn concert was definitely not at the top of my bucket list, but it surely was an experience that I always hoped I could witness whenever I was in Switzerland, and finally I did. The musical experience was made even more special because of its serendipitous nature and also because of the soulful location of course. I am sure I cannot put in words the beautiful atmosphere that the musicians created, but I sure hope that the following photos do some justice to it.
It just could not get more Swiss than this.
*Alphorns are long wind instruments made up of pine wood and are used by the mountain dwellers of the Alps in the countries of Switzerland, Germany, Austria and France, Originally used as a communication system in most mountainous regions of Europe, it has now become a musical instrument.
Practical Information: The village of Gruyères is accessible by train from the city of Fribourg. The village is just a small hike away from the train station. Also there are buses available that take you to the entrance of the village. Perfect for a day trip if you are exploring the Canton of Fribourg or are hiking in the surrounding areas.