A castle, some fondue, and Franz Listz’s piano: A Day in Gruyères

On our recent (November 2017) trip to Switzerland, we spent a day visiting the town of Gruyères, in the western mountains close to France. Gruyères is a town almost too beautiful to be believed - as we walked into the pedestrian-only town center, the views took our breath away.

 Gruyere's main - and only - street

Gruyere's main - and only - street

The route from our little chalet to Gruyères crossed the Swiss mountains at the Jaunpass, which was a challenging drive. The mountain roads rewarded us with breathtaking precipitous Alpine views, shaggy horned cows, and cross country skiers enjoying the terrain and the snow. We arrived at Gruyères ready to stretch our legs and take in some of that crisp cool mountain air.

 They're dressed for the weather...

They're dressed for the weather...

While it’s clear that in high season this town would be far too crowded for our typical style of travel, in November it was sparsely trafficked. We were able to find a lot of the small-town charm and unique elements that made it a “Little Roads” experience.

Strangely set in the midst of the town’s cobbled streets and medieval and Renaissance-era architecture is a bar dedicated to the Swiss artist H.R. Giger, well known for his conceptual design work in the “Aliens” movie franchise. Every detail of the bar gives the sense of having a cocktail in the midst of an alien spacecraft. A Giger museum is across the street from the bar. His depictions of “biomechanical” figures are as unnerving as they are ingenious.

 Inside the Giger Bar

Inside the Giger Bar

The 13th-century Gruyères Castle sits at the top of the town, where its lords and ladies could overlook the entirety of their domain. This is one of Switzerland’s most iconic landmarks, a mix of medieval and Renaissance architecture, battlements and ramparts on the walls, and round “princess” towers right out of a fairy tale.

 The castle, from down the hill

The castle, from down the hill

The gardens, though mostly monochromatic at this time of year, are beautiful and extensive. The summertime crowds here are huge, in part to see these formal gardens in full bloom. But while we missed the colors, we don’t miss the crowds - we had every room in the castle all to ourselves.

 Some of the gardens, visible from one of the rampart walks

Some of the gardens, visible from one of the rampart walks

Though we are classical musicians, we don’t really seek out musical sights in our travels; but sometimes they just present themselves. Amongst the vast collection of historical material spread out through the many rooms of the castle, we came across an interesting find - a piano made for Franz Liszt. Today, on rare occasions, concerts are presented there using the piano.

 The music salon in the castle

The music salon in the castle

The Gruyères region is of course famous for its eponymous cheese, so we decided that this was the time to get a traditional Swiss fondue lunch. A hot pot of cheese was the perfect thing for sitting on a patio overlooking snow-capped mountains on this cool, clear day. Dessert brought us something less typical, though: A cake glazed with vin cuit, a sweet syrup made locally from slow-cooked pears or other fruit. Historically, this was the way the locals would sweeten their food, since sugar was unavailable or prohibitively costly. Along with this delicious dessert, we enjoyed a couple of glasses of “Grande Gruyères” liqueur, an herbal concoction with an emerald green color. We enjoyed it so much, in fact, that we bought a whole bottle at the shop next door, so we could continue enjoying it on returning to the States.

 A heart-healthy lunch of bread, potatoes, and melted cheese.

A heart-healthy lunch of bread, potatoes, and melted cheese.

An exploration of sweeping history, a stroll in time (past and future in this case!) through fascinating architecture, and a sampling of local artisanal food culture - this is our favorite kind of Little Roads experience.