We visited our first Swiss castle, Château de Gruyères, and oh là là – it’s swank! For folks living in Europe, medieval castles are probably a bit commonplace, along with Gothic cathedrals, Alpine chalets, and vibrant green landscapes dotted with tiny, picturesque villages. Though we do actually have castles in the States, if someone mentions a castle, they’re most likely referring to Disneyland.
Our neighbors, Carlos & Nicole, suggested an outing to the castle, along with two of her brothers whom we’d met on a previous occasion and found quite charming. We set off for the nearby town of Gruyères late in the afternoon. Oppressive gray clouds threatened rain, but it remained at bay during our visit and only added austerity to the castle looming above town.
The castle is one of the most famous in Switzerland and is a Swiss heritage site. While the exterior is in excellent condition, it’s the interior that’s much more startling with respect to its recent occupancy and comprehensive renovations by the Bovy/Balland families in the 1800s. At nearly 800 years old, it neither looks nor feels its age. Absent are the crumbling walls and cold, damp rooms devoid of furniture – Gruyères is like a real home.
I could imagine myself crawling into bed at night with a crackling fire on the hearth, picture the scullery bustling with activity before supper, and daydream about riding the verdant hillsides on my favorite horse from the stables. Apart from the corsets, chamber pots, and occasional cholera epidemic, Gruyères Castle in the mid 1800s would’ve been just dreamy.
The crane, or “grue” in French, is the coat of arms for Gruyères and the region’s namesake. Images of cranes are found throughout the castle and grounds.
The highlight of the entire castle is probably the climb to the top floor, which resembles a giant wooden dance floor. Huge timbers support a vaulted ceiling and a collection of fantasy art adorns the walls.
Tucked away in a distant tower is yet another tribute to fantasy art. The tower’s spiral staircase is lined with pieces by Danish artist, Patrick James Woodroffe. In some ways it’s similar to the work of Brian Froud, an artist I’ve admired for years as a closet fantasy art fan.
Once you’ve finished explored the castle’s many rooms and towers, make sure not to miss the gardens on the eastern side of the castle. Even on a gloomy day, the gardens are exquisite.
On the way out, you can pop into a little church attached to the gardens by a large, covered wooden walkway.
Last but not least, if you’ve a hankerin’ for a cappuccino before you leave or you just happen to love aliens, you’re in luck. Just steps from the entrance to the castle is the H.R. Giger Museum, graced with statues and art that would perhaps appear more at home on a sci-fi movie set. Nonetheless, they found a home in Gruyères.
Across the way is the Giger Bar, more commonly referred to as the Alien Bar. Even if you’re not interested in the museum, it’s worth it to pop into the bar/cafe to take in the fascinating decor and architecture.
The place is tiny and will likely be packed, but folks don’t stay long. Most just down an espresso or snap a few photos and leave. The Giger Museum and Alien Bar seem a bit out of place in the quaint medieval village of Gruyeres, but the talent behind the art is undeniable. Besides, it’s certainly entertaining!
- Adult admission to the castle is 10 chf.
- If you’re a student, you can save 1.50 if you show your student id/card. They accepted my husband’s post doc id card from the University of Fribourg as student id. That’s almost enough for half a cup of coffee here!
- Official website for Gruyères Castle (EN, FR, DE, IT)
- Memorial website for artist Patrick Woodroffe
- Official website for artist Brian Froud
- Official website for the HR Giger Museum
- Official website for the Giger Bar (Alien Bar)