How the Victorian tourists saw Switzerland

April 19, 2016, No comments

Victorian in BernFunny money and rickety trains, annoying beggars and dodgy hoteliers. It doesn’t exactly sound like Switzerland but it is. Or at least was. It was the Switzerland that the first tourists encountered over 150 years ago when they started coming in their hundreds and thousands.

Thanks to Thomas Cook and his pioneering tours, Switzerland became the first mass tourist destination and a trip here was quickly the must-do for the British middle classes. But what was it like for them once they were here?

As part of a video blog series for swissinfo, I ventured out in a suitably dapper costume with a Victorian guidebook in hand: the Murray Handbook for Travellers in Switzerland, one of the first mass-market guides for tourists.

The Swiss franc was then a new-fangled single currency, brought in to replace all the individual cantonal coins and notes. Many tourists will have never seen it before.

Switzerland was one of the poorest countries in Europe before the advent of tourism, which brought money into the rural areas. Visitors were confronted with beggars in almost every village.

Swiss hoteliers were renowned for their untrustworthiness in dealing with British tourists, especially those who didn’t speak any language other than English.

Over 150 years later and things in Switzerland have changed a little. The towns are bigger, the people are richer, the hotels are better and the trains are faster. But Switzerland remains as beautiful now as it was then and the wonderful landscape has never stopped being the main reason for tourists to come in their thousands.

Now if only the bread could be a little easier on the teeth…

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