The green fairy, metaphor for absynth, dark muse of the “poète maudits” in the bohemian Paris, celebrated by Baudelaire and Wilde, is said to have far more rustic origins. Invented in a remote Swiss valley by Pierre Ordinaire – a common doctor even by name – and two tenacious and unlucky sisters, it ended up in bewitching the entire world. Curious about this mysterious fate, that’s why I decided to go and check, starting a Switz Tour between the Swiss Cantons. My on-the-road trip by car started from Gruyère and ended on the banks of the Limmat in Zurich, among Chagall’s colours…
Here is the first chapter: Gruyère and Neuchâtel.
Gruyère: a monster crawls through the alpine idyll
A tiny alpine village, grazing cows on green meadows, a medieval castle on the hill, cream and typical cheeses, taverns with friendly people. It is right in the heart of French-speaking Switzerland, in a postcard idyll, that a disquiting monster is hidden: it’s in Gruyère, in fact, that I found the H.R. Giger Museum, dedicated to the Swiss artist who – only a few know – designed Alien’s character, together with Carlo Rambaldi.
The museum, reachable going up the road that leads to Gruyère’s castle, is a of post-industrial delirium, a kind of bio-mechanical Gaudi’s handcraft: in the creature’s sketches, as in other works and in H.R. Giger’s own collection of private art, you can feel the fusion of nature with industrial technology, in a disharmonic and disturbing way. Here and there, esoteric and satanic symbols and references.
There’s no better way to celebrate the visit than going to the Giger Bar, just opposite the museum and designed by Giger himself, decorated with suggestive spine ceilings and classic skeletal tables, where you can enjoy an “Alien Coffee” with an excellent Grand Gruyèere (liqueur) and the first taste of what will become my drug: meringues with Gruyère’s double cream!!! Another Giger Bar also exists in Chur – even there, same problem: they close it at 20.30 in the evening! – while another had been inaugurated in Tokyo, only to be closed after a murder (after all, it was frequented by the yakuza…).
A good cheese and salami dinner at the Chalet in Gruyère, a typical wooden tavern with tasty Swiss specialties, is a perfect end for the day, followed by a night at the Hotel des Alpes in Bulle, known as “the city of trains”. It is, in fact, the centre of operations of the former Chemins de fer Fribourgeoisand and its Gruyère – Fribourg – Morat (GFM) meter-gauge railway, and here you can find nice touristic attractions connected to railways, like the Fondue-Train, a train route during which you can taste a Swiss fondue. (If you have doubts about my love for trains, read about my ride on the mythical Bar-Belgrad railway…)
Early in the morning, I go up to the Castle of Gruyère: infeuded by the Counts of Gruyèere – whose heraldic coat of arms was the crane in the red field, hence the name of the region – was built starting from the end of the 11th century, and then sold for bankruptcy in Bern and Freiburg in the 16th. The castle is a charming white fortress on the top of agreen hill, a perfect Swiss picture. Inside, in addition to the rooms with furniture from its different ages, you can find a nice collection of fantastic art and a beautiful French garden.
Neuchatel, the “French-style” village
Gruyère and Neuchâtel, two sides of the Swiss medal. Less than 80 kilometers from the bucolic Gruyère you reach Neuchâtel: a town on the shores of Neuchâtel lake, is much bigger with its over 30.000 people and has a deeper “French soul”. I decide not to stay overnight in Neuchatel but I stop at Chez-le-Bart, where a nice old widow rents a room in her little house on the lake, together with her faithful little dog.
What to see in Neuchâtel? I would say the Castle, the Collegiate Church, the Prison’s Tower, the streets with colored columns and the elegant sandstone buildings, the French-style cafés and the lake front, you can have everything at walking distance so you can just consider the town as a brief stop on your journey.
The three streets of the phantom “commune libre de Neuchatel” have nothing special, with its local, low cost hairdressers and small shops. Much more exciting than lunch in a brasserie, where after taking refuge from the downpour I managed to find a delicious “soup a l’onion”…