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):
- Worldwide: Book Depository
- UK: Amazon, Waterstones
- USA: Amazon
- Germany: Amazon, Thalia
- Switzerland: Stauffacher, Thalia, Orell Füssli, Lüthy Balmer Stocker
And also available as an e-book on Kindle. Coming in autumn 2014 in French and German.