The ups and downs of a pioneering package holiday

Early starts, arduous climbs, long days ... Anthony Lambert retraces the
steps of the first Thomas Cook tour of Switzerland – but with a little more
luxury this time round

Exactly 150 years ago today, a party of some 130 tourists left
London Bridge station for Newhaven and Paris under the guidance of
an enterprising fellow called Thomas Cook. Only seven of them
continued to Geneva and completed a tour of Switzerland. Among the
"Junior Alpine Club" was 31-year-old Yorkshire-born Jemima Morrell,
who left a diary of her travels that was rediscovered and published
50 years ago.

The tour marked the beginning of the middle-class love affair with the mountains and lakes of Switzerland. Previously it had been the wealthy scions of landed families who had followed in the wake of the romantic poets and artists on Grand Tours, sometimes taking years. Following the success of Cook's first tour, tailored to the shorter holidays of professionals, he sent a further 500 tourists to Switzerland within the following three months. Their average cost, including all travelling and hotels, was £15 12s 7d (£15.63), despite using only "first-class establishments" which were prepared to put themselves out a bit to accommodate the culinary preferences of John Bull.

But the inaugural tour was not for the faint-hearted: there were 5am starts, some days of travelling for 18 hours and arduous climbs over glaciers and high passes. After a detour from Geneva into France to admire the Mer de Glace near Chamonix, they re-entered Switzerland on foot by the Trient Valley and the Col de la Forclaz, where they were fortified with milk and wild strawberries. The descent to Martigny in the Valais on mules provided their first panorama of the Swiss Alps, "one of the views of the Alps…" Jemima thought, wishing that the reader's "retina could be enamelled with the grandeur of that matchless landscape".

A 15-minute walk from Col de la Forclaz along the footpath signed Bovine and Champex-Lac brought me to the view that so impressed Jemima: a clearing in the trees opens up a perfect view due east along the Rhône Valley, overlooking the great bend in the valley where road, river and railway turn through 90 degrees. Immense mountains flank the valley to the horizon, those to the south rising to the St Bernard Pass used by the Emperor Augustus and Napoleon.

To see the "unmelted plateau of snow of the Col de Balme", there is a walk from the Col de la Forclaz beside the Bisse de Trient – a 4km-long irrigation channel – to a semicircle of peaks known as La Chaine des Ecandies. Water whispers from the grassy channel beside the path and birdsong fills the woods, set against the distant sound of meltwater streaming from the ribbons of snow and ice in the defiles of the mountain slopes. A reminder of less benign days is provided by a cataclysm of trees and rocks above and below the path, the avalanche cleared by teams who maintain the 64,000km of paths through the country.

The Cook party soon discarded the mules provided for their descent along a path bordered by pear, apple and plum trees to Martigny when they realised "the fatigue of a descent on a mule exceeds the same taken on foot". When they assembled for sustenance at the long-gone Hotel Clerc, some of the men had walked 40km, the ladies an average of 27km. Their day was not done. They then took a short walk to the railway station – "one of those few walks taken in a lifetime that no after impressions or obliterations of time can efface" because of the enthralling views of the Rhône Valley – and took the train to Sion. The journey by horse-drawn omnibus from station to hotel caused amusement to two German students by the "compressibility of the English ladies". Even after dinner they took a walk to admire Sion's two castles, still glaring at one another from neighbouring hills.

A "commodious carriage" ascended from Sion through hillsides of Muscat vines into the secluded valley leading to Leukerbad, the stage in a great amphitheatre of mountains. Jemima commented on the "merry little grasshoppers which lined the road by thousands … and making a noise not less incessant than the buzzing looms in Lancashire". They can still be heard, but not from the PostBus that winds up the valley from Leuk station; I took the bus from Leukerbad to the jewel of a densely nucleated Alpine village of Alpinen – where alleyways are too narrow for a cow to pass between the near-black chalets and tiny staddle-stoned barns – and it was here that the volume of grasshoppers rivalled a tropical night.

Jemima's party was scathing about the fare at Leukerbad's Hotel des Frères Brunner; ironically today's hotel on the site, the Hotel Grichting & Badnerhof, has gourmet cuisine. Leukerbad still has one of the largest spa complexes in Switzerland and the Victorian party satisfied their curiosity about the un-British custom of soaking in thermal waters by peeking into the spa before tackling what remains one of the most challenging walks in the Swiss Alps, the ascent of the Gemmi. Etched into a 2,000-foot-high wall of rock, "the zig-zag perilous gallery" was created in the 18th century by Tyroleans. Though it was June, a hail of snowballs greeted the slower walkers as they neared the summit, Jemima taking a dim view of the use of umbrellas as shields.

Descending past the austere Daubensee to Kandersteg, they took a carriage to reach the steamer at Spiez on Lake Thun; today panoramic trains drop down the Kander River valley from the Lötschberg Tunnel, which opened 50 years after Jemima's visit. From Interlaken they visited the most famous part of the Bernese Oberland by carriage, admiring the "dust stream" of the Staubbach Falls and witnessed an avalanche on the Jungfrau from Wengernalp, the lonely station that gives an almost overpowering sense of the scale of the Mönch, Eiger and Jungfrau.

Moving on to Lake Brienz, the party tried to stay at the hotel beside the Giessbach Falls, predecessor to today's majestic period piece built in 1873–4, but all 150 rooms were full so they made do with a nearby chalet. The glorious panorama from the hotel terrace over the lake and mountains above Brienz can be little changed. They visited the Reichenbach Falls above Meiringen 30 years before publication of The Final Problem, Conan Doyle's short story in which Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty fought above the crashing waters and fell to their deaths.

Their final summit was Queen Victoria's favourite mountain, the Rigi, up which she was taken in a sedan chair. Jemima was assailed by cherry-sellers during her shank's pony ascent, 10 years before Europe's first mountain railway reached the summit. The final day was spent in Neuchâtel, where the great white hilltop castle towers over the city as it did in the mid-18th century when its governor was an exiled Jacobite. The party returned by what remains the most scenic railway route between Paris and Switzerland, via the beautiful Val-de-Travers, Pontarlier, Dole and Dijon.

How travel changes. Thomas Cook may have pioneered the guided expedition to the Alps in 1863, but in 2013 the company that bears his name has nothing organised: a trip called "Jemima Morrell's Victorian Adventure" is being run by Inntravel, an independent tour operator.

Thomas Cook as a firm has been having a torrid time, with a near-collapse in its share price, mass closures of its high street agencies and a clear-out of senior management. But at least its timetables arm can provide the 21st-century traveller with timely information through the European Rail Timetable.

Neither Jemima and her companions nor even Thomas Cook can have anticipated how this Swiss expedition would become the model for so much subsequent tourism. And the cost of the 21 days? A few pence short of £20.

Travel Essentials

Getting there

Until 2 October, Inntravel (01653 617000; inntravel.co.uk) is offering a trip entitled "Jemima Morrell's Victorian Adventure" from £1,740pp based on two sharing, including 12 nights' B&B, nine dinners and a four-day Swiss travel pass. Return rail fares from London to Bern start at £114 from Rail Europe (0844 848 4070; raileurope.co.uk).

Staying there

Hotel Vatel, Martigny (00 41 27 720 13 13; hotelvatel.ch). Doubles from Sfr139 (£97), room only.

Hotel Grichting & Badnerhof, Leukerbad (00 41 27 472 77 11; hotel-grichting.ch). Doubles from Sfr340 (£236), including breakfast.

Rigi-Kulm (00 41 880 18 88; rigikulm.ch). Doubles from Sfr228 (£158), including breakfast.

Grandhotel Giessbach (00 41 33 952 25 25; giessbach.ch). Doubles from Sfr230 (£160), including breakfast.

Getting around

For details of the Swiss passes for the Swiss Travel System, visit swisstravelsystem.ch or contact the Switzerland Travel Centre (020 7420 4908; stc.co.uk).

More information

MySwitzerland.com; 00800 100 200 29.

 

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
Tax now accounts for ‘nearly 80%’ of the price of a bottle of whisky
news

Arts and Entertainment
Peppa Pig wearing her golden boots
film

"Oink! Oink! Hee hee hee!" First interview with the big-screen star

Life and Style
tech

Biohacking group hopes technology will lead people to think about even more dystopian uses

Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee