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Aliens & Cheese in Gruyères: A Curiosity in Switzerland

Posted on 2 May 2024

The day started out like any other while you’re on holiday. I woke up in the charming yet vibrant city of Geneva, surrounded by strangers and the possibilities of the day ahead. My alarm rang early, I hurried it into silence so as not to wake my hostel buddies, and I prepared for the day. 

In hindsight, I should have brought an extra set of clothes because mine would be soaked before the day even truly began. 

But for now, the day was ahead of me, and I eagerly headed for the train station and boarded a train to the quiet, little nowhere town of Gruyères

Perhaps you’ve heard of it, perhaps you haven’t. Most certainly you’re sitting there trying to figure out how to pronounce it. I spent the day doing the same. Best I can do is: ‘Gree-air’. As the train trundled through the postcard-perfect Swiss countryside, the sky darkened to something ominous, and it began pouring. And yet... my only concern was that my camera would get damaged.  

The hustle from the station into town involved a haphazardly held umbrella, shoes and trousers soaked within moments, Google Maps working hard, and me talking aloud to myself as a means of egging myself on during this torrential weather. 

By the time I arrived in the sleepy Swiss village, I was soaked but merry. 

Coming up in this blog:

  • Where is Gruyères
  • Fun Facts about Gruyères
  • 5 Things to do in Gruyères
    • Take photos
    • Château de Gruyères
    • HR Giger Museum and Bar
    • Gruyère cheese and chocolate
    • Tibet Museum
gruyeres images

Where is Gruyères? 

Gruyères is about 2 hours north of Geneva, sitting just within the Parc naturel régional Gruyère Pays-d'Enhaut. From Geneva, it takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes by train. You can change in Lausanne, but I found the fastest route was to change at Palézieux.  

From the station, it’s an easy walk (easier when it’s not pouring) to the village’s entrance. From there, the world of Gruyères is your cheese-filled oyster. 

Fun Facts about Gruyères 

I know a cheese-filled oyster sounds absolutely revolting. As someone who doesn’t eat dairy or seafood, it sounds like my worst nightmare. But my mentioning of cheese was done so specifically and allow me to explain why. 

Gruyères is the birthplace of ... Gruyère cheese. Shocking, I know. Many describe it as having a distinctly nutty flavour, as being a semi-hard cheese... but all say it is delicious. I’m not big on cheese myself – but I managed to have myself a wee meringue and Gruyères cream dessert and when I say I’d walk back to Gruyères in the pouring rain for another one of those bad boys, I’m not lying.  

The other quirky fact about Gruyères you should know is that it’s associated with renowned Swiss artist HR Giger, best known for his science fiction film “Alien”. Within the heart of this quaint Swiss village is the HR Giger Museum, which is the weirdest place to find an Alien-themed Museum and nearby bar.  

5 Things to do in Gruyères 

Take photos 

This is an easy one, but it was one of my main reasons for visiting Gruyères. Since I visited in the off-season, and thanks to the rain, I had the village mostly to myself. There were a few others around, all huddled beneath umbrellas, or ducking into open shops, but in a way, I felt like Marion Crane in Psycho, arriving at the doors of a dark and humbled hotel, seeking shelter and safety. Only for me, it was a castle and the HR Giger Museum.  

As I made my way up to the castle, it was impossible not to notice the aliens.  

Yep. That’s not a typo. There were alien statues scattered about, mostly congregated around the HR Giger Museum and it's matching bar. It was an odd paradoxical scenario to find yourself in. An almost dream-like place, where 17th-century castles and alien statues co-exist side-by-side. It doesn’t sound possible or logical... and yet.  

That was my main takeaway from Gruyères, just how utterly wild and weird a place it was. How unusual I felt the whole time, just like I’d slipped into a dream. And that’s my kind of place. I was in love. 


Storm the Castle 

My favourite part of the Château de Gruyères was the courtyard. There was something about wooden panelling, the grass-covered awnings, and the cobbled courtyard (combined with the ease of rain from above) that made it so incredibly medieval.

History dates back to the 13th century when the Counts of Gruyères thought this hilltop overlooking the town and countryside would make a lovely spot for their stronghold. They weren’t wrong. For centuries it was lived in by the ruling families, until it fell into disrepair in the 18th century.

Lucky for us, it’s since been restored and inside is a range of interesting history and striking artefacts (I’m a big fan of weapons and suits of armour myself).  


HR Giger Museum and Bar 

These are two separate things, so ensure you give yourself enough time to submerge yourself into one of the weirdest museum experiences I’ve ever had. Note: it may not be suitable for young kids – some of the artwork is quite graphic and disturbing, but the more sexual artwork is hidden in an adult–only section. 

But what a whirlwind. It’s well worth the entry fee, especially if you’re a huge HR Giger fan or an art-lover (or artist) yourself. The range on display was incredible and I thoroughly appreciated the level of detail that went into certain areas – such as the intricately carved floor. Make sure you look down, look up, look closely... this is one special place. 

Also, note they don’t allow big bags or backpacks inside, but there are lockers where you can secure your belongings.  

And just across the road is the HR Giger Bar Museum. Since they’re an operating bar, you can’t go in just for a photo, but why wouldn’t you want to sit and order a drink? Trust me, you will. I was lucky enough to snag a seat at the bar in one of the wild bone chairs. I’m not even sure what on earth was going on, surrounded as I was by bone archways and bone tables and bone chairs, in the middle of the Swiss countryside... but I am here for it.  


Gruyère cheese and chocolate 

As previously mentioned, Gruyères is famous for its cheese. Now is the time to sample some. If, like me, you’re not the biggest fan of cheese (don’t judge), there are alternatives like Gruyère cream. Make sure you stop in at the cheese factory and restaurant (La Maison du Gruyère) before you depart – it's outside the village near the station. But there are also plenty of cute restaurants within the village walls where you can sample some goods too. 

And then there’s the chocolate. If you have the time and means, pop down the road (10 minutes by car) to Maison Cailler for a chocolate factory experience that everybody needs. But if you’re staying within town, there’s a cute little shop that sells a great selection.  


Take a moment in the Tibet Museum 

Now, Gruyères is a pretty relaxed place but I found myself a little mind-boggled halfway through the day. So later I popped into the Tibet Museum. Holy moly. You’d need hours in here to take in all the exquisite artefacts and read up on all the history. I was sadly running out of time until my train arrived, but I could have spent half the day in there. 

You wander the halls taking in the stunning artefacts until you reach what I can only describe as a bejeweled antechamber of the most incredible collection of sacred Buddhist art – one of the largest in the world.  

On the train journey back to Geneva, I sat with my shoes drying underneath the heater (yes, next to me on the train) and with a lap-full of chocolate treats, reminiscing on the weird yet wonderful day I had just experienced. As a wide traveller, I think it’s safe for me to say Gruyères was a uniquely strange dream-like adventure and I don’t think I’d ever want to visit on a day that isn’t pouring with rain or devoid of people – because that made it all the more eerie and I quite like that.

We head to Gruyères on our 6-day The Italian Lakes & Swiss Alps Explorer tour.

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