It’s called Le Train du Fromage – The Cheese Train – but after this day tour, you’ll remember a lot more than that steaming fondue you had for lunch at an alpine village restaurant.
You can board The Cheese Train (just one of several trains) in either Montreux by Lake Geneva, or in the mountain village of Zweisimmen. The journey lets you experience slow winding climbs through gorgeous snowy alpine slopes dotted with chalets and farms.
Whichever place you start, you’ll be welcomed on the train platform with an aperitif (wine and cheese) before settling into the comfort of your First Class car as the train gets under way. Large panoramic windows give front-row views of the storybook winter alpine scenery, snowy white or lush green as the weather gods decree.
After about an hour of slowly winding through the steep countryside, your train arrives in the village of Chateau d’Oex, famous for its annual hot air balloon festival.
Less well known (for now) is the traditional Swiss restaurant, Le Chalet, which makes its own organic cheese. You’ll get a guided tour of their artisanal cheese-making operation, where huge copper cauldrons over a wood fire help turn milk from local cows into organic cheese. The cheesemakers, wearing traditional clothes of the region, even let you help with the alchemy, and taste the freshly made cheese.
Next, you sit down at a long table with your new train friends to dip your long forks speared with chunks of fresh bread into the communal caquelon (fondue pot) of steaming melted cheeses mixed with Swiss wine – this is fondue as it was meant to be savoured, in the Alps in a traditional chalet with friends and family.
After lunch you can visit Le Musée du Pays-d’Enhaut, a small historical museum with a collection of huge brass cowbells, traditional Swiss papercut art and other artifacts from the region. Entry is included with your Cheese Train ticket – train ticket holders get free entry to a choice of one museum.
And because you’re in the hot-air-balloon-famous town of Chateau d’Oex, you can also visit “L’Espace Ballon”, (The Balloon Museum). Exhibits include wicker baskets that carried early balloon-o-nauts above the mountain tops – and returned them to the village in time for afternoon drinks, thanks to usually helpful winds and expert pilots. Nearby is the capsule that made the first attempt at global circumnavigation by balloon. Free entry for Cheese train passengers – train ticket holders get free entry to a choice of one museum.
Cheese Train Passengers leave Chateau d’Oex after about four hours and return to their starting point – Montreux or Zweisimmen – about an hour later, leaving the alpine panoramas as the winter sun goes behind the mountains, turning everything a dreamy deepening blue.
When and where to catch the Cheese Train this winter
January 5 to March 11
Montreux: Meet on platform at 10:30 am. Returns at 17:13.
Zweisimmen: Departs 10:10h, return 16:52.
Prices for a first class train ticket, one museum visit and fondue lunch (drinks and dessert extra): from CHF 89 for adults to CHF 59 for children, plus discounts for guests holding a CFF/SBB/FFS pass (general, daily, Swiss Travel, Junior card). Booking can be done here.
Vaud’s tourism website offers further practical information.
By Bill Harby