Picture of gruyeres 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.

Picture of castle 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.

Picture of courtyard 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.

Picture of kitchen 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.

Picture of dining_hall 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.

Picture of flag 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'.

Picture of gardens 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.

Picture of terrace 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 Gruyere.

Picture of street 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.

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