WHAT A pleasant surprise to the start of the day. Back in Fribourg, at 0645 I head down for breakfast in the hotel and who should be sitting here but the magnificent, world-famous Red Arrows flying display team.

They tell me they are on an overnight stopover in Fribourg from Greece, and this morning are heading back to their base at RAF Scampton, north of Lincoln… my home city. A pity they are not leaving it another day, as I would have asked for a lift home.

I seem to be heading into another overcast day. Water drips off the roof from the previous night’s persistent rain, and sodden flags look hang-dog and forlorn outside reception. I can hope for better weather, but at this time I do not hold my breath.

DSC_4845I head for La Maison du Gruyere, a cheese dairy in Pringy-Gruyeres. An impressive set-up indeed. A hand-held audio presentation guides visitors through the cheese-making process, whilst it is possible to view the actual process via a walk-around glass surround.

DSC_4840I walk outside to be greeted by blue skies and an impressive panorama of snow-tipped mountains and rolling green pastures. Thank you.

DSC_4866A short drive sees me in the medieval town of Gruyeres, set on a hill with a castle. You cannot get much more picture-postcard perfect than this. I am here before the influx of coach loads of tourists, and am grateful for the tranquillity, because that is what such a lovely village deserves.

DSC_4856I wander through the main square before heading downhill to the church and uphill again along the pebbled path which leads to the hilltop chateau. I am happy to linger awhile as the sun dances through the trees and the birds chatter.

DSC_4893A train and bus ride later, and I am in Sion. High on a hill above the modern, sprawling town sits Switzerland’s oldest medieval village, complete with sturdy battlements, higgledy-piggledy streets and shuttered stone houses. Only one property remains from the 15th century, hanging in there as a living testament to times past. Weather and time will continue to take its toll on history.

DSC_4937Amongst this mingling of history and culture, an American Bald Eagle hangs out on lazy spirals before disappearing from view, soaringover the jumble of rooftops and into the blue yonder. I am seated in a square off the main street to watch a falconry display. The eagle is the star attraction, and we wait patiently for its return.

DSC_4938Within the streets lies a fine winery where, in the cellar under the town battlements, owner Gerard Raymond plies me with a selection of white and red wines from his vineyard. All too soon it is time to head to my overnight stop at the town of St Maurice.

– Michael Cowton

All images © Essential Journeys/Michael Cowton