An Evening with Diccon Bewes

written by Leonor Vereda Ortiz

At our October monthly meeting and networking event, close to 40 PWG members and guests enjoyed an engaging and hugely entertaining presentation of the book “Slow train to Switzerland” by English author Diccon Bewes.

The book retraces the first conducted tour of Switzerland organised by travel agent Thomas Cook in 1863. The author uses the journey’s diary by Miss Jemima Morrell, a 31-years-old traveller from Yorkshire, as a guide and means for exploring the history of trains and tourism in Switzerland. A very lively presenter, Diccon wrapped us in this journey with his witty comments and rich portrayal of travelling conditions at the birth of modern tourism and of the English and Swiss societies of the time.

By the mid-1800s, the English new upper middle class was fascinated by the accounts of romantic poets about beautiful, bucolic Switzerland. That helped Thomas Cook bring in 1863 for the first time about 130 travellers from England to this Alpine country, which soon became a very popular holiday destination. Besides describing in detail the journey undertaken by Miss Jemima, a very interesting part of Diccon’s chat dwelled on the crucial role of British tourism and private money in the development of the Swiss railways. It is hard to believe, but, apart from some pockets of wealth, Switzerland was the poorest country in Europe in the 1860s – “the Kashmir of Europe” it was called. Mass tourism in the country started in the 1870s and continued unabated until the First World War, bringing with it countless technical, commercial and transportation innovations.

Diccon Bewes worked as travel writer in London before moving in 2005 to the country that was to become his muse, Switzerland. This is Diccon’s third book after “Swiss Watching” (published in 2010, Financial Times Book of the Year) and “Swisscellany” (2012). For those who couldn’t profit in our meeting from a personally signed copy, all three books are available in bookstores in town. Diccon’s next project is a history of Switzerland through 80 maps. We look forward to it!

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