The Chocolate Train – A Travelogue By Punam Mohandas
Switzerland’s Chocolate Train is a tour that is eagerly anticipated by children and adults alike.
I left Fribourg on a crisp and somewhat chilly morning, to reach Montreux by 8.30am. The train, which looks rather grand in its black and golden avatar, leaves at 8.57 sharp. The excitement on board is palpable, especially when the steward brings around chocolate-based goodies: A chocolate croissant with hazelnut filling for all, accompanied by your choice of hot or cold chocolate or else, coffee.
The train wends its way through some truly scenic mountain and lake views – but of course, this is Switzerland! Our first stop is at the Maison Gruyeres, which makes the world-famous Gruyere (named after the village) cheese. Gruyere is ranked way high among the crème de la crème (pun intended!) of the cheese world and is among the most expensive. When young, the cheese has a piquantly sweet and nutty flavor; the more aged ones tend to have a sharper taste.
We are each presented with a little box of three tiny pieces of cheese: the new, the six months aged and the 12-months aged. We are then handed individual recorders that tell us of how the cheese is made. It is a trifle disappointing that we are not actually allowed to go close up and see the process due to hygiene issues; all we can do is peer through glass walls as the milk is churned in round vats.
After this little tour, one can head down to the shop on the premises and buy the cheese; do bear in mind though, that this needs to be put in the fridge. Unlike Dutch cheeses, Gruyere is not covered by a layer of wax that can keep it going for months.
Post this, we are taken by bus to the tiny, charming village of Gruyeres, where we have two hours to explore the castle, the little chapel and the HR Giger museum, or just have lunch in the sunny outdoors; the weather, in one of its mercurial moods, has changed swiftly and the sun is now blazing down upon us.
We now come to the much-awaited highlight of the tour – the chocolate factory! We go by bus to the village of Broc, which is not far away and thence to the Cailler-Nestle factory. For more than a century (1819) Cailler has been one of the oldest and most respected names among Swiss chocolate makers. It was bought over by Nestle in 1929.
I must say here that Cailler puts on a truly splendid show! This alone is well worth the experience of waking up early to catch the train! We are taken on the chocolate tour in small groups of twenty people; along with explaining the history of chocolate and how prohibitively expensive it used to be in days gone by, there are some top-notch audio-visual and special effects; one never knows which panelling is going to slide across to lead one into the next chamber and the next chapter of the story. Truly riveting – well done, Cailler team.
It is fascinating to watch the process of how each individual piece of chocolate passes efficiently through a machine to be wrapped and sealed. At this point, we are also given chocolates to taste but remember not to over-eat here, because the best is yet to come!
Pausing on the way to sniff at roasted cocoa beans or bite into an almond, we now enter a room that will gladden the heart of any chocolate connoisseur – trays of neatly presented, tiny chocolates in a myriad flavours are there for you to feast and swoon over. All of this is for free, to give guests a better idea of what they want to buy from the store outside.
Cailler offers products in white, milk and dark chocolate, with a choice of nuts such as hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios; pralines; chocolates with cranberries or orange; coffee; caramel; biscuit; truffle…the variety is mindboggling. This truly looks like Aladdin’s cave, what with all the brightly coloured wrappers and boxes. There is also a little bar that serves, what else, hot chocolate! You can also buy cocoa powder at the store.
This factory also stocks some Nestle products, of course although, if you wish for a greater range, Nestle has a shop just a little ahead of Cailler, opposite Broc railway station.
Sated and stumbling with heavy shopping bags – Cailler does some great promotions too, such as buy five and get one free on 100g slabs, or buy three and get one free on the 200g slabs – one climbs aboard the Train du Chocolat for the ride back to Montreux and thus ends the day on an epic chocolate journey.
Le Train du Chocolat
- Mon to Thurs only: May-June
- Daily: July-August
- Mon, Wed and Thurs only: September-October
Depart Montreux: 8.57 am. Arrive Montreux: 5.34 pm
- Junior card = CHF 49
- General Pass 1st class; Daily card; Swiss Travel Pass = CHF 59
- General Pass 2nd class; Daily card; Swiss Travel Pass = CHF 69
- Half price pass, children and groups = CHF 69
- Adult = CHF 99
Punam Mohandas asserts her right to be identified as the author of this work. Any views or opinions expressed in this review is that of the author. All copyright is the property of the author.