How Queen Victoria Turned Switzerland Into a Vacation Hotspot
The reason that many people associate Switzerland with vacations and relaxation isn't entirely due to the European country's spectacular natural vistas, incredible skiing opportunities, and even more incredible cheese. In the English-speaking world, at least, it has a lot to do with one important figure: Queen Victoria.
In 1868, the British monarch was still struggling with the death of her beloved husband, Prince Albert, seven years earlier. She was depressed and sickly, as swissinfo explains, having withdrawn from the world to mourn. She kept out of the public eye for years, remaining in extreme isolation; she wore black for the rest of her life.
To get away from it all, she decided to take a trip. She chose Switzerland, in part because Albert had had a deep fondness for the country—in 1855, he had even imported a replica Swiss chalet to Britain for their children to play in.
The trip took years to plan, and Victoria traveled with three of her children under the name the Countess of Kent. But it was difficult for monarchs to travel incognito—by the time she finally arrived at the railroad station in Lucerne, Switzerland, there were hundreds of fans there waiting for her.
During her time staying at Pension Wallis (now the site of a castle known as Chateau Gütsch), she did the typical sightseeing rounds, visiting monuments and local landmarks, buying souvenirs, and painting watercolors of the scenery. Thanks to her German skills—both her mother and Albert were German—she didn't need an interpreter, and despite her self-imposed isolation, she did interact with the locals. At one point, she visited a nearby farm, inquiring with the farmer about Swiss cattle practices, later writing in her diary that she was surprised to hear that Swiss cows were given names.
Though it might seem like a standard royal vacation today, at the time, it was groundbreaking. Victoria was a trendsetter, and being associated with the queen was great press for Switzerland. The country was largely an upper-class destination at the time, but as it became easier to travel across Europe, the queen's vacation choice proved influential, sending Brits in particular flocking to the Alps.
Suddenly, Victoria was a brand in Switzerland. The name "Victoria" was associated with luxury and quality, and plenty of businesses and towns catering toward tourists took note. There were hotels named after her, town squares named after her, buildings named after her. There was a steam boat with her name on it.
Her five-week trip affected the Swiss tourism industry so deeply that it's still memorialized today—it was recently the subject of an exhibition at the Historisches Museum Luzern, the history museum in Lucerne. And you can still find plenty of tourist destinations named after her. There are more than 20 hotels called Victoria across Switzerland today, museum director Christoph Lichtin told swissinfo.