A Swiss tour to remember

June 30, 2013, 1 Comment

Leukerbad breakfast

Photo from Switzerland Tourism

Breakfast in the bath with 20 other people: that was how the first full day started. Admittedly it was a very big bath, in Leukerbad, and the breakfast was floating on tables, but it certainly made a memorable morning. One week ago I was part of the Swiss Tourism anniversary tour to celebrate 150 years of Thomas Cook in Switzerland, and it was a tour to remember. Here are the edited highlights, starting with that floating breakfast (above).

Costume group

We were following a shorter version of the route described in Miss Jemima’s Swiss Journal, a first-hand account of that first tour in 1863. She travelled with six companions, so for part of our tour seven of us dressed up in period costume, much to the amazement of tourists in Interlaken. A modern-day Miss Jemima (poet Helen Mort, far right) blogged her thoughts along the way and I posted pics on Facebook.

Alphorn practice

Sion, Leukerbad, the Gemmi Pass and Kandersteg (with accidental Alphorn practice). Then it was on through the rain to Lake Thun, Interlaken and Grindelwald. It was so frustrating for me to know what wonderful views we could’ve been seeing, if only the weather had been better.  At least the falls at Giessbach were thunderingly impressive, thanks to the extra volume of water.

Giessbach falls

We didn’t always stick to the exact itinerary, adding in a couple of post-1863 delights, such as the trip up to Jungfraujoch (see this post for more) and visiting the Sherlock Holmes museum in Meiringen. The centrepiece is a replica of the parlour at 221b Baker Street; the only thing missing was Basil Rathbone.

221b Baker Street

On over the Brünig Pass to Lucerne, with a visit to my favourite monument in Switzerland – the mournful dying lion, carved into the cliff face. For once it wasn’t totally mobbed by tour groups, so it was even possible to get a photo from a different angle.

Lion Monument

The final highlight for any Victorian trip to Switzerland was watching the sunrise from Rigi. We were there at 5am, complete with Alphorn blowing (as had been the case 150 years ago) but with no sun. A typically British sunrise of mist and fog, even up at 1797m. Not quite the grand finale we wanted to this modern Swiss Grand Tour.

Misty sunrise

I’m not sure what Miss Jemima would make of Switzerland these days. The landscape is as magnificent as ever, even if there are far more people trying to enjoy it, and travel is much faster. But I learned three important things from one week in her shoes:

  1. Travel was painfully slow at her speed; the short horse-and-carriage ride from Neuhaus (on Lake Thun) to Interlaken proved that
  2. Victorian dress was not that comfortable for standing around at an apéro let alone walking all day across mountain passes
  3. I don’t know how she survived without milk chocolate (which didn’t appear until 1875)

For the next two weeks, I’ll be virtually following Miss Jemima’s stately progress through Switzerland, posting quotes from her journal exactly 150 years to the day after the event. You can read the daily updates on Facebook or Twitter.

And of course in October comes the book recounting her historic journey and my modern one, plus all the history in between: Slow Train to Switzerland.

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