A picturesque walled Medieval town at the foot of the Prealps, Gruyères remain one of the most visited in the region. From far the beautiful 12th century castle can be seen standing majestically in a pastoral landscape of the Swiss Prealps. How Gruyères came into being is still a mystery but legend tells of Gruerius the warrior king of the vandals who came to the region in the 5th century, captured a Crane and built the city. The Crane has since become a symbol and used as the coat of arms of Gruyères. A charming Medieval town with cobbled streets flanked with well preserved historic buildings Gruyères is certainly a place not to be missed when venturing the area. In the early morning hours when the town is still devoid of tourists, walk around the ramparts to see some of the surrounding green valleys and the Massifs of Moléson, Chamois and Dent du Broc. The place can get filled up with tourists and groups during the day but by twilight when the sun sets and all the shops close, the streets once again deserted, the Medieval town begins to illuminate at its best.
One of the most important castle in the French speaking Switzerland (the other is the Chillon castle in Lake Geneva), the fortress castle of Gruyères was built in the 13th century and home to twenty noble Count of Gruyères till its last heir Michel who declared his bankruptcy in 1554. Taken over by the city of Fribourg and Berne, the castle became the main residence of the bailiffs and prefects from Fribourg till 1848. The castle was later sold in 1849 to the Bovy and Balland famillies where they used to come for the summer season bringing with them their friends artists such as Camille Corot. It was during the 19th century when the castle was restored and redecorated by the families reviving the glorious days of the Counts of Gruyères. In 1938 the castle was bought back by the city of Fribourg. It was later made into a museum and opened to the public.
Inside the castle are rooms from the Medieval period, Renaissance and the romantic era where you could see works of the 19th century artist Camille Corot along the castle walls. In the hands of Daniel Bovy, the castle was redecorated. Among other artists who left their aesthetic legacy were B.Menn, H. Baron and H. Salzmann. The Salle des Chevaliers (The Knights Hall) on the second floor is one of my favorite. The richly painted walls depicting an amalgamation of legends and history of the Counts of Gruyères and furniture were made in the 19th century. Another highlight of this wonderful castle is the French style garden created by the Balland family in the 19th century. An overall view of the garden can be nicely seen from the flowery second floor balcony.
After browsing through the city time to savour some of local specialties at the Fleur de Lys – fondue moitié-moitié (made with both Gruyère AOP and Vacherin cheese), soupe de chalet (a hearty mountain dish of potatoes, vegetable, milk and cheese) and to finish off with raspberries meringue and the famous Gruyère double cream !
After lunch a good walk is needed and time to visit the unique museum and bar created by HR Giger who is known to have won his Academy Award for having created the famous creature in the “Alien” movie. A set designer for science fiction movies, his works includes those seen in Dune and Prometheus. Fascinated by death and the macabre influenced by the transhumanist art movement, his work depicts a bizarre and morbid landscape of bio-mechanical figures, cyborgs or genetically-enhanced humans. Housed in the Medieval castle of St Germain, his works and private art collection are exhibited on several floors. Right across the museum is the impressive Giger bar styled according to his bio-mechanical designs for the Alien movie. The bar was opened in 2003. The unique bone like chair is the Harkonnen throne originally designed for the Dune film project. A Tibetan museum is located just next to HR Giger museum.
Back to the Medieval world ….
Soon it is time for dinner and more local specialties to try out. In a traditionally decorated restaurant Le Chalet awaits my macaroni de chalet with more cheese …
After a lovely dinner I took another stroll along deserted streets. Gruyères looks fabulous in the evening light with the streets illuminated and when the clock tower strikes nine, time to return to my comfortable hotel for another exciting journey …