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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

5 November 2012

Castles and Aliens

24th October 2012

Budget hotel France: tiny room, basic bathroom, no frills, £35. Budget hotel Switzerland: huge room, nice shower, no frills, £102. Not to mention £10 to park the car overnight.

That aside, I have much better feelings about Switzerland today.

We walked around Bern in the morning. The centre of the Swiss capital is compact enough to explore in an hour, and that I found it lovely despite the drizzly rain testifies to its charm. Almost all the medieval streets have covered arcades on either side, a nice touch in such a rainy and snowy country. Our next stop, the town of Fribourg, is much lauded by the guidebooks but frankly pales in interest beside Bern. Skip it.

Next stop, the hilltop village of Gruyère, and we’ve apparently gone from the German to the French part of Switzerland. Gruyère, home of cheese. Also a handsome medieval village. And also home to H R Giger, the artist who designed the creatures and locations for the Alien series of films. We visited the Giger museum, and I really can’t imagine a more bizarre juxtaposition than a medieval house in a chocolate-box village filled with dark and lurid images of monstrous bio-mechanical erotica and death fetishism. He was certainly good at getting all the junk in his head down on paper!

And for the finale, Chillon Castle. Hurtling along the motorway above the edge of Lake Geneva I couldn’t work out where the castle might be. There didn’t seem room between the road, railway and almost continual lakeside conurbations for a magnificent castle with an iconic lakeside setting. But we found it. And sure enough, after parking your car you have to walk under the railway tracks to find the castle entrance. And looming above it, there is the four-lane motorway being carried along the hillside on massive pylons. Yet the castle remains magnificent.

Howso? Well, it soars on several levels. The lakeside setting, with the sheer walls rising up seemingly from the water, is utterly picturesque. But this is also a mighty edifice, with walls six feet thick, and once inside you can explore an absolute exemplar of medieval architecture, so it is also majestic. And perhaps lucky to be visiting on a damp day in October, we found some evocative corners of the place entirely to ourselves. Most especially the undercrofts, gloomy and dark with the bare rock on which the castle sits still visible beyond the stone columns. And so: atmospheric too.

Tonight we’re in a “budget” hotel in Lausanne. Dinner in a cosy little traditional cellar restaurant called Pinte Besson was very good and very Swiss. My dish was ‘civet de cerf’ which turns out to be a rich venison stew with various fruits and vegetables. Potato rösti with gruyère and local spiced sausage for Maureen, far less sophisticated but (I’m ashamed to say) even more crudely delicious.

That’s one very varied and fairly perfect day in Switzerland.

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