Cheese, Castles and Aliens: On Location in Gruyeres, Switzerland

Gruyeres is much like any medieval village in Switzerland.  It’s cobble-stoned, there’s a castle, there are lots of fondue eating tourists, and there’s an “Alien” bar.  Err, OK maybe the last bit is a bit unique, and it’s the reason I decided to make a day trip out to the town in the French-speaking region of Switzerland.  In 1998, H.R. Giger – the Academy Award winning artist behind the Alien Movies – bought a castle in Gruyeres and turned it into a museum and gallery of his work as well as his private collection.  Across the street from the museum there is also an “Alien Bar” which was designed under close supervision by Giger.  The alien bar in Gruyeres is one of two of Giger’s Alien-themed bars in Switzerland with the other being in Chur.

Anyways, the day went the way you can expect any day to go as a tourist in Switzerland.  We explored a castle, devoured a fondue, visited a cheese factory, and then had an afternoon drink a midst the aliens.  The trip wasn’t exactly tailor-made for travel photography, but I did what I could.

Check out my “On Location” video for a glimpse into the day.  Also, there’s information on Gruyere below.


 

Getting to Gruyeres

Most people come to Gruyeres on day trips from other places in Switzerland, as we did.  Coming from Bern, it’s about a 45 minute drive; from Geneva it’s about an hour and a half.  You can also catch the train from Bern to Gruyeres by heading to the nearby town of Bulle and then swapping trains for the final stretch.  If you’re driving, there is free parking all over Gruyeres which is great considering the high cost of parking elsewhere in Switzerland.

Gruyeres Switzerland

The town Square in Gruyeres

What to do on a Day Trip to Gruyeres

Although I think we might have spent a little bit longer in town than most tourists, we pretty much did the same things all the others do.  The stuff we did is all listed below:

  • Visit the Chateau de Gruyeres: It’s not unlike other castles in Switzerland.  It has a bit more of a museum feel than others though.  There is also a nice garden out back.  The cost of entry was 10 Swiss Francs.
  • Get a Fondue or Raclette: The town’s square is simple, but quite “cute”.  The center point is a flower-ringed fountain.  All along the edges of the edges of the square are souvenir shops and restaurants.  As a tourist, you’re almost obliged to get either a fondue or a raclette.  Of course, you have to try it with the local “Gruyeres” cheese.  Actually, the local specialty of the fondue is moitié-moitié (half/half) between two types of cheese.  That’s what we had.  It was amazing.  I believe it cost 24 Swiss Francs per person.
  • Visit the Cheese Factory (?): Down the hill in town there is a cheese factory called “La Maison Gruyeres”.  Personally, I thought it was extremely overrated.  Moreover, it was packed with tourists and you don’t really get to see anything special. At 7 Swiss Francs for entry, you’d be better off just spending the money on a bit of the cheese from the gift shop and moving on with your life.
  • Check out the H.R. Giger museum: Without even considering it’s only 5 francs more than the cheese factory as 12 Swiss Francs, the museum is well worth the price of admission.  The small castle is packed with the amazing, and often disturbing, works of H.R. Giger.  With everything from paintings to sculptures, the museum is easily worth an hour of your life.  But, no photos or videos!
  • Have a Drink at the Alien Bar:  Right across the alley from the museum, the Alien Bar is one of the coolest places you’ll ever grab a beer, coffee, or double cream meringue.  It’s a bit smaller than you might want,but packs enough coolness to make up for it.  Walking into this bar from the streets of a medieval Swiss city is one of the most surreal experiences in Europe.

Travel Photography from Gruyeres

Though we were shooting in the middle of the day, we had some fun shooting in Gruyeres.  Obviously, things would have been easier in better light.  But, I can’t really complain too much.  Here are some of the shots.

Gruyeres Switzerland

This is the Chateau de Gruyeres
Shot in HDR at 10mm, f/7.1

Gruyeres Switzerland

Church and cemetery also down below.
Also shot in HDR. at 10mm f/7.1

Old street lights along the stone walls of the old town. Shot at 85mm, f/3.5, 1/800sec., ISO 100

Old street lights along the stone walls of the old town.
Shot at 85mm, f/3.5, 1/800sec., ISO 100

Gruyeres Switzerland

Swiss flags blowing below some window sills.
Shot at 150mm: f/2.8, 1/1000, ISO100

Gruyeres Switzerland

Lots of greenery and flowers growing around Gruyeres.
Shot at 75mm: f/3.5, 1/2000, ISO100

Gruyeres Switzerland

Entrance to the Castle.
Shot at 10mm, f/5, 1/250 Seconds, ISO100

Gruyeres Switzerland

Inside the courtyard to the Chateau de Gruyeres.
Shot at 10mm: f/14, 1/25seconds, ISO100

The kitchen inside the castle. Shot on a tripod at 10mm: f/9, 2.5sec., ISO100

The kitchen inside the castle.
Shot on a tripod at 10mm: f/9, 2.5sec., ISO100

Gruyeres Switzerland

Art on the walls of the hostel.
Shot on a tripod at 10mm: f/4.5, 0.3sec., ISO100

The gardens of the castle as shot from inside. Another HDR image.  Shot at 10mm, f/8

The gardens of the castle as shot from inside.
Another HDR image. Shot at 10mm, f/8

Loved all the lines to this image.  This was really the only great light I got all day.  Normally, I don't shoot travel photography at this time of day.  But sometimes, you have no choice. Shot at 10mm, f/8, 1/200sec., ISO100

Loved all the lines to this image. This was really the only great light I got all day. Normally, I don’t shoot travel photography at this time of day. But sometimes, you have no choice.
Shot at 10mm, f/8, 1/200sec., ISO100

Gruyeres Switzerland

Servers hanging outside the cafe.
Shot at 105mm: f/2.8, 1/400sec., ISO100

Gruyeres Switzerland

Swiss lady in traditional clothing chatting on her cell.
Shot at 150mm: f/2.8, 1/640sec., ISO100

Inside the "Maison de Gruyere" aka the cheese factory.  Lots of cheese aging. Shot at 50mm, f/3.2, 1/10sec., ISO320

Inside the “Maison de Gruyere” aka the cheese factory. Lots of cheese aging.
Shot at 50mm, f/3.2, 1/10sec., ISO320

Love the contrast between aliens and the medieval town. Shot at 10mm: f/4, 1/160sec., ISO100

Love the contrast between aliens and the medieval town.
Shot at 10mm: f/4, 1/160sec., ISO100

Again, how great is the contrast.  Shiny metal verses dulled stone. Shot at 10mm: f/4, 1/320sec., ISO100

Again, how great is the contrast. Shiny metal verses dulled stone.
Shot at 10mm: f/4, 1/320sec., ISO100

Gruyeres Switzerland

Shot most of the interior of the Alien Bar in either HDR or by layering exposures. Just too much contrast between the light from outside and inside.

Gruyeres Switzerland

Is much smaller in here than I thought it would be. But, it wasn’t too crowded and most people just seemed to peek in and then leave.

Gruyeres Switzerland

Again, most of these are HDR,s o I won’t bother mentioning the data, since it’s less important. If you want to know how to do HDR in Photoshop Elements, though. I have a tutorial on that.

Gruyeres Switzerland

Caught this man hanging out at the bar. Love the decor.

One of the shots in the Alien Bar I didn't HDR.  Hostess was nice enough to let me photograph her. Shot at 10mm: f/4.5, 1/30sec., ISO100

One of the shots in the Alien Bar I didn’t HDR. Hostess was nice enough to let me photograph her.
Shot at 10mm: f/4.5, 1/30sec., ISO100

Gruyeres Switzerland

Saw these creepy babies on the wall and had to photograph them. Look cool in black and white too, I think.
Shot at 75mm: f/3.2, 1/100, ISO400

Back towards the town, I loved the frame of the castle walls. Shot at 73mm: f/7.1, 1/125sec., ISO100

Back towards the town, I loved the frame of the castle walls.
Shot at 73mm: f/7.1, 1/125sec., ISO100

Fondue and View! Shot at 18mm: f/7.1, 1/400sec., ISO100

Fondue and View!
Shot at 18mm: f/7.1, 1/400sec., ISO100

Gruyeres Switzerland

Entering town, shot this from inside the car; stopped, of course.

 

What’s up Next?

Since I’m back in the Western World for the first time in ages, I have a bunch of new photography gear.  Thus, there will be a bunch of gear reviews over the next little while.  The first of those reviews will be of a product called Trigger Trap which is a remote for my DSLR.  I’ll be using it to do a timelapse of Lucerne.  It should be fun, so stay tuned for that!

Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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