His goal, during a three-week journey from London to Lucerne, was to determine the differences between tourism then and tourism now.
Modern-day Switzerland relies heavily on its foreign visitors and it has become the quintessence of a chocolate-box holiday destination (there are 82,000 tourist beds in nearby Chamonix, against a resident population of 10,000). Back in 1863, the nation was in its infancy, gradually emerging from centuries of squabbling between competing cantons, and ‘large parts of the country’ were ‘festered in rural poverty’. It was still very pretty of course, and had already seen sense in producing easily portable tourist trinkets.
It’s very enjoyable to read about Jemima’s adventures – the food she ate and the ludicrously cumbersome clothes she was obliged to wear – and Bewes is a charming guide. Some of his digressions into Swiss history are unreliable, but he has a keen sense of how tourism transformed Switzerland into the ‘Cinderella of Europe’.
That 1863 trip was one of the watershed events in modern leisure – suddenly, the middle classes could afford to ape the journeys of their more socially lofty peers. It’s a good subject for a book and Bewes does it full justice.
SLOW TRAIN TO SWITZERLAND by Diccon Bewes, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, £18.99