…which is French, or at least, the majority there speak French! Fribourg is one of the few towns in Switzerland which are bilingual French-German, lying as it does on the rösti trench (which indicates that the German speakers who eat rösti are on one side, and the French speakers, who don’t, on the other…!). Even the German speakers here tend to refer to it as Fribourg rather than its German name Freiburg, to avoid confusion with the German Freiburg in Breisgau. I hadn’t known until I researched this post that the Swiss Freiburg is also known as Freiburg im Üechtland, something I hadn’t heard in over 40 years of living here. To be honest, I don’t know the town at all well – apart from being a small university town, it’s not really all that well known, tucked onto a rock spur above the river Saane, which cuts and curls around it with a number of bridges approaching the town like something out of a science-fiction film. Again, there is a very attractive old town with houses dating back to the middle ages. And as befits a university town there are cultural opportunities with several museums including two which might merit a visit: a beer museum and a sewing machine museum (I must mention this to my seamstress daughter!). Here’s a thought: uniquely, the university is also bilingual – no wonder that despite its relatively small size, it’s a prestigious university to attend.
Perhaps by now unsurprisingly, the canton around Fribourg has also taken the name (the Swiss may be innovative but they also tend to be conservative!) and is probably better known for something you have no doubt heard of: Gruyère cheese! This world-famous speciality comes from a village of just over 2000 inhabitants which is beautifully situated, perched above a long narrow lake in the rolling Alpine hills to the west of the Bernese Oberland ski resorts. A quaint little place with an impressive castle, it panders to tourists and is keen to show off its cheesemaking skills (which are the same all over Switzerland – you can go and watch Appenzell cheese being made, too!), but the whole area is also delightful for hikes and family holidays and has the advantage of being easily accessible from both the German-speaking part of the country and the more densely populated areas around Geneva and Lausanne.
Another fact I wasn’t aware of previously is that all the districts in canton Fribourg are named after lakes – and one of those I do know a little better, Murten. In fact, this might be one of my favourite places in Switzerland. Being multilingual myself I love how so many people are able to adapt to either French or German in the blink of an eye as a matter of course and I like the combination of the cultures here, too. Murten itself is a small town on the shores of Lake Murten (or Morat, the French name), another one of those pretty little lakes we have, but one with relatively unspoilt shores. Another attraction is the fact that Lake Murten, Lake Neuchâtel and Lake Biel (or Bienne – another bilingual place) are connected: no wonder they are popular with those who like messing about in boats!
But time for another history lesson! The Battle of Murten/Morat is one of the key military encounters in Swiss history, when the Confederation and the Burgundians under Duke Charles I clashed in 1476, laying siege first to Grandson and then Murten and culminating in an exciting encounter featuring archers with bows and crossbows, cavalry, heavy cannon and even some early firearms (arquebus) that was well-documented and is portrayed in a very famous mural. Suffice to say that the Swiss chased Charles away in the end and as ever, legends grew up around the whole story. This includes the “runner of Murten” who apparently ran 17 km from Murten to Fribourg with a lime twig in his hand, calling “victory, victory” before collapsing and dying… The “Murten Lime” was planted in commemoration and today there are seven descendants of this first tree as well as monuments in front of the town halls of both Fribourg and Murten.
Click here for a virtual tour of Fribourg: http://www.fribourgtourisme.ch/en/Stadtbesuch/Virtuelle-Besichtigung.html
There, now I’ve gone and made myself curious to have a closer look at the town of Fribourg – I will report back, friends!!