An English Affair
11 December 2020
The development of tourism in Switzerland in the second half of the nineteenth century was mainly an English affair.
Many famous and well-known personalities had already visited the Confederation in the eighteenth century, whether on their way to Italy and Greece or as scholars, writers, business people or politicians.
Many visitors wrote about the country, the beautiful nature, political system, the history and the absence of royalty and aristocracy, an anomaly in this period.
Many memoirs, travel books, articles in the press and the first guidebooks (Baedeker for example) were published.
The Swiss rail network expanded in the second half of the nineteenth century and the number of tourists increased.
The first Alpine clubs were founded and agencies (Thomas Cook) organized the first tours.
Remote areas were discovered and tourism became a real business. The British accounted for 85% of the visitors in this period.
This influx of (British) tourists changed the life of residents. Many new jobs were created, mountain guides, catering services, hotel- and casino staff, coachmen (for the transport from the train station to the final destination), shopkeepers, traders, translators, photographers, and information agencies.
British tourism not only caused an economic boom and new employment and work opportunities in remote areas. The British also changed the urban and village landscape and way of life.
Many hotels opened their doors, rescue services were financed, and shops, restaurants, new ways, railway and coach terminals changed the appearance of villages and towns.
British food was introduced, theatrical and musical performances were organised in hotels, lawn tennis courts and golf courses were created.
Local villagers often participated in these activities and there was some cultural interaction.
An essential addition to the tourism infrastructure was the religious places of worship.
Hotels offered chapel rooms on their premises or gave land for church buildings, paid for by the British themselves and almost always designed by British architects.
In 1914 there were more than 30 English church buildings in Switzerland. The Church of England appointed seasonal or full-time chaplains.
Swiss villages had changed, and British tourism has altered life.
The British legacy is still present throughout Switzerland.
(Source: D. Conrad-Daubrah, ´Pontresina´s 19th – century British visitors´ in Graubünden Ecxlusiv, Nr. 55, 2017 and www.pontresina.ch/museumalpin).