The Chocolate Train
I don’t recall when I first heard about The Chocolate Train on offer in Switzerland. I do recall that the moment I heard about it, I knew I needed a ride on it.
The first visit to Lausanne from my mother and her husband, Pete, made for the perfect occasion. It helped that Pete thought it sounded as fun as I did.
The train—an undeniably tourist-focused set-up—leaves from Montreux, Switzerland, on different days of the week, depending on the season, between May through October.
Belle Epoque Train Cars
At the Montreux train station, you check in at a clearly marked, representative-attended Chocolate Train welcome table, where you’ll get a pass with the day’s schedule on a lanyard (and a piece of chocolate, of course).
The tour departs from Montreux train station on a set of beautifully restored Belle Époque train cars. During the ride, you’ll receive a tea or a coffee and, of course, a chocolate croissant. The train’s route passes through cow-dotted, mountainous Swiss countryside; Swiss forests; and steep drops from railway bridges into gorges below. (This train goes up!)
When you arrive in Montbovon, the tour transitions to a tourist coach–style bus.
The Gruyère Cheese Factory
Gruyère cheese, while a quintessential Swiss cheese, doesn’t look or taste the same as what we call “Swiss cheese” in the United States. I’d probably had Gruyere cheese before I moved to Switzerland, but I didn’t know it came from Switzerland. (As a typical American, I figured Swiss cheese came in pale yellow, had lots of relatively large holes, and tasted like soap. Turns out the Swiss call this type of cheese Emmental. Emmental tastes a little less like soap here, though it does still have holes.)
Switzerland has produced Gruyère cheese since the 12th century, according to La Maison du Gruyère. In 2001, the cheese received an official French designation called AOP, which requires producers to create food products in accordance with cultural heritage guidelines and with materials from designated geographical regions.
What does Gruyère taste like? A hard cheese—though not as hard as, say, Parmesan—it has a slight sharpness and a strong salty flavor that increases with the age of the cheese.
La Maison du Gruyère gives visitors a succinct overview of the history of cheesemaking in Switzerland and a basic backgrounder on how cheese is made. The tour then takes guests along an elevated, glassed-in walkway that shows people making and curing Gruyère in the factory at ground level.
As always on these tours, you’ll have plenty of time to read through the history and watch the factory workers—and plenty of time to visit the gift shop and café. We didn’t eat in the café or even look at the menu. We did wander through the gift shop during the wait for the bus to leave; as expected, it had a lot of highly tacky, overpriced Swiss-themed gift items and souvenirs.
The Callier Chocolate Factory
After a lunchtime stopover in the medieval town of Gruyères, the tour bus takes the group to Maison Callier, a Callier museum and factory in Broc, Switzerland.
François-Louis Cailler founded his namesake Swiss chocolatier in 1819, making him one of the first Swiss chocolate pioneers. In 1931, during the global financial crisis, he sold the company to rival Nestlé, which still owns the brand.
The Swiss—with all their cows—perfected milk chocolate. (Makes sense that they would have, yet I hadn’t thought this through in the past.) If you come to Switzerland and expect a lot of chocolate as part of your experience, I hope you like milk chocolate.
Callier makes for no exception to the Swiss milk chocolate rule, though it now has dark chocolate varieties on offer and available for tasting and for purchase in the gift shop at the end of this tour. (You knew they’d have one, right?) However, before you get there, you’ll get a very engaging experiential history lesson covering chocolate’s journey from the Aztec Empire to Europe, and its evolution upon arrival.
After the history lesson, you transition into a review of how Nestlé produces chocolate in volume today, including its efforts around sustainability and responsibility across its supply chain. Also, you’ll learn how to properly taste test chocolate (which, it turns out, has many of the same steps as wine tasting) and you’ll watch chocolate in the making.
Kudos to Nestlé for putting together a truly engaging and fun tour for kids and adults to enjoy. Especial kudos to Nestlé for offering a buffet of chocolate at the end of the tour, allowing visitors to taste as much as they want. (Okay, they probably do have tasting limits. However, I sampled at least one of each of about twenty varieties—oh yes—and the attendant didn’t blink an eye.)
Cheese, Chocolate, and Medieval Times
From Broc, the tourist coach takes you back to the Montreux train station, from which you can navigate home by whatever means took you to the same station in the morning to start the tour. (Or you can take another means, of course. Up to you.)
The Chocolate Train is super touristy—and super fun. We enjoyed both factory tours (more the chocolate than the cheese, in all honesty) and loved the free-time lunch stopover in Gruyères. Like chocolate? Like cheese? Like tiny, picturesque medieval towns? Go!