Slow Train to Switzerland

Slow Train final coverPublished in October 2013

One tour, two trips and 150 years – and a world of change – apart. That was the premise behind my new book, Slow Train to Switzerland. It’s the story of the first conducted tour of Switzerland, and how that changed both the Swiss and the way we travel. It’s a tale of trains and tourists, the British and the Swiss, a Victorian diarist and an English travel writer.

In the summer of 1863 seven people left London on a train that would take them on great adventure. They were the Junior United Alpine Club and members of Thomas Cook’s first Conducted Tour of Switzerland. For them it was a thrilling adventure across the Alps; for me it was a historic trip that I wanted to follow. So I did.

I followed their itinerary, stayed in same places, saw the same things and so discover how much had changed. And how much hadn’t. My guide was one of the original participants, a spirited lady from Yorkshire who wrote a diary as she travelled. Miss Jemima’s Swiss Journal was lost for decades but survived to become a unique record of that tour.

This is a look at the early days of tourism, when going abroad meant 18-hour days and wearing the same clothes for weeks. And no toilets on the trains. The original trip went from London to Lucerne and back, travelling by boat, train and coach. They hiked over glaciers in crinolines, rode mules over mountain passes, watched the sunrise on Rigi and bought watches in Neuchatel. It was a trip of a lifetime for them. And for me – complete with a totally unexpected ending.

But this is also the story of how English tourists helped transform Switzerland. What was then a poor country, with plenty of rural poverty but no milk chocolate, became one of the wealthiest on earth. Not forgetting the much larger impact of that first trip. Its success meant the end of travel for just a privileged few and the beginning of tourism for the masses. It was the birth of the travel industry as we know it, and it started with the Swiss.

Order online through the links below or at your local bookshop (ISBN 9781857886092):

And also available as an e-book on Kindle. Coming in autumn 2014 in French and German.

30 Comments on "Slow Train to Switzerland"

  1. lily August 11, 2013 at 12:52 pm · Reply

    Will this book be available in singapore?

    • Diccon Bewes August 12, 2013 at 8:29 am · Reply

      It should be, as Swiss Watching was. If not you can order it through the Book Depository (via the link on this page) which has free worldwide delivery

  2. Guido October 25, 2013 at 6:11 pm · Reply

    will there be a translation to german?

    • Diccon Bewes October 25, 2013 at 7:42 pm · Reply

      Hi Guido. Yes there will be a German edition this time next year. It’s also planned for French at the same time.

  3. Matthew October 30, 2013 at 10:19 pm · Reply

    Oooh I’m looking forward to this. Am almost finished swiss watching and loving it.

    My partner is Spanish but grew up here and I’m British been here 3 years. We have little quibbles about things I notice… I thought it was just me… But you confirm so many things and explain so much. You sound a very interesting guy!!!

    • Diccon Bewes October 30, 2013 at 10:28 pm · Reply

      Hi Matthew. Glad you love the book. Maybe you can make it to one of the events for Slow Train to Switzerland. There’s a list on the Events page of this website, so it depends on where you are but hopefully there’s one near you. Make sure you come and say hello!

  4. Gerhard Reinecke November 1, 2013 at 12:23 pm · Reply

    Great book. I loved reading every single page of it. Very accurately researched (I realised my aunt was one of your informants, very accurate just the same…;), and I so fully agree with your observations about modern Switzerland. I hope your book will be a huge success, I’m sure the German version (and the French as well) will be well received by the Swiss audience.

    • Diccon Bewes November 1, 2013 at 4:28 pm · Reply

      Thank you Gerhard. I really enjoyed researching it so it’s great to hear that you enjoyed reading it. Fingers crossed about the success!

  5. Frannie Roca November 6, 2013 at 10:25 pm · Reply

    I just pre-ordered a copy from AMAZON. Can’t wait to read it!

  6. Li Bromfield November 13, 2013 at 9:20 pm · Reply

    Helloooooo! I’m a Brit and married a Swiss and moved to live with him about a year ago, Swiss Watching was absolutely invaluable to me and I have just finished “Slow Train..” which I loved.

    I wondered if there was a list of the locations/sights tucked away somewhere? I intend to visit many of the places mentioned and that would be extremely handy :D.

    Thanks again for your wonderful work and enjoyable writing.

  7. Bryan Bell November 18, 2013 at 3:42 pm · Reply

    I couldn’t believe it when I saw the advert for the book event in Luzern in December. I was home in Scotland a week ago and heard the author talking on UK radio about this adventure. Imagine my surprise to see the book event in Switzerland (I also live near Zurich) so soon after.

    Oh, and I won’t spoil the author’s unexpected ending, but it is amazing …..

  8. McKenzie December 2, 2013 at 2:40 am · Reply

    When will this book be released? I was hoping to get it as a Christmas gift! From what I saw, it looks like it will be April 2014, but on this website it says Oct 2013. I’m hoping 2014 is wrong!

  9. Susan Rumphorst December 28, 2013 at 9:15 pm · Reply

    Hi from Geneva! Where I’ve been for decades, 22 as an official City Tour Guide (English/American, German, French). Your book (Slow Train) was an Xmas gift from my “kids” (how they know my passions). Obviously I’m an inexhaustible fundament of information. But most interestingly, I have one of those “original” Miss Jemima blue volumes with edelweiss. Thoroughly enjoying your account. Would appreciate getting together with you next time you hit GE. You’re pretty much “right on” with your historical knowledge, so this is not negative–you’ve done your homework. Chapeau!
    Susan Rumphorst, Guide Diplomée, Ville de Genève, Office de Tourisme

  10. Mike Foster February 23, 2014 at 5:12 pm · Reply

    Hi Diccon !

    Wish to thank you sincerely for writing ‘Slow Train’, which I have just finished reading and found fascinating.
    I became a life-long Helvenatic on my first visit in 1959 at age 20. I travelled Victoria-Luzern on what some referred to as the Anglo-Swiss Express. Travelling light, I carried just two books: a cheap paperback entitled ‘Two weeks in Switzerland for £25′ and the latest edition of Cecil J Allen’s ‘Switzerland’s Amazing Railways’. During this visit , my first 35mm camera demonstrated why Kodachrome had been invented ! Clear skies on Pilatus Kulm, zero visibility on the Rigi..
    .
    In 1964, two months after passing the UK driving test, I flew across the Channel with my new Mini on the British United Air Ferry service, and headed for Bavaria, Switzerland, Austria and Italy, long before many motorways had been built. I continued frequent visits to this fabulous area of lakes and mountains until 1971, when I finally thrilled to the Jungfrau rail experience. Since then, other travel commitments have reduced my Swiss visits somewhat, although I certainly share your disappointment at the shrinking of the glaciers, which are a shadow of their glory in the 50s/60s.
    Thanks again.
    Mike.

    • Diccon Bewes February 23, 2014 at 5:51 pm · Reply

      Hi Mike
      Thanks for the lovely email. So happy to hear that you enjoyed the book. It was fascinating for me to research and write!

    • Mike Foster February 24, 2014 at 5:19 pm · Reply

      Diccon.

      Thanks for your comments. Any chance of a 2014 event in southern England ? Ideally, anywhere between Hampshire (where my roots are) and East Sussex (where I live).

      Mike Foster…Traveller – Chocolate Lover – Train spotter

      • Diccon Bewes February 24, 2014 at 8:18 pm · Reply

        Maybe. I did one in Petersfield (where my roots are) last November when the book first came out.

  11. Jeannette Crosier March 5, 2014 at 6:16 pm · Reply

    Dear Diccon
    I boarded the Slow Train to Switzerland a couple of weeks ago (I know, finally, after you were here in London for the launch 3 months ago) and am still travelling in amazement. I truly love your writing style, a combination of historical background and facts from the travel journals with your great humour.

    Merci vielmau!!
    Jeannette

  12. Frédéric March 21, 2014 at 9:42 pm · Reply

    Dear Diccon,

    Have you an idea of the release date of your book in French?

    Best regards
    Frederic

    • Diccon Bewes March 23, 2014 at 8:39 pm · Reply

      Hi Frederic. It’s being translated at the moment and should be out in October this year, at the same time as the German edition.

  13. Hilary April 11, 2014 at 3:15 pm · Reply

    Dear Diccon

    I am enjoying your book which was a Christmas gift from my son. However I was sorry that in “The city by the lake” you did not mention the name of the phenomenon which you (and Miss Jemima) visited, which is of course Jonction, the confluence of the Rhone and Arve rivers. I am sure Miss Jemima would have been told that was where she was going at 5am in the rain. It is of course also now the name of a bus destination and a ‘quartier’.

    I do not agree that “the sole visitors are locals”. The spot features on postcards available at many souvenir shops in the city, and so gets noticed by browsing tourists who then visit, as I did with my family. The picture is an arial view of the confluence which vividly shows the juxtaposition of the two water qualities. It is of course fun to walk out between the two separate streams just where they meet, but the view is actually best seen from the air!

    I know Geneva quite well. I think you will find that the left bank railway station is (was) called ‘Gare des Eaux-Vives’ (including the preposition).

    Kind regards

    • Diccon Bewes April 12, 2014 at 5:14 pm · Reply

      Dear Hilary. Glad to hear that you are enjoying the book, and thanks for the comments on the book. I did contemplate putting the name Jonction in but it didn’t seem to add anything to the story, as it was not called that when Miss Jemima visited, and that chapter was quite full of names and facts as it was. In all my visits to Geneva, and many perusals of postcard stands, I have never once seen a postcard of it! I will look when I am there next week as I’d like to see it from the air. Of course there might well be a handful of tourists who find it by accident, but given that it isn’t mentioned in any mainstream guidebooks and not highlighted by the tourist office, then they are few and far between. Certainly every time I’ve visited, there have been none.
      As for Eaux-Vives, it is complicated. The official name of the station is Gare Genève-Eaux-Vives (no ‘des’ but with the city name in front), according to CFF. But because it is in the area of the city called Eaux-Vives, it is often referred to unofficially as Gare des Eaux-Vives. That was far too much detail for what is a tiny section of the book, so the we decided to simplify things by using the official name, but without the Genève bit as it’s clear that I was in Geneva. Again, it was a case of trying to pare down the factual parts of the text so that it wasn’t too heavy for the reader, and make it comprehensible to people who have never been to the city.
      Writing non-fiction is always a succession of compromises, but I appreciate you taking the time to write.
      Best wishes
      Diccon

  14. Amanda June 15, 2014 at 9:41 pm · Reply

    Just got back from my drive to Basel Expat Expo, picked up a copy, thanks for signing it Diccon. Off to bed early to start reading it!

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