If you were asked to name some Swiss cities which ones would spring to mind? Bern? Geneva? Zurich?Lausanne? Chances are that you wont mention Fribourg and possibly have never heard of it, which was certainly the case for me before I moved here last year. A recent visitor described it as a hidden gem and where the Swiss go on holiday and that is very true, you find very few foreign visitors and lots of Swiss nationals visiting Fribourg. So why is this and what does Fribourg have to offer?
****Location and getting there*****
The city of Fribourg (pronounced free-bour) / Freiberg (pronounced fry-berg) is in Western Switzerland and is situated in the canton of the same name. It is about 35km southwest of Bern and is located on the main train line between Geneva and Zurich. You can fly into Bern (40 minutes by train), Geneva (90 minutes by train) or Zurich (2 hours by train) and pick up the train directly from the airport terminal. The train station is in the centre of Fribourg and is also the main local and regional bus terminal (the Swiss are very organised). Cars can be rented from any of the airports or from the train station on arrival according to the SBB website.
Fribourg is situated in the extremely picturesque Prealpes, with amazing views from almost every street. The majority of the town is built on the side of a valley, one hundred metres deep and several hundred metres wide that has been carved out by the towns river, the Sarine or Saarne. In the valley itself is the Old Town a fascinating medieval residential area where some buildings cling precariously to the slopes and others enjoy the wonderful river surroundings.
Fribourg was founded in 1157 and became part of the Swiss Confederation in 1481. A powerful and prosperous city, its wealth is reflected in the amazing medieval and Renaissance townhouses that litter the Bourg and Old Town areas and the small but perfectly formed Cathedral of St Nicholas. Fribourg is unusual in being a Catholic canton, there are many monasteries and churches and has a Catholic university. It is still on a major pilgrimage route and its monasteries and nunneries are highly visible in the city itself, especially the Jesuits. If you manage to get through your visit without seeing a nun or monk or two I will be surprised!
The majority language here is French but the town is in an unusual geographical position which means most people are bilingual, also having Swiss German. French is the majority language in the south and west of the city and German in the north and east the further you go in any direction the more obvious it becomes. There are two separate radio stations and many of the city centre streets are named both in French and German. Whilst there are many people here who speak English, there are also many who dont (well they already speak at least two languages!) as Fribourg is not a major English or American tourist destination, so be prepared.
***Art and Culture***
The Tourist Information Centre is located in a building to the right of the main station in town and has maps and information on both Fribourg and the surrounding area, making it an important first point of call. Fribourg has several interesting places to visit as well as its amazing views and scenery, so there should be something to appeal to most people.
The Art and History Museum
Rue Morat 12, Fribourg
Located in an old mansion this museum has an impressive collection of sculpture from the Stone Age onwards. There is also a collection of more modern art including Delacroix and Tinguely. Like most things in Fribourg it is closed on a Monday, but is open on weekdays from 11am. Entrance for an adult is 8CHF (approximately £3.25)
Espace Jean Tinguely & Niki de Saint Phalle
Rue de Morat 2, Fribourg
Jean Tinguely was a long term resident of Fribourg and this space displays many of his and St Phalles work. On a lighter note there is a very phallic purple piece on the street outside which never fails to make me giggle every time I go past. Entrance fee is 6CHF (approximately £2.40), but its opening hours are quite random so its probably worth checking them out before you go. If you dont fancy tromping round an art gallery at least visit the Jean Tinguely fountain in the park behind the Rue de St-Pierre, which is a whizzing, whirling, spitting and spouting example of his work.
Place Notre-Dame 16
A museum dedicated to the cultural and technological history of printing and typesetting. Open every day except Monday and Tuesday. Entrance fee is 10CHF (approximately £4)
Swiss Puppets Museum
Museum of Marionettes. Open for three hours at the weekend. Entrance fee 5CHF (approximately £2)
Cardinal Beer Museum
Passage Cardinal, Fribourg
Located in the cellars of the Cardinal brewery in the centre of town (unfortunately its not very picturesque!), this museum demonstrates the history of beer making and bottling. Entrance is 10CHF (approximately £4) but includes a bottle of acceptable lager!
Rue Albert-Gockel 3,
Having a small child is not amenable to visiting any of the above museums, however this is one of Fribourgs attractions that we have visited. 1.5 hectares of relatively unprepossessing land (dont expect palms or anything too fancy) houses 6000 specimens and three greenhouses. My daughter likes to go there for a run around and to look in the ponds, but its a lovely place to spend an hour or two especially if you are horticulturally minded. It is right next to the University of Fribourg on the Blv de Perolles, so dont expect it to be too peaceful!
Cathedral of St-Nicolas
A small cathedral for a small city but none-the-less worth a visit. It is a focal point of the city, as long as you know where the cathedral is you wont get lost. High Gothic in style it has a beautiful circular stained glass window that is breathtaking. The rest of the interior is wonderfully ornate and impressive, with an atmosphere in keeping with its almost 800 years.
The Hotel de Ville by the Rue de Lausanne is also worth a look as it is a particularly stunning example of Renaissance architechure, with an impressive double staircase on its exterior. The Saturday morning food market takes place on the courtyard in front of the building and is certainly worth waking up early for as you can purchase many local specialities there, as the farmers bring in their produce from the surrounding countryside.
***Walking and Cycling***
For me the greatest pleasure in being in Fribourg is as a place to wander and investigate. With its steep, cobbled little streets, beautiful views and fascinating architecture there is so much to take in, even on the shortest of walks. The Rue de Lausanne is a particular treat as it finishes by the Hotel de Ville and close to the Cathedral. To each side are odd little side streets and passages, fountains and lots of interesting little shops to poke around in. On the walls are iron shop signs, wonderfully and intricately wrought, something that is a feature of the Bourg and the Old Town as well.
The tourist information centre will be able to give you details of walks around Fribourg and also in the countryside around it, something I highly recommend. The scenery certainly lends itself to walking, in fact canton Fribourg is supposed to be a popular place to do the sport of Nordic walking - hiking with ski poles. Cycling is also extremely popular here, trains have special areas to put bikes and there are many places to lock a bike up across the town. According to the SBB website you can hire a bike from the main train station to explore the local countryside. You certainly wont be on your own, cycling is one of the main leisure activities here and the roads are often full of cyclists on holidays and weekends.
When walking from the Rue St Pierre down the Rue des Alpes towards the Cathedral, there is an amazing view down into the Old Town and across to the monasteries on the other side of the valley. It is well worth taking a walk over to those monasteries as there are several tiny little chapels on the main path up the hill that are intricately and beautifully decorated, but arent in the usual guidebooks. They are open all day, everyday for people to visit but were deserted when we visited.
On the Rue des Alpes, this is probably one of the most amusing ways to get down to the Old Town. Set on possibly the steepest part of the slope between the Old Town and the Bourg district, the car will take you down to the Neuveville section in just a few minutes. The cost is usually included in a normal bus ticket to the Old Town, otherwise tickets can be purchased at the desk for about £1. It runs on the towns waste water, diverting water from the towns sewers each time it goes up and down. This does mean it has an occasional odour about it, especially in the summer months but it is a very good way to view the town and how often can you travel by poo power! If it doesnt take your fancy there is a steep flight of steps next to it for a faster descent.
***The Little Train***
A little motorized train which takes you on an hour long trip around Fribourg town centre and the Old Town. Whilst the tour is in French and German, sheets in English can be picked up at the main departure points. I have not taken this trip as it looks very cramped and hot in the little carriages, plus as I am not a tourist I prefer to explore the city at my leisure.
Place Georges-Python, Pont de Zähringen, Bourguillon, Lorette, Pont du Milieu, Pont de Berne, Pont inférieur de Zähringen, Rue de la Lenda, Rue de la Samaritaine, Pont de St-Jean, Grand-Fontaine, Rue de Lausanne, Place Georges-Python.
Timetable from the 1st May to the 28th October 2007
May and Sept: Tue to Sun: 14:00 and 15:00
June: Tue to Sun : 14:00, 15:00 and 16:00
July and Aug: Tue to Sun: 10:30, 14:00, 15:00 and 16:00
October: Sat and Sun: 14:00 and 15:00
Drives on Easter Monday (April, 9) and Pentecost's Monday (May, 28).
(From October, 15 to 26, during the school holidays, the little train drives, according to weather, also from Tuesday to Friday.)
Adults: CHF 9.50
Children: CHF 5.-
Group Adults min. 15 person : CHF 8.-
Group Children min. 15 person: CHF 4.50
The River Sarine/Saarne is one of the most beautiful rivers I have come across. Shallow, cold and clear it runs through its valley and meanders around the Old Town. A particular recommendation of mine for the summer months is to take the number 4 bus from the station towards Auge. If you get out at Neuveville (the second stop), turn left and walk to the bridge then on the left is a car park and access to the river bank. Here is a lovely place to picnic by the river, but if you walk further to the right under the bridge you will come across lots of little tiny sandy beaches sloping down to the water, separated by leafy trees and lush vegetation. This is an ideal place to walk, paddle, sit, read or just take stock as its peaceful and a very relaxing place to visit. If you have children take a spare pair of clothes and spend the afternoon there as this is my daughters number one, all time favourite place to go, she has endless fun splashing and building undisturbed on her own tiny private beach. It is never busy either so you are guaranteed peace and quiet.
***Pont de Berne***
This covered wooden bridge attracts a great deal of attention from visitors. Festival processions begin on the bank of the river nearby so they pass first through this bridge, but its also an interesting and attractive way to cross the river in the Old Town. It is only wide enough for one bus to pass, so if you have a pushchair or a wheelchair you may not feel confident taking it across, especially as the buses come over every 15 minutes and it is open to cars as well.
Fribourg is home to its own chocolate factory, to make truly local Swiss chocolate. Located by the university and just off the Boulevard de Perolles you will be drawn there just by the smell this factory emits! They produce a wide range of different chocolates and you will be pleased to hear that they have a small shop attached to the factory. Whilst it is not immediately evident as you have to climb a small set of stairs to get there and it is VERY small it is definitely worth a visit. Mis-shaped chocolate is sold for about £1.50 per 200g (I wonder why I have put on so much weight since moving here!), but they also do luxury powdered chocolate as well as their different ranges of alcoholic, dark, milk and plain chocolates. It is open every weekday.
Switzerland is a nation of smokers and people smoke everywhere, but especially in bars and restaurants. There is only one completely smoke free restaurant in Fribourg and it is part of a shopping centre outside of town. You can pick up the number 2 bus from the station and get off at the Belle-Croix stop and enter the shopping centre opposite. Manora is open everyday until late and is an acceptable self service restaurant, vastly superior in quality to its UK counterparts. As I have a young daughter this is the only place we tend to eat out, because the levels of smoke can be quite intolerable in other places
The town itself is full of little cafes with seating outside, all of which serve food and drinks which are cheap and edible. The Café Rendevous at the bottom of the Rue de Lausanne specialises in crepes and I can certainly recommend their bacon and cheese one.
Restaurants are cheaper than in the UK and usually sell freshly made food using local produce. My particular food recommendations are the raclette which is raclette cheese melted over potatoes and the special moitie-moitie fondue which is half Gruyere cheese and half Vacherin Fribourgeoise, both gorgeous local cheeses! Just remember not to drink water with your fondue-stick to the alcohol! We particularly like the Gothard and the tourist site has this to say about it:
Gothard, 18 Rue du Pont-Muré. A Fribourg institution, beloved of Jean Tinguely, thats equally full of old-timers at their regular seats sipping at their beer and excitable students downing an espresso before heading off to a party. Posters, ephemera and intriguing bits and pieces cover the walls under a riot of fairy-light decoration, but the food is solid quality excellent fondues, and daily menus for Fr.15 or so. Unmissable.
If you want a drink after your meal you really cannot go wrong with the Bar Belvedere. Located at the very top and to the right of the steepest street in Fribourg- Rue de la Samaritaines at 36 GrandRue, it is full of mismatched furniture and odd bits and pieces. It stocks a very fine range of beers and spirits but its real appeal lies in its outdoor terrace. Through a narrow passage and up some stairs and there is a beautiful small uneven terrace which looks out over the valley and the Old Town. Some of the very best views can be seen from this spot and at night the lights of the town sparkling in front of you add to the experience. Not to be missed in my opinion.
The bus system is absolutely brilliant here. There are seven main city bus routes, all of which are marked on every busstop so as long as there is a bus stop you will never be lost! At any point in time you are never more than ten minutes from a stop in central Fribourg and the buses come every 7.5 15 minutes. You can buy an hour ticket for 2.60CHF (about £1), but day and three day tickets are available from the station for about £8 and £10. However Fribourg is a small town so it is unlikely you will need to make use of the buses, except maybe for the number 4 down and up from the Old Town. All buses have places for buggies and the newer ones are wheelchair accessible. The transport system here is a bit of a revelation for me, there is absolutely no need for a car at all!
There are very few touristy shops of the naff and tacky type you are likely to find at Interlaken and Montreux, the whole town has a very Swiss feel to it but it is also warm and welcoming. I have lived here for almost 18 months and have never felt anything but safe and secure. It is also very clean and organized, although there does sometimes feel like there is a surfeit of silly little rules e.g. you can only cross the road on the yellow lines otherwise you will be fined. There is a very high likelihood of a policeman coming past and I have several friends who have received fines! Dont be surprised if you encounter soldiers in camouflage gear with working guns on their backs either, as every teenager in Switzerland has to undergo national service and is issued with their own gun (for life). There is a main barracks not far from Fribourg and at the weekend the station is flooded with young people in uniform carrying guns. I found this unnerving at first, but now I dont bat an eyelid - my mother however nearly had a heartattack the first time she saw them, so consider yourself warned!
The atmosphere is probably the most important part of Fribourg to me, it has a great deal of age to it but people are still living in the ancient houses and the community is very cosmopolitan and exciting. Fribourg breathes age and antiquity but at the same time is possessed of an exciting and vibrant life. It is also a fantastic jumping off point to explore the local area. With the train station so centrally situated you can visit the beautiful lakes and rivers around Fribourg, the Roman ruins at Avenches and the cheese factory at Gruyeres with very little effort! Geneva, Zurich, Montreux, Lausanne, Bern and Basel are all also easily accessible by train for longer day trips. Fribourg is a wonderful medieval/Renaissance city with a strong cultural and artistic heritage. If you fancy taking a step off the tourist trail you will be well and truly rewarded.
http://www.fribourgtourisme.ch/cms01/showlinx.asp?id=5&top=1&lang=e (in English, French and German)
http://www.fribourgregion.ch/en/welcome.cfm? (in English, French and German)
http://switzerland.isyours.com/e/guide/mittelland/fribourg.html (in English, French and German)
http://www.sbb.ch/en/ -the train website for Switzerland-you can check destinations, prices and times here.
Fribourg (French, German: Freiburg or Freiburg im Üechtland, often Fribourg) is the capital of the Swiss canton of Fribourg and the district of Sarine. It is located on both sides of the river Saane/Sarine, on the Swiss Plateau, and is an important economic, administrative and educational center on the cultural border between German and French Switzerland (Romandy). Its Old City, one of the best maintained ones in Switzerland, sits on a small rocky hill above the valley of the Saane.