FAMILY TRAVEL: Journey to the Source

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Indy Lifestyle Online
IN 1884 craftsman Carl Elsener started a Swiss cutlery company in Ibach near Schwyz in Switzerland. As an attempt at creating jobs in the area, it was to be a happy success. After the death of Elsener's mother, Victoria, and the invention of stainless steel, the company took on its trademark name Victorinox - and won the right to use the Swiss cross on its products.

In 1891, the company won a contract to supply pocket knifes to the Swiss Army and even today, every new Swiss Army recruit (National Service is still going strong in Switzerland) receives a "soldier's knife" from Victorinox.

Elsener went on to design innumerable other knives, but it was his elegant "Officers and Sports Knife" - which came with a handy corkscrew - that became the traveller's tool of choice throughout the world. In fact, the Officers Knife is commonly acknowledged as one of the world's classic designs.

These days, the factory is apparently Europe's largest cutlery manufacturer and it currently produces around 300 different models of knife. From your basic "Pocket Pal" to the "Deluxe Tinker", each knife is a different combination of 40 tools. The largest of these is the Swiss Champ, which has an impressively comprehensive list of assets: large blade, small blade, corkscrew, can opener, small screwdriver, cap lifter with screwdriver and wire stripper, reamer and punch (whatever that is), key ring, tweezers, toothpick, scissors, multi-purpose hook, wood saw, fish scaler with hook disgorger and ruler, nail file with metal file, nail cleaner and metal saw, fine screwdriver, chisel, pliers with wirecutters, Philips screwdriver, magnifying glass, ballpoint pen, pin and mini screwdriver (whew!).

The most popular pocket knife is the rather more modest Victorinox Classic. In the UK, one would cost pounds 11 (plus pounds 2.50 p&p) from Airtime (01254 5034101 or: whereas, if you bought one in Switzerland, you would pay only Sfr14 (pounds 5.60).

The Victorinox factory ( does not offer tours but it does have a shop which stocks every model of Swiss Army knife. If you were to visit Schwyz (to which Switzerland owes both its name and its flag), you could enjoy a trip around the local cherry orchards (or the distilleries that produce cherry spirits), stop off in town to peruse the charter (safely kept tucked away in the Bundesbriefmuseum) that was signed in 1291 and which is considered the start of the Swiss Confederation, and then finish your jaunt at the Victorinox shop.

If you were to buy 26 Classic pocket knives there and sell them off at the going rate back in the UK, you would have made enough profit to pay for the current pounds 139 return fare (valid until 13 April, must include a Saturday night stay and be booked at least three days in advance) on Swissair (reservations 0845 758 1333), from London Heathrow to Zurich.