Results 1-2of 2 Reviews
Belfast, United Kingdom
July 27, 2010
From journal 10 days in Switzerland by train
New Delhi, India
July 27, 2009
Tarun and I therefore decided to see part of the château in the half-hour we had before the show. According to our guide, the château was built between 1270 and 1282, as a square fortification like that of Savoy. In 1476, the reigning nobleman, Count Louis, fought for the Confederates in the Burgundy War; his heroism was rewarded by modernising the château and converting it into a stately residence. By the 16th century, the counts of Gruyères had become bankrupt and the last of them, Michel, was forced to give up the château, which passed into the hands of the cantons of Bern and Fribourg. Fribourg’s bailiffs (and later, its prefects) occupied the castle till 1849, when it was sold off to the wealthy Bovy and Balland families, who made it a summer resort for themselves. Fribourg bought back the château in 1938 and subsequently opened it to the public.
We exited the visitors’ centre and crossed the gravelled courtyard, past a quaint covered well (with gloriously cool water—we drank some!) and entered the castle. The first room we stepped into was the kitchen, which looked appropriately medieval, with its pot hangers, mechanical skewer, and ovens. From the kitchen, a low, wide arched doorway leads into the adjoining guardroom, the main feature of which is a huge fireplace.
Having admired the guardroom, we retraced our steps through the kitchen and made our way up the spiral staircase (built, according to our free guide, "by Count Louis towards the end of the 15th century"). The staircase itself didn’t impress us much, but some of the rooms leading off it are very historic. The Burgundian Room on the first floor, for example, contains displays of armour as well as three 15th century velvet capes, heavily embroidered in gold thread. These were captured by the Swiss Confederacy at the Battle of Morat against Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy.
Outside the Burgundian Room is the prosaically named Corridor, which though it has some wall paintings, has—as its main attraction—a yucky mummified hand! As I’ve admitted earlier, I am definitely squeamish, but even I steeled myself to get a closer look at this blackened and shrivelled relic, supposedly that of an Egyptian mummy, though it’s been linked with various tales (most of them tall) over the years.
At the far end of the corridor, we entered the Bailiffs’ Room, with its broad, 17th century panels of painted foliage. The bailiffs who occupied the castle over the centuries used this room as a study, and the coats of arms of some of them can still be seen around the room. Among the heraldic devices is also that of the Counts of Gruyères: a white crane on a red background. The story goes that the first of the Counts, when he arrived at this spot, saw a crane (in French, ‘grue’) flying by, so derived the name Gruyères from it. We saw the crane motif all across the château: in stained glass, in murals, even in wrought iron sconces sticking out from a wall.
Next to the Bailiffs’ Room is one of the château’s most famous chambers, Corot’s Room, which was a pleasant surprise for Tarun and I, since we hadn’t expected to come across one of our favourite Impressionists here. This, we discovered, was a mid-sized room, carpeted and with lovely old furniture, which in 1852 was redecorated in a big way by Daniel Bovy. Bovy moved in artistic circles and invited his friends to do up the place: they painted each wall with large medallions depicting lovers, landscapes and more. Corot painted four landscapes. They’re not as good as some of his other work, but adequate enough.
On the same floor, a little beyond Corot’s Room, we entered the Room of the Counts, which is home to a large canopied bed, carved chests, and opulent furnishings. Next to this is the weirdly-named Room of the beautiful Lucy. According to legend, Lucy was the lovely mistress of a 17th century Count. The room has some old murals, depicting legends and stories from Greek mythology and history (there’s one of Ulysses meeting Hector in front of Troy), but we’d have liked to see at least one likeness of the legendary Lucy—did she have a face that could launch a thousand ships?
We then ascended the spiral staircase another flight up, and arrived at the Fantastic Art Room. We’d been sceptical about this; anything that blows its own trumpet so shamelessly couldn’t be that fantastic, we thought. But we were, I’m glad to say, mistaken. This is really fantastic, because it consists of depictions and views of Gruyères by modern artists, with each painting using some element of fantasy in it. Very colourful, beautifully executed, and interesting. A 10 on 10!
On the same floor as the Fantastic Art Room is the green-panelled Music Room, hung with portraits and containing a piano made for Franz Liszt in about 1835. Adjacent to the Music Room is Furet’s Room, which contains paintings both by Francis Furet and by Jules Crosnier, as well as portraits by Auguste Baud-Bovy; beyond that is the Hunting Room, with more paintings and (to bear out its name), some 17th century bird-catching equipment.
Also on the second floor is the Knights Room. The walls of this chamber are covered with paintings that depict the history of Gruyères, along with the many legends that surround it. Quite interesting, especially as we are able to make sense of each painting: the little pocket guide from the visitors’ centre explains the significance of each section.
Past the Second Corridor—mostly decorated with some fine paintings by Auguste Baud-Bovy—and we went out into the Galleries, the covered wooden walkways looming above the central courtyard. The galleries overlook the ramparts on one side and are partly decorated with old engravings and lithographs of Gruyères. Along the way, a narrow spiral staircase winds its way up a somewhat claustrophobic shaft called the Tower of the Prisoner. One peek up this and we decided that claustrophobic or not, this merited a look. The sides of the shaft have been covered with back-lit works by the artist Patrick Woodroffe. These fantasy works blend photography with painting in a vibrant, beautiful style of bright colours, clean lines and fine detail. Hanging on to the staircase, making way for people ascending or descending, and admiring Woodroffe’s work took some doing, but it was worth it.
Back at ground level, we briefly admired the ramparts, strolled into the unimpressive little Chapel (originally built in the 13th century but renovated in 1480), and then went on out, walking carefully down the steep gravel path from the château.
And yes, just in case you thought we forgot the sound-and-light show: no, we didn’t. Midway, we went back to the visitors’ centre, above which in a darkened hall, the show is projected onto a large screen. Headphones are provided to each viewer, with a range of languages to choose from. We liked the show, which presents the history of Gruyères, and of the château in particular, in an interesting way (shadows of cranes flap their way across a wall and past the top of the screen; flashes of light and the clash of arms act as a backdrop for a narration of a battle; and a brief but enlightening film features a fictitious old man from medieval Gruyères). Informative, but thankfully not pedantic—and it certainly helped us appreciate the castle better.
The château is open daily from 9 AM to 6 PM between April and October, and from 10 to 4.30 the rest of the year.
From journal Traipsing Around Western Switzerland