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SWITZERLAND Spring 2000 (3)

MURTEN

FRIBOURG and GRUYERE

In the morning, we bade farewell to Yverdon and drove north on the east side of the lake to Murten, by way of Avenches, a very lovely Swiss village. The well-preserved ruins of a Roman theater beckoned and we sat on the stone steps for a bit enjoying the warm, sunny weather. Portions of the old city wall remain and beautiful old homes were built there along the Rue Des Alpes. The backs of the homes have beautiful floral-covered balconies with spectacular views of the countryside below and beyond. The aroma of home cooking greeted us as we walked along this lovely street of stone and wood dwellings.

In Murten we had the good fortune to meet Cornelia's parents, Heidi and Martin, who had driven there from their home in Bern. What a pleasure for us, after all these years!

Murten is located on the lake of the same name and is as perfect a lakeside retreat as one could imagine. The great clock tower leads you through an archway into the medieval town center and its arcaded main street lined with well-preserved stone homes, shops and cafes. It was so charming and neat that we could not resist a sidewalk table at Tea Room Monnier to enjoy a splendid lunch. Birchermuesli for me and croque monsieur for Linda and a bit of ice cream for each of us - all of which was Swiss perfect. We climbed up the well-maintained old ramparts to enjoy the fabulous views of the countryside, the lake and the vineyard-covered hills across the lake. It was a pretty ride through small roads to Fribourg where we would part company with our friends as they headed home and we continued our travels.

Cornelia and Fabio dropped us at our hotel, Duc Berthold, 5 Rue Des Bouchers. Victor Almieri, the proprietor was on hand to greet us. Off the tiny lobby is the popular hotel restaurant in which Victor takes great pride. The tiny elevator suffers the same need of renovation, as do the corridors and the rooms. The highlight of our room was that it was on the river side with excellent views from our little balcony. The hotel is well located at the foot of the Pont Zaehringen with easy access to the new and historical old town.

The Sarine River curls through the town with ancient bridges connecting the various parts. The area of the old town, classified a historical monument, is Switzerland's largest medieval entirety. The two major architectural beauties are the St. Nicholas Cathedral and the Old Town Hall. We descended the stairway near the Town Hall to the historical old town and were enraptured by the remarkably preserved late Gothic and baroque style bourgeois houses that greeted us. It was like a separate little world down there, a delightful neighborhood locked into another era. The picturesque streets and squares led us to old bridges crossing the Sarine. Regular bus routes and a funicular make the way to the upper town less challenging than climbing up the stairs to the top.

Fribourg is the capital of the Swiss canton of the same name. It's at the border of the French and German speaking regions and is pretty much bilingual with 70% speaking French and 30% German. There are many educational institutions and a Catholic university so the streets are always filled with the student population. Fribourg is home to outstanding works of medieval and religious art of Switzerland. It's also an industrial center very much dominated by the food industry. This, combined with the many tourist attractions, make it a lively place and a good base for excursions, as it's a main axis of highway, train and bus networks.

Since Victor's restaurant was closed this evening, he suggested the restaurant in the Hotel De La Rose, which turned out to be a wonderful choice. The tomato and onion salad and the mixed salad were prepared with care and did a fine job of whetting the appetite. Homemade tagliatelle with mascarpone cheese and asparagus made Linda very happy and I was thrilled with a roasted filet of tender lamb with rosti.

Next time we come to Fribourg, we plan to stay at the Romantic Hotel Au Sauvage, Planche-Superiore 12, which we discovered while in the historical old town. Each room is different, with lots of wood and beamed ceilings and the inn is decorated and furnished throughout with great care and taste.

Breakfast in the Duc Berthold was basic bread and cheese and we soon were off on a train and bus excursion to Gruyere. The walk from the hotel to the train station is about 15 minutes. We took Rue De Lausanne through the busy Place Georges Python continuing on Rue Du Romont to Place De La Gare. This is the pedestrian shopping route and even early in the morning it was quite busy with folks enjoying coffee and snacks at the numerous cafes.

We found the best routing to Gruyere was by train to Bulle, changing there to a narrow gauge train to Gruyere Gare and then to a bus up the hill to the medieval town and castle. After a short walk from the bus stop, we entered the main gate of this precious town that is surrounded by ramparts and watchtowers. There are three gates that give access. We passed through Chavonne, the north gate is the Belluard, and the gate from the south is named Charriere Des Morts. The main street widens before you and is a feast for the eyes. The facades of the homes, shops, restaurants and cafes have maintained their charming medieval character while the castle looms from on high at the end of the street. The views from the castle and the perimeter of the town are so spectacular one wonders if this picture perfect town and setting are really real.

There are well-marked walking and hiking trails to the surrounding villages that must be a delight to navigate. Gruyere, with its accommodations and dining options, can be considered a good base from which hikers can explore the joys of rural Switzerland.

Restaurant Le Chalet (it sure looks like one) was a perfect choice for a typical Gruyere lunch. Linda had quiche and salad and I, a generous portion of thinly sliced local dried ham with that good Swiss bread.

Back in Fribourg, we were strolling along the picturesque Rue Des Alpes looking for a coffee break and saw Illy, our favorite sign, at #13. Angela, the personable owner, makes perfect espresso and loves chatting with her customers. She's from Brazil and her specialty is freshly squeezed fruit juices, as The Tropical's steady stream of customers will attest.

The restaurant in the hotel was open this evening and Victor greeted us with enthusiasm. The front room, which also serves as the breakfast room, is casual, while the back room is more formal with higher prices. The same offerings are available in both rooms. Being casual folks, we obviously chose to have our dinner in the front room. The creamy asparagus soup had a lovely, intense asparagus flavor. Linda's veal steak with mushroom sauce was quite good but even better was the accompanying thinly sliced potatoes au gratin. My grilled medallion of lotte in fresh asparagus sauce was light and tasty. The entrees came with a side dish of nicely sauteed vegetables. A local Pinot Noir was fruity and went well with my fish. Fresh berries with a dash of vanilla ice cream, garnished with crushed pistachios and powdered sugar was a delight to look at and even better to eat and enjoy.

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