Swiss traditions at Moléson

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Moléson-sur-Gruyères is a small ski resort above Gruyères. We could see the distinctive solitary limestone lump that gives the resort it’s name from our last stop in Charmey.

The Moléson can be ascended by taking a funicular and then a cable car from the resort base all the way to about 10m shy of the top of the ‘lump’. That, and a number of other summer activities, makes it a popular destination.

The Moléson

Moléson motorhome parking

It was only a short drive to get here, and a quiet drive too late on Sunday morning with hardly anyone on the tree lined road. When we arrived we were surprised at the number of people already there. The car parks were nearly full and the motorhome parking area in P3, behind the restaurant on grass and gravel, had about 20 vans parked up.

But as it was Sunday we were unsurprised that the majority of vans left. We had a bet on the number of vans that would be remaining by 10pm. Paul was the closest with his guess of 7. It was actually 6.

This is just a motorhome parking spot. There are no services and the toilets in the funicular station are open during operating hours but not available overnight. However we were prepared, we’d used the services in Charmey to fill up our water, plus our two drinking water containers and we had emptied our toilet. We were set for the next three nights at least.

In our parking spot

There is a small tourist information next to the restaurant here and the lady on the desk sorted us out with our parking for 10 CHF per night. We have found that most places require you to provide a whole bunch of information to register the tourist tax. Sometimes you get something in return. Today we got a voucher for a free coffee if we decided to go to the restaurant at the top of the mountain.

We wandered around to see what was on offer. We’d never seen go-karts pulled uphill by a button lift before and watched as the process for attaching and detaching was explained to a group of children. Nearby a long summer luge was causing many whoops of joy (or fear).

Go Cart on the button lift

Slightly up the hill is a small dairy with a restaurant and a shop. We were too late to be booked onto a tour and demonstration but we could take a look in the shop. It was so crowded we lost the enthusiasm to buy anything.

Outside the dairy some boards displayed information, including one that described the process of ‘tavillonnage’, making and installing the tiny wooden shingles that cover the walls and roofs of many traditional style houses in this part of Switzerland. We had been wondering about these buildings since arriving in this area of Switzerland  It seems very like thatching in it’s traditions and artisanal approach. Every master tavilloner will have their own signature style to distinguish their work.

Example of tavillonnage

Another tradition was also in evidence. We could hear the strains of the alphorn as we wandered around. A group of five performers, in their traditional costume, were doing a tour of the restaurants. Every time we got to where they were playing they finished their ‘set’ and moved on. I started to take it personally but at least we could hear their performances.

Alphorns resting after yet another missed performance

Later we sat outside the van in the warmth of the sun planning the next couple of days. There is a via ferrata here we wanted to climb, but Paul still felt we needed another day of ‘rest’. In Paul’s book this meant planning a bike ride.

Colourful sunsets from the Saharan dust

A bike ride to the mid station

The same long distance bike route we had followed in Charmey had a section running through Moléson that snaked around the side of the mountain and had an option to go up to the mid station. Looking at the map this could be combined with a descent down another track from the mid station to make a nice circular route. But I was overruled. According to Paul following this looping route made the ride too long and there was an ‘easier’ way up some zig zag paths.

So we set off. Initially we zig zagged up through the chalets on the side of the hill, past the marked bike route and all the way to the end of the road where we pushed our bikes through a turnstile onto steep terraced slopes.

Then the fun began.

Not only was this a very steep path, despite continuing the zig zag theme, but it was also covered in cow poo. We both gave up trying to cycle over the squidgy stuff and instead pushed, an almost Sisyphean task as we slid back down almost as much as we managed to climb. I was not amused. Paul wisely said nothing.

Eventually, after passing through what appeared to be the most popular cow toilet on the hill, we reached a track on the shoulder of the lower slopes of The Moléson. This joined up with the track we should have ascended and we actually managed to cycle for a while.

Finally getting some rest after all that cow muck

But it still wasn’t all plain sailing. The track was closed where new ski lifts were being installed, the bypass was a narrow steep route through the trees under the mid station. My arm muscles were getting some work out and we definitely weren’t fulfilling our objective of a ‘rest day’.

With a bit of heaving and shoving we made it out of the woods and arrived in a closed restaurant where we could help ourselves to outside seating in the shade and drink as much water as possible while admiring the view and checking out the following day’s via ferrata.

Checking out our via ferrata route up the corner of that limestone lump

Our descent was about 20 minutes of fast downhill on gravel track. After a couple of unnerving skids on the corners Paul gave me some tips on how to control the bike with better braking and body position. It was only when we got back to the van that he admitted that his rear brake was playing up. He spent the rest of the afternoon tinkering with the brakes while I got that rest we’d promised ourselves. I cleaned the cow muck from my shoes.

Finally some down hill – I still don’t look very impressed

Moléson ‘The Pillar’

There are two via ferrata routes up the rocky part of the mountain and we had chosen The Pillar (rather than The Face) as it was a slightly easier and shorter route.

After looking through the options for the funicular and the cable car we decided we would get the 30CHF ‘three part’ ticket that allowed us to ascend the funicular, do the via ferrata and then descend both the cable car and then the funicular. We weren’t going to make the mistake of trying to descend the whole hill this time even if it did mean spending a few extra francs.

At the funicular station we had a chat to the chap who sold us the tickets. ‘What do the English call a Via Ferrata?’ he asked. ‘Mmmm….via ferrata’ I replied, explaining that pre equipped routes weren’t really a thing in the UK, with just a couple of options to pay for a guided excursion in Wales and the Lake District.

This was a very different via ferrata than Charmey. A lot more of the hand and foot holds were on rock rather than staples, and there was a lot more traversing across the mountain. The little ‘fun ‘ features weren’t present, but there were more route finding problems and a couple of minor overhangs that tested my confidence in my own strength.

When we got to the top there was a lovely short ridge leading to the main summit which was full of people who had ascended via the cable car (or had walked). We sat in the sun and looked at the hazy views for a while. From here we could make out the glaciated peaks of the main alpine ridges to the south of us.

The ridge from the top of the via ferrata to Moleson’s peak

It was only a short downhill trot to the cablecar top station. Unfortunately I had forgotton to bring our voucher for a free coffee, but it was far to warm for a hot drink anyway, instead we had ice creams while sitting on the terrace spending more time looking at the view before we caught the next gondola down.

A very swiss ice-cream treat


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