FRIBOURG, SWITZERLAND, December 4, 2016 – Sometimes the best things come in small packages and, in the world of travel, the Canton of Fribourg in Switzerland is one of them. Much like its sister, Berne, which lies about 17-miles northeast of Fribourg, the city has preserved most of its medieval center which is now one of the largest in Europe.
Situated on a breathtaking peninsula surrounded on three sides by the River Saane/La Sarine (two spellings are common in Fribourg because the city is both German and French), Fribourg’s Old City architecture dates primarily before the 16th century when most of the houses were built of the local stone known as “molasse.”
Founded in 1157, Fribourg derives its name from the German word frei (free) and burg (fort), a location that was no accident because it offered the protection of steep cliffs on three sides. Make no mistake, Switzerland, which is one of the oldest democracies in the world, values its freedom intensely, and, in that sense, Fribourg is a symbol for the entire country.
In fact, with the aid of Berne as an ally in the Burgundian Wars in 1477, Fribourg gained the status of Free Imperial City in the following year after being released from the influence of Savoy. Soon after, the city and its canton joined the Swiss Confederation and since that time has been influential in Swiss and European Catholicism.
The Cathedral of St. Nicholas sits on an outcropping of rock above the River Sarine in the medieval center of the city. The Gothic architecture began in 1283 and was completed in 1430 with the dominating tower being completed in 1490. Noted for its stained-glass windows created between 1896 and 1936 by Jozef Mehoffer of Poland, the St. Nicholas windows are said to be among the most important religious Art Nouveau collections in the world.
In 1945, St. Nicholas officially became the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg.
Fribourg’s monasteries have long been a center of religious culture which includes architecture, sculpture and painting, the most influential of which was that of the Jesuits. Their influence led heavily to the city’s prosperity as well as the establishment of Fribourg University.
Though Switzerland’s touristic image is usually centered on other things, the country offers incredible unknown and undiscovered art collections. Fribourg is a perfect example with its Museum of Marionettes, Swiss Sewing Machine Museum, Gutenberg Museum and even a Beer Museum.
Not to be missed is the small but eclectic display of the whimsical contraptions created by Swiss native son Jean Tinguely. Tinguely’s machines are filled with vibrant humor, irony and even a touch of sadness as visitors interact with his pieces.
The best way to see Fribourg is to ride through the city and its outskirts on the Petite Train which arrives and departs regularly from the front of the Fribourg Tourist Office.
Among the most popular destinations in the Canton of Fribourg is the medieval town of Gruyeres which is famous for its Gruyere cheese. (The village gets an “S”, the cheese doesn’t.)
The castle, built between 1270 and 1282 is the primary attraction. Situated atop an isolated hill north of the Alps, the castle represents the Baroque period rather than the Gothic style of Fribourg.
Not to be missed is the spiral staircase in the courtyard and the adjustment of the esplanade with its chapel. As with most destinations in Switzerland, art is once again prominent.
Well-known mid-19th century artists like Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Barthelemy Menn and others contributed to the superb landscapes that permeate the castle.
When Swiss surrealist painter and sculptor, HR Giger purchased the Chateau St. Germain in Gruyeres, he turned it into a permanent space to display his work. An acquired taste, to say the least, Giger’s museum resides next to another exhibition featuring antiquities from Tibet.
Gruyere cheese has been a major economic factor in the region for centuries, and there is also a cheese factory in Pringy which is open to visitors who wish to observe the cheese making process.
With its location roughly halfway between Berne and Lausanne, the Canton of Fribourg is a great place for a day trip in Switzerland or, better yet, for a brief stop for further exploration.
Sometimes when you think small, you get big surprises.
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Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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