top of page
  • Writer's pictureDeborah Kade

Gruyères, Switzerland

Gruyères is a picture perfect medieval town on a small hill with a castle. It is a place where 800 year old regional history meets Oscar winning aliens and Buddhist sculptures.

The historical town of Gruyères, Greyerz in German, has preserved its medieval character up until today.

The old residences lie on a hill above the Saane River.

The doors also have very interesting door knockers.

The castle, which dates back to the 13th century, today is a museum depicting 800 years of regional architecture, history and culture.

In 1998, Swiss surrealist painter, sculptor and set designer, H.R Giger acquired the Château St. Germain. The museum is found in the nearby small castle of St. Germain. This museum showcases the fantastical art of the Oscar-winner and "Alien" creator.

The Tibet museum with over 300 Buddhist sculptures, pictures and ritual works from various Himalayan regions, is located in the midst of the traffic-free town. It is next to the Giger museum.

The town also has a charm all of its own thanks to its superb gastronomy and its modern show dairy.

Our favorite restaurant to eat at is the Hotel de Ville. We have eaten here for many years.

We were the only people in the restaurant or on the patio for the first 30 minutes of our lunch. Walking down to the restaurant, I thought it was closed. We would have been disappointed if it were. Not many tourists visiting the town today.

We always order the raclette. They will serve you as much as you can eat. The raclette is served with bread, potatoes, gherkins and pickled onions.

Michael and I wait until the cheese is a little crunchy on top before we swing the arm out and scrape the melted cheese onto our bread, potatoes, gherkins or onions. I always add a little pepper for flavor.

Our favorite wine is the Château de Gruyères- réserve. It goes so well with the cheese.

The medieval town is an important tourist location in the upper valley of the Saane River, and gives its name to Gruyère cheese. The medieval town is located at the top of an 82 meter high hill overlooking the Saane Valley and the Lake of Gruyère.

Gruyères has always been a rural town. Agricultural products from the surroundings were processed and brought to the market here. Formerly, the focus was on trading cheese and small and big animals. There were several mills and sawmills and since the 18th century a gunpowder factory. Until the beginning of the 20th century, straw-twisting was also rather important.

Agriculture is still specialized in milk production and cattle-breeding. It delivers raw materials for the cheese production and meat treating. Most important is Gruyère cheese. Forestry is also a factor, but tillage is less applied. In secondary sector, there are cabinetmaking, precision mechanics and craft works. Services have a lot of jobs to offer in gastronomics and hotels.

Gruyères stands in the midst of the Fribourg green pre-Alpine foothills. The castle, towers above the medieval town. Gruerius, the legendary founder of Gruyères, captured a crane (in French: “grue”) and chose it as his heraldic animal inspiring the name Gruyères.

Despite the importance of the House of Gruyères its beginnings remain quite mysterious. Gruyères is first mentioned around 1138-39 as de Grueri. The town developed beneath the castle, which the Count of Gruyere had built on top of the hill, to control the upper Saanen Valley. By 1195-96, it became a market town with a central street and city walls. The town developed separately of the castle. In 1397 Count Rudolph IV of Gruyères confirmed an older town charter that was based on the model of Moudon.

On June 22, 1476, Gruyères participated in the Battle of Morat against the Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. With the help of the Old Swiss Confederacy, they routed the Burgundian army and captured three capes of the Order of the Golden Fleece which belonged to Charles the Bold including one with the emblems of Philip the Good, his father. At the time of the battle he was celebrating the anniversary of the death of his father.

The town church of Gruyères originally belonged to the parish of Bulle. Count Rudolph III allowed the villages on the left bank of the Saane to build St. Theodul's church. When it was dedicated in 1254, it was the parish church of the new Gruyères parish. The Counts of Gruyères were buried under the altar of St. Michael in the church. It was mostly destroyed in 1670 and again in 1856 by fire, which only left the choir and tower undamaged. The renovated church was consecrated in 1860. In addition to the parish church, the Counts had the Chapel of St. John the Baptist in the castle, with two glass windows dating from the late 15th century. The Chapel of St. Moritz in the old hospital was built with the hospital in 1431. The Chapelle du Berceau was built in 1612, following a plague that killed 140.

During the Thirty Years' War, nuns from St. Bernard and the Visitation Order fled from Besançon and Dole to settle in Gruyères. The latter remained in town between 1639 and 1651 and conducted a private school. Starting in the 15th century a primary school opened in town which was open mainly to boys. A secondary school opened in town in the 20th century but it moved in 1973 to Bulle. Gruyères had a plague house which was first mentioned in 1341. The town's hospital was founded in the mid-15th century and remained in operation until the second half of the 19th century. One side of the hospital building housed the primary school until 1988 and was then renovated into a nursing home. Between 1891 and 1925 the Ingenbohl sisters ran the Deaf and Dumb Institute of Saint-Joseph in Gruyères. In 1925 it moved to Fribourg.

Nineteen counts are accounted for in the period between the 11th and 16th centuries. The last of them, Michel, had been in financial trouble almost all his life only to end in bankruptcy in 1554. His creditors the cantons of Fribourg and Bern shared his earldom between them. From 1555 to 1798 the castle became residence to the bailiffs and then to the prefects sent by Fribourg. In 1849 the castle was put up for sale and sold to the Bovy and Balland families, who stayed at the castle during summer time and restored it with the help of their painter friends. The castle was then bought back by the canton of Fribourg in 1938, made into a museum and opened to the public. Since 1993, a foundation ensures the conservation as well as the highlighting of the building and the collection.

Gruyère cheese is an important factor in supporting the tourist trade in the region.

La Maison du Gruyère is a demonstration dairy.

Twice a day, the farmers come to deliver milk. As the visitors watch, the master cheese maker each day produces up to 48 wheels of Gruyère AOP. The dairy is equipped with 4 X 4800 liter vats. Depending on the season, cheese is made 2 to 4 times a day.

I always find the maturing cellar, where 7,000 wheels can ripen, quite fascinating. A robot takes a wheel of cheese from the shelf, salts it on one side, flips it over and salts the other side and then puts the cheese wheel back on the shelf. This happens every day.

The older the cheese the darker the color of the rind is.

After lunch, we went to Cailler to buy our 200 chocolate bars. They fit nicely in the two small empty suitcases we brought.

43 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page