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Gruyères is a medieval town in the French speaking part of Switzerland and is located on a little hill in a mountain valley. It is postcard picture perfect and attracts visitors for its big castle, the church, a pretty town square with a fountain and the old houses with flowers and Swiss flags decorating the facades. Of course, there are also the vast amounts of fondue being served left and right. But hidden in Gruyères is also a whole other world.
The Aliens: H.R. Giger Museum and Bar
Cheese and medieval towns you kind of expect from Switzerland, but Aliens? Inside an old chateau in the middle of town is a bar that, if inside, looks like you are having a drink in the belly of a giant beast. The H.R. Giger Bar is dedicated to the Oscar-winning designer of the Alien movies, the now deceased Swiss artist H.R. Giger. Vertebrae arch their way across the ceiling and up the walls and high backed chairs (they are surprisingly comfortable) give off the feeling of being enveloped by something that might come alive and eat you at any second. Every detail is planned through, from the bone furniture to the hieroglyphs on the floor. In the adjoining museum, Giger’s sculptures of predators and aliens, paintings showing all kinds of weird space things and personal art that he collected over the years can be admired. The place has an organic feel, often disturbing but always fascinating. Giger once said “I only paint what frightens me” and this quote definitely shows in the strange art displayed here. I’m not big on museums, but this one was VERY cool. Sadly, taking pictures inside the museum isn’t allowed, so I can’t show you how awesome it is, but picture it as an extension of the bar, stuffed with Giger’s artwork spanning many decades of his fascinating career.
Entry fee: 12.50 CHF
The Cheese: La Maison du Gruyère
After enjoying a typical fondue in one of the many restaurants lining the town – moitié-moitié of course, meaning half Gruyère cheese and half Vacherin Fribourgois – I went to check out La Maison du Gruyère on the other side of town. The cheese factory is part exhibition, part actual cheese dairy. Here, the famous and absolutely delicious Gruyère cheese is made. There isn’t that much to do inside and I thought it was a bit too touristy and set up. But, for the 7 CHF entry fee, you get a audio information headset and then walk around a gallery showing the cheese making process from beginning to finish. In the center, you can see the milk getting churned in the big vats and men in white coveralls probing, checking for consistency and rushing around. Twice a day, the milk gets delivered by the local famers and 48 massive wheels are produced during the following hours. The cheese is then stored in the cellar in big towering shelves holding hundreds upon hundreds of wheels. So is it worth it? Honestly, it was fun to see, but I recommend going to a smaller place that isn’t so overrun. If you do go, make sure to check out the timetable ahead of time so you know when the cheese is actually made and can show at the correct time.
Entry fee: 7 CHF
The Castle: Château de Gruyères
Of course, I also checked out the third attraction in town. The Château de Gruyères is a historical castle from the 13th century. I’ve seen some cool castles before, for example the one in Bled, but this is one of the oldest and best preserved historic sites in Switzerland and I thus decided to go in. Once, it was home to the counts of the area, but after Michel, the last one, went bankrupt, it served as the home to bailiffs and the summer residence of a wealthy family. There is a nice walking path circling the castle, so it isn’t absolutely necessary to buy the entrance ticket, but I though it was worth it to have a look at the compiled culture of several centuries as well. Inside, you can tour all the rooms of the castle, admire some old furniture, armors as well as art and outside, you can go on a stroll through the castle gardens and enjoy perfectly trimmed hedges and colourful flower arrangements.
Entry fee: 10 CHF
Needless to say, I loved the contrast between the traditional Swiss town and the aliens. The cheese was amazing and I had one of the best fondues I’ve ever tasted. Since the location is fairly central, going to Gruyères is a very cool day trip you can do from basically anywhere in Switzerland.