At some indiscriminate point south of Bern, the exit signs on the autoroute stop
reading 'Ausgang' and begin reading 'Sortie'. We found this rather exciting simply
because our French is much better than our German. An entire region between Lausanne
and Bern is called La Gruyere, and this is where the cheese of the same name comes from.
The region is centered (or was once at least) on the town of Gruyeres which sits on
a rocky crag jutting into the valley.
The town is tiny with only a handful of alleys and only one that can be called a
street. Cars are not allowed (yes I know there are cars in the previous picture)
so to visit you have to park in one of several parking areas on the hill leading
up to town. Actually the number of satellite parking lots is a testament to just
how popular this town can be in season (the summer). Again, we managed to visit
while things were relatively quiet. At the far end of town is the castle of Gruyeres
which is open to the public for a nominal fee.
The castle walls and dungeon date from the 13th century, most of the rest was rebuilt
after a fire around 1500. This is the central courtyard of the castle. The wooden
walkways don't look (or feel) entirely secure but they are still standing.
This is the castle's kitchen as you might expect. The oven on the right side is
large enough for just about anything one might imagine cooking. The castle was
home to the Counts of Gruyere through most of the middle ages.
In the early 20th century some strange things started happening around the castle
of Gruyeres. Not strange like ghosts, but strange like art. It started with a
family of artists taking over the castle, and bringing in more of their artist friends
to decorate the place. This dining hall is now resplendant with scenes from the history
of Gruyeres, although some of them are perhaps a bit over-dramatized. This actually
isn't all that strange and adds to the effect of the room.
More recently however the art took on a more surreal tone. In fact, the collection
of art that moves around the castle now is described as "The most important collection
of fantasy art in Europe", whatever that means. Fantasy art seems to mean unicorns,
elves, dragons, and assorted other strange creatures. On our visit they were displayed
in the former ballroom of the castle, and one entire stairwell. Incidentally, the crane
on this flag is the symbol of Gruyeres. The French word for crane is 'Grue'.
The art gets worse. H.R. Giger who is best known for creating the creature in the
movie 'Alien' has located his own gallery just outside the castle. It might not be
so bad in a different setting but contrasted with the medieval town of Gruyeres it
seems altogether wrong. On the other hand, you're forced to walk through part of it
to gain access to the castle, so at least he has a captive audience of sorts. These
are the gardens which were not open in March.
Despite the few pieces from the ultra-modern art museums that have escaped onto this
terrace, it retains most of its charm. The castle's original chapel is visible on the
right, and there is a fantastic view of the valley below stretching back towards Lake
There are a few hotels in Gruyeres, and as you might expect they are a bit pricey. To
be honest, we're not sure what you'd do here overnight as four or five hours would be
plenty to see the castle, entire town, and the assortment of odd museums. Restaurants
here specialize in overpriced fondue and raclette but we found a very nice sandwich
shop at the opposite end of town from the castle. Most of the remaining buildings house
a souvenir shop on the lowest floor specializing in the usual: Swiss army knives, fondue
pots, cowbells, lace, and strange "traditional" Swiss costumes that look more like
something from the set of "Heidi" than anything we saw in the traditional costumes section
of the Swiss History Museum back in Zurich. Despite all that, Gruyeres is definately
worth a visit, especially if you can manage it during the off season.