Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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Since 1988, Swiss chainsaw artists have been populating a forest with wood sculptures carved on site and installed along an easy trail among pine trees. In early 2018, the sculpture count reaches 114 but new ones regularly pop up so it’s not a final count. Featuring popular forest creatures and Swiss icons, it is a great half-day activity for families close to the beautiful old city of Gruyères.
I was thrilled to find this hike when looking for a half-day activity next to the Castle of Gruyères, an amazing medieval castle nestled in a small pedestrian village where every shop sells Gruyère cheese. In fact, I’m sure that if the town hall could, the streets would be paved with cheese. My 12-year-old daughter, a notorious non-cheese eater in our family, was immediately taken by the idea of a chainsaw sculpture trail. Hiking for wood sculptures sounded a little bit like a treasure hunt and it was a good opportunity to enjoy Swiss nature while the weather was clear, hours before Storm Carmen hit with violent winds and rain.
Before heading out on the trail, I checked that the hike would fit our needs and indeed, it was perfect. At a glance:
As we were going with my 12-year-old daughter and my 77-year-old father, this looked like a multi-generational family hiking winner. We packed our winter shoes, winter layers and off we went.
Finding the first sculpture was a little bit like finding a secret treasure, except it was hiding in plain sight. It was a trumpet whose finer parts had been repaired with duct tape, showing how delicate some sculptures can be. Ironically, the next sculpture was a wood chainsaw carved with… an actual chainsaw. Swiss humor!
We knew that there were 114 sculptures hiding in the forest but I’m not sure that we saw them all. There were so many! Some of the most popular and recurring themes included…
…morels and other mushrooms, whose long shape fits very well in a tree trunk.
…Swiss lumberjacks, ready to axe any tree in a managed forest.
… Smurfs, dwarfs, gnomes and trolls. My daughter may look unfazed but clearly, my dad couldn’t contain his hilarity at hugging a Smurf.
… owls, vultures, eagles and other birds, conveniently perched at elbow level for photo opps.
… Shoes and hiking boots. We saw three on the trail and as you can see, one size fits all. Handy.
… forest animals, foxes and bears but also smaller forest dwellers, such as…
… playful squirrels and other rodents, in noble “on top of the acorn” position or in unlikely goofy settings like here.
… Other chainsaw enthusiasts broke with tradition and created “serial wood sculptures” like here with the stem glass and wine bottle, or further along with a cow behind and a cow head (weird, to dissociate both body parts).
Overall, we really enjoyed the variety and were pleasantly surprised by how crafty some sculptors were. Carving a wood chain with each link interlocked with the next, with the same log? Respect. I have no idea how you do this with a chainsaw.
It probably shows on a few pictures but just to set the record straight, this was a super easy hike. At no point did we break a sweat, or if we did, it was because we overestimated winter temps and dressed for Siberia when it was actually quite mild outside.
There might have been a slight incline but it was hardly noticeable. While we hiked this trail in the snow during the winter season, I could see how amazing this trail would be on a sunny summer day, offered shady spots in the forest as well as nice open terrain to play around for kids.
The long hike goes deep into a newer pine forest and offer some lovely open views with more snow, shorter trees and a more secluded feel. I highly recommend it if you’re not pressed for time.
You can find a trail map (in French) here but honestly, you won’t need it. The trail is very well signed.
This concludes our discovery of the chainsaw sculpture trail in Switzerland but I hope that you will take your family hiking there to see it for yourself.
Since you will be in the area, you may consider taking the kids to two major touristic spots: