Gruyères, Switzerland may be the most wonderfully idyllic place you’ve ever been (or imagined). The town is so cute and compact that it feels like a Disneyland version of a Swiss town. There is one main street and it is veritably bursting with charm but also only about half a mile long.
The cobblestoned main street has everything you’d expect at Swiss Disney: fountains, churches, castles, gift shops, and a plethora of restaurants with outdoor seating.
We day tripped to Gruyères from our home base in Montreux. The train ride is about an hour and a half. However, if you take an early train you’ll still have plenty of time to check out the cheese factory before hiking up the hill into town.
When you arrive, you get off the train in a place that looks alarmingly like nowheresville. But you spot the cheese factory across the way and you know you have to be in the right place. La Maison du Gruyère is conveniently close to the train station but to get into the town itself, you cross the street and walk up either a winding hill or slightly more straightforward stairs.
You’ll know you’ve arrived because at the top of the hill you’ll find yourself right in the middle of a storybook. Once you’re there you have a nice view looking down on the surrounding valley dotted with cows. (One of which is probably Cherry, the cow who narrates the cheese factory tour. But more about that later.) If you’re like me, you’ll be momentarily stunned by the overwhelming photo ops. I managed to convince myself that some of the views would be better as memories.
La Maison du Gruyère Cheese Factory
Surprise, surprise! This is the town where Gruyères cheese is made. La Maison du Gruyère cheese factory is near the train station and has a great tour that includes yummy samples of three different kinds of Gruyères cheese. (Young, aged 6 months, and aged 12 months.)
The tour is self-paced with an audio guide narrated by the aforementioned cheery cow named Cherry. I won’t spoil the tour but I will say that it’s pretty interesting. You get to check out the cheese actually being made by looking through windows set into the factory itself. The windows get a bit steamy which hampers the view but it’s still super cool!
The most interesting parts of the cheese making are when they cut the curds and when they pour it into the molds. This happens twice a day on a pretty regular schedule so you’ll want to time your visit (if you can) to coincide with one of these events. When we went (in September) that meant either 9:45am for the curd cutting or 11am to see them put it into the molds. You can find their exact “Cheese making timetable” posted on their website under “Useful Information.”
The Skinny on The Swiss Chocolate Train
There is a tour departing from Montreux called the Chocolate Train which a lot of tourist sites call a “must do.” It includes a ride to Gruyères on a Belle-Epoque train, a tour of the cheese factory, a few hours in Gruyères, and a tour of the Cailler chocolate factory in the nearby town of Broc.
We were originally going to do this but after some sleuthing decided not to. Firstly, it’s more expensive than booking the train tickets and buying the tour tickets on your own. Secondly, reviewers complained that the train ride was only to Gruyères and then you take a bus to Broc and to return to Montreux. They weren’t happy about being stuck in rush hour on the way home with views of the highway for entertainment rather than the beautiful views along the train routes. Not to mention that when you’re on a tour there is no avoiding the crowds; you literally bring them with you.
There isn’t a good train route to the Cailler Chocolate factory from Gruyères (hence switching to a bus) so Brian and I didn’t go there ourselves although I made a point to buy some Cailler chocolate at the grocery store. 🙂 On the Chocolate Train tour you get about 2.5 hours in Gruyères which in my opinion isn’t long enough. We stayed for about 5.5 hours and a little longer would have been nice but we needed to catch our train back.
Before lunch we visited Chateau Gruyères which was fun to compare with our visit to Chateau Chillon, which I wrote about here. This castle is decorated with (relatively) contemporary artwork and the rooms have been staged with period furniture from the various times it was inhabited. There were beautiful grounds to stroll and nice views of the main street and the valley surrounding the town.
I’m Quite Fondue You
Did you know that Gruyères cheese is a staple of fondue? I did not! But it is. Brian and I enjoyed some wonderful fondue at Hotel de la Fleur de Lys along the main street and they didn’t even charge us for the water carafe Brian knocked off the table! (There was plenty of eye rolling though.)
The fondue was surprisingly expensive. It was around $39 (after exchange rate, roughly 1:1) for each of us. Splitting an order wasn’t allowed even though they served us enough cheese for four. (Like good Americans, we dutifully ate it all.) I don’t think we went to an especially expensive place either. It was just one of the many restaurants lining the main street. (Touristy, yes – but it’s inescapable here.)
Museum H.R. Giger
Just down the street from the chateau is the H.R. Giger Museum, a bizarre establishment at odds with the quaint surroundings. H.R. Giger is the artist who created the aliens in all of the Alien movies. He was Swiss and loved the town of Gruyères but apparently felt like it needed some spice! The museum was designed by Giger himself and houses the largest collection of his works. We thought it would be cool to see some crazy sci-fi art but instead found it to be mildly disturbing.
A lot (most?) of his art has overtones of violence and fetishized sexuality which totally clashes with the town’s storybook vibe. There was a room for “adults only” but there was plenty in the “normal” museum that could have gone in there too. Think sci-fi sex fantasy museum. It was…not our jam. I mean, to each his own or whatever – but consider yourself forewarned.
If you need a drink after this (or want to skip the museum but still get a taste of it), cross the street to the Giger Bar which is done up just as creepily. It has themed drinks also, like the Face Hugger, Dark Shadow, and Space Jockey.
Final Thoughts on Gruyères
Gruyères is probably not a town to stay overnight in. It’s too small and touristy and it’s also not ideally situated as a home base for traveling to other places. However, it is an adorable and delicious place to while away a day if you can spare the time in your itinerary!