Gruyeres - Basically a Fairy-Tale Town
Why do you need to visit Gruyeres?
Cheese. Buddha. Castles. Aliens. One of these has got to appeal to you.
Chances are, you've heard of Gruyeres because of the famous cheese - but yes, it is an actual town. Many people will recommend you visit, should you be in Switzerland, and though I generally am not big on tourist sites I have to agree with this one.
Gruyeres is about two hours by bus from Geneva, or just over an hour from Fribourg. You can also take the train from Geneva by transferring through Lausanne and then Palezieux, or from Zurich by transferring at Palezieux. The bus will be perfectly comfortable, and it may even be worth it to splurge on a guided tour - my experience with KeyTours was fabulous. The town itself is car, bus, and train-free, so be prepared for about a 15 minute walk uphill before you're officially there.
Despite the crowds and line-up of buses that stream to the town on a nice day, Gruyeres has maintained its historic charm.
Fun fact: Gruyeres is named after a bird. A crane, or grue, can be found on the town's traditional crest.
The physical highlight of the town is the Chateau de Gruyeres. The castle was built in stages between 1080 and 1554. Inside you'll find artwork and no doubt intriguing history; dodging the 10CHF entry price, I was happy to skirt the outsides of the castles, exploring the outer wall and soaking in the views of the valley.
To get to the castle, however, you'll need to walk through town. The town itself is minuscule - you really only need a day trip or even a couple hours to soak in Gruyeres, but you'll want to slip into lazy mood as soon as you step inside the town. The first thing you'll notice (if you're anything like me) is that the town literally smells like cheese. This place knows its market - the scent comes from the handful of fondue restaurants serving happy customers vats of gooey, melting cheese. Stop here. Eat the cheese. Get a little chubby. It's worth it. In particular, I recommend looking for the half-and-half, or moitie-moitie fondue. Half Gruyeres cheese, half Vacherin, it's the most traditional of the fondues.
If eating the cheese just isn't enough for you, you can also check out the Masion du Gruyere - the cheese factory at the base of the hill - or the Fromagerie d'Alpage, a bit further out of town, where you can watch fondue being made in the most traditional way. Read more about my experiences visiting such a place here.
But. Remember earlier when I mentioned Buddhas and Aliens? Well, aside from cheese, Gruyeres is also known for two very strange distinctions.
It houses the largest collections of Buddhas depictions outside of Asia. Incongruously housed in a converted chapel, the Tibet Museum boasts over 300 pieces of Buddhist artwork. Expect a 10CHF ticket, open 11am-6pm April-Oct. with more limited hours during the winter.
It is also the home of H.R. Giger's extensive collection of science fiction art and props. That's H.R. Giger as in the man who won an Academy Award for the set design of the movie Alien. Literally you turn a corner and suddenly there's a screeching alien sculpture in your face. Apparently he liked Gruyeres. The Giger Museum is strange, let's just say it. If it's not your cup of tea, the handy Giger Bar is just next door. The museum is open 10am-6pm from April to October, with more limited hours in the winter. I'd personally rather use the 12.50 CHF entrance fee to the museum to purchase a drink at the bar, but that could just be me.
Gruyere will provide a gorgeous place for you to spend a relaxing day, learn more about Swiss history and culture - and perhaps discover some surprising twists as well.