Hike Europe’s highest cheese platter.
The air-freshener bouquet of alpine meadows and the punchy aroma of aging cheese swirl headily around each other in Gruyères, Switzerland's fromage frontier. Located about halfway between Lausanne and Basel, this tiny, internationally branded Fribourg village has been churning out its distinctive cheeses since 1686, offering visitors countless opportunities to buy and taste the local fare. Recently, the region's tourism officials set up a 7-mile trail from Gruyères to the village of Charmey over ancient stone bridges and past critically acclaimed creameries offering sample after sample.
The self-guided trek begins with breakfast at Ferme du Bourgoz, a stone chalet farmhouse where matured wedges of creamy, nutty Gruyère are served with fresh oven-baked bread: the petit déjeuner of champions.
Suitably stuffed, hikers begin their trek heading southwest along an increasingly steep route that quickly has them hurdling turnstiles, bounding through woodlands, and climbing alpine pastures dotted with the Braunvieh cattle that lend the local cheeses their flavorful zing. Informative signs pepper the hike, offering the lowdown on Gruyère's time-honored production methods from renneting to ripening. During a water break, hikers learn that it takes over 100 gallons of milk to make a single 78-pound cheese wheel.
Hikers catch a bus from cheerful Charmey to nearby Moléson, a village some 3,712 up where the strong stomached are urged to try their hand at alpine bobsleighing before retiring to Fromagerie d'Alpage to observe the local cheese-making artisans. The descent is a quad-pumping trek through the shadowy pine forest of Chésalle and the steeple-topped villages of the valley on the way back to Gruyères itself, a cobbled, medieval village of Heidi-garbed women and spectacularly mustachioed men.
At Restaurant des Remparts, indulge your post-hike pangs by carbo-loading with crispy rösti, topped with bacon lardons or a bubbling caquelon of moitié-moitié fondue. Meaning "half-half," the dish is a literal melting pot of Gruyère's fromage and the slightly softer Fribourg Vacherin variety.
With a little luck, hikers will have burnt only a few less calories than they've consumed – surely an accomplishment worthy of a chocolate reward.
More Information: Gruyères is a 90-minute drive or a two-hour train ride ($94 return) from Geneva. If traveling by rail, check out the buck-saving Swiss Pass, which allows unlimited rail, boat, and bus usage from $244, for three days. To wake up to bucolic bliss, the ultra-agrarian Ferme du Bourgoz, from which the Chemin du Gruyères starts, has rates from $85 per room, with breakfast. Buses from Charmey to Moleson along the cheese circuit leave regularly from outside the Raiffeisen bank.