Behind the Medieval Walls of Murten
Thank goodness a friend of mine has an apartment in Murten (Morat in French). To miss out on this medieval-walled village (and its little gem of a chocolate shop) would be a shame.
And this is why I love Switzerland so much… in every direction, in every canton and in every region, there are countless villages with picturesque old towns just waiting to be discovered. And in most, a sweet specialty of its own.
Sitting atop a small hill (affording fantastic views), Murten is between Bern and Lausanne in the canton of Fribourg. For such a small town, it is simply fascinating how chock-full of culture, history and sights it is. Walking up and down the main street Hauptgasse (formerly called Reichengasse), eying the buildings with undulating facades at varying heights, its stone fountain, flower boxes galore, arcaded shops and clock tower reminiscent of Bern, I was at first surprised to see shops with double signage, Metzgerei and Charcuterie (for butcher), for example. Turns out we were literally walking on the Röstigraben, Switzerland’s infamous language border, a divide of linguistic differences, as well as cultural and culinary. Swiss German on one side, French-speaking Romandie on the other.
Murten is already on my list of ideas for when friends and family visit us in Zürich. One thing I’ll do again with them, after roaming the small winding streets of the old town and having a slice of Nidelkuchen (more on that below), is walk along the town’s ramparts. Views from the castle wall of sloping red roofs, stone chimneys and lush green gardens, as well Lake Murten and the Vully vineyards in the distance, are spectacular. Also as enjoyable is heading down past the charming alleyways to the boat lined waterfront and going for a short stroll along the promenade, until my sweet tooth brings me back into town…
Visiting a town for the first time, I am naturally curious about the local sweet spot. So when my friend told me she found La Violette, a tiny chocolate shop making some of the most fabulous pâtes de fruit (fruit jellies), not only was I on the next train to go see her, but when she picked me up at the train station, we went right there. On the other side of the tracks from the old town’s shaded arcades, the shop isn’t exactly in a prime spot for foot traffic, but that doesn’t keep locals from going back as often as they can.
Especially for those pâtes de fruit available in 8 varieties, including mandarin, blackcurrant, apricot and my favorite, raspberry (all natural fruit and no artificial coloring or preservatives either). Unlike fruit jellies that can be more sugar than anything else, these are impressively heavy in fruit, jam packed with flavor and with a very dense, pleasing texture. Luckily there were still a few packages left when we got there, as they are only available from June to August. What is stealing the spotlight right now are marzipan chestnuts (top photo), with a gianduja filling dipped in dark chocolate. They are gorgeous – and almost too pretty to eat.
Effortlessly switching back and forth between German and French, Christina Isenschmid described the fillings of her assorted pralines and told us about opening the shop in 2006. Using only high quality chocolate (Felchlin dark and milk and a secret source for white chocolate), she makes her chocolates in small one kilogram batches to keep freshness at a maximum. There is no lack of choice in her small shop — orange flavored marzipan (above right), assorted chocolate bars with different nuts, spices and herbs, or one of the many house specialties, like “Zwetschgen im Vieille Prune,” half a plum macerated in alcohol, dipped in ganache then in chocolate and covered in powdered sugar (below right). As much as my friend raved about the latter, I went with thin bars of dark chocolate with wild berry instead. I have to leave a few things for next time…
Back in the old town, the “must” sweet is none other than the aforementioned and famous Nidelkuchen… think foccacia dough with a dulce de leche topping (yum !). Eighty years ago, the Aebersold family created this recipe and it has been the local specialty ever since. Sitting outside the bakery with a slice, I lost count of people walking out with what looked like pizza boxes with individual slices or entire Nidelkuchen (gâteau à la crème in French). It’s a rather elaborate process to make, involving a yeast dough, multiple baking times and layers of cream, buttermilk, sugar and crème double de la Gruyère. (Listen to World Radio Switzerland’s Food Scout for all the sweet details.) The soft dough had just the right amount of chew and the topping wasn’t at all sickly sweet as you might expect; pair it with a glass of Traminer du Vully and you’ll be asking for another slice – in German and French.
La Violette, Chocolaterie Artisanale
Other sweet shop discoveries around Switzerland:
Meringues & Crème Double de la Gruyère in Gruyères
Madame Chocolat in Zermatt
Sweets in the country’s oldest city, Chur
My favorite chocolate bars at Ballenberg
Not just cheese in Appenzell