One recent rainy Sunday, my family spent the day exploring a slice of Switzerland’s military past at Fort Pré-Giroud in Canton Vaud. If you’re looking for an interesting day trip idea, hosting guests who have seen the more famous sights in and around Geneva, or looking to learn more about Switzerland’s history, this might be the day trip for you.
Fort Pré-Giroud sits high above the town of Vallorbe in northwestern Vaud. During the Second World War, the fort was one of many defensive structures built along the Swiss border. Strategically, it protected the Col de Jougne, a main passage in the Jura mountain range between Switzerland and France.
Construction was completed in 1939; by 1945, Fort Pré-Giroud housed 200 men. The fort features a “false chalet”, a building that at first glance appears to be a regular country house. In reality, the chalet walls are up to 1 meter thick and submachine guns are mounted behind seemingly innocuous shutters. The chalet also serves as the entrance to an expansive complex containing three small forts, tunnels, bunkers, lookout points and cannons or submachine guns, barracks, and ammunitions stores.
The formal tour of Fort Pré-Giroud lasts an hour and a half. After an outdoor explanation of the Col de Jougne and its importance during the war, visitors descend 150 steps into the heart of the underground complex. During the tour, you get to see the barracks, weapons stations, machine room and engine room, ammunition stores, observation posts, kitchen, and officer quarters.
There are all sorts of weapons on display as well as period photos, uniforms from all of the countries that fought in the war, signs and posters, and smaller items like playing cards, newspapers, toothpaste tubes and utensils. One room features diagrams of Operation Tannenbaum, Nazi Germany’s plans for invading Switzerland, along with a German espionage map of Switzerland that was discovered in the 1960s.
Hours and admission prices: Tours last approximately 90 minutes and opening times vary by season. All visits are guided and adhere to a strict schedule. The fort is now in low season; from Monday August 25 to Sunday October 19, 2014, the fort is open Saturday, Sunday and public holidays. Tours begin at 11:45, 13:45, 15:30 and 17:00.
Adult admission is CHF 15; the price for senior citizens (AVS) and students is CHF 12. Children aged 6 to 16 and members of the military tour the fort for CHF 7. Group rates are also available; click here to learn more. Tours are given primarily in French; printed translations are available in German, Italian, Russian, and English.
Getting there: By car, the fort takes about 80 minutes to reach from central Geneva. Roadside parking is available near the entrance. By public transportation, take a train from Geneva to Vallorbe and then hike up to the fort (about 90 minutes). The hiking path is rated “easy” though there are some steep uphill climbs; for an explanation of the rating, read our post about Switzerland’s hiking trail system here. Click here for access information on the fort’s website.
Useful information: The interiors of the fort are kept at a steady 8ºC (46ºF) so you should bring a jacket or sweater, no matter the season. Dogs are not permitted inside; there’s a spot where you can leash your dog outside and the facility will provide a water bowl for your pet while you are on the tour. No photos are allowed inside the fort, either, though you are free to take pictures of the exterior structures and military equipment on display on the grounds. More information is available on the fort’s webpage, http://www.pre-giroud.ch
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