Interior of HR Giger cafe in Gruyeres, themed along the lines of his biomechanical style as shown in the Alien films. Photo: Shutterstock
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The Swiss town of Gruyères can be as cheesy as its menus. A chocolatier and a host of cheese shops ring its cobblestoned, medieval main square. Fondue and raclette dominate restaurant offerings, while souvenir stores will sell you the fondue-making set and the "Keep Calm and Eat Fondue" T-shirt.

Step through an archway at the top of the square, however, and things go from historic and twee to futuristic and fantastic, with an Academy Award thrown in for good measure.

Framing a laneway leading to Gruyères' castle are the HR Giger Museum and HR Giger Bar, the creations of Swiss artist Hans Ruedi Giger, the Oscar-winning designer for the movie Alien.

The town of Gruyeres.
The town of Gruyeres. Photo: Shutterstock

Having a beer in the Giger Bar is a little like drinking in an ossuary. The bar's vaulted ceiling is carved into the shape of rib cages and vertebrae, while the bar stools and tables are just as skeletal – it's like sitting on carcasses from an abattoir as you sip your Alien or Face Hugger shot beneath the metal alien that hangs from a wall.

Across the lane, the HR Giger Museum fills the centuries-old Chateau St Germain, creating the sense of a period drama meets, well, Alien. It's a surreal and visually spectacular collection of Giger's grotesque paintings and sculptures.

One floor is devoted to acrylic paintings based on the Alien creations, surrounding a life-sized Alien sculpture. Step through a curtained doorway and you enter an adults-only room, lit with red brothel-style lighting and covered in artworks showing futuristic, fantastic sex scenes.

As you head higher through the chateau, there's a ghost train, with skulls as carriages and a black, skull-topped dining table and chairs as well as Giger's private, and fearsome, art collection.

Inside a glass alcove beside a staircase, is the Oscars statuette Giger was awarded for his visual effects on Alien in 1980. Curiously, it's not the only Academy Awards statuette on display in this corner of Switzerland, for there are another two Oscars just down the road in Vevey.

A 40-kilometre drive from Gruyères, on the shores of Lake Geneva, Vevey well knows its place in the story of Charlie Chaplin. The comedian moved to Switzerland in 1952 after being refused re-entry to the USA for his supposed communist sympathies, and lived his final 25 years, a time he described as the happiest of his life, in a mansion on the slopes above town.

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Today a statue of Chaplin dressed as the Tramp stands at the lake's edge, and the mansion has been fashioned into Chaplin's World. Set among grand cypress, sequoia, cedar and beech trees, the mansion opened as a museum in 2016 and is divided into three spaces: the mansion interior, the gardens (which are ringed by a 20-minute loop walk) and a movie studio. Chaplin's life story takes shape inside the mansion, where his ground-floor library contains typed and handwritten notes and thoughts for projects realised and unrealised, including his autobiography. The nearby sitting room holds the piano Chaplin used to compose the soundtracks to his later films.

A display in an upstairs bathroom outlines Chaplin's friendship with Albert Einstein (who asked to meet the comedian when he visited the USA in 1926), and there's a room dedicated to Chaplin's beloved wife Oona, the daughter of US playwright Eugene O'Neill.

The studio features a 10-minute film showing snippets from Chaplin's life, from his impoverished childhood, through his theatre days, to his appearance at the House Un-American Activities Committee and subsequent exile. At the film's end, the screen rolls up and you step through to a series of re-created sets from Chaplin's studio.

The visit ends inside a room filled with Chaplin mementoes, including the Tramp's original shoes, hat and cane, Chaplin's knighthood, his 1913 movie contract with Keystone Studios, and his two golden Oscars.

TRIP NOTES

Andrew Bain travelled as a guest of Switzerland Tourism.

MORE

traveller.com.au/switzerland

myswitzerland.com

FLY

Swiss flies daily from Sydney and Melbourne to Zurich via either Singapore or Hong Kong. See swiss.comVevey and Gruyères are about 2.5 hours by train from Zurich. See raileurope.com.au

STAY

Modern Times Hotel is two kilometres from Chaplin's World, and has Chaplin films playing in the bar. See moderntimeshotel.ch

VISIT

Entry to the HR Giger Museum is CHF12.50 and to Chaplin's World CHF25. See hrgigermuseum.com, chaplinsworld.com

from traveller.com.au