Twenty Great Books set in APARTMENT BLOCKS
Talking Location With author Caroline Bishop – SWITZERLAND
27th February 2021
#TalkingLocationWith … Caroline Bishop, author of The Other Daughter – Switzerland
For some reason Switzerland has been part of my life for a long time, drawing me back again and again, whether I wanted it to or not. I first visited as a child with my family as part of a road trip mostly through eastern France – our foray into Bern, the Swiss capital, was pretty brief, the high prices quickly putting my parents off.
More than a decade later, during an academic year spent in Lyon, France, as part of my French degree, a friend and I backpacked around Switzerland during the Easter holidays, staying in hostels and blagging a free train ride up the Jungfraujoch (somewhere I suggest avoiding – there are many other less touristy and more spectacular peaks to visit). It rained for most of our two-week trip, but when the sun did come out I was left in awe at the mountains that emerged, impossibly white and massive, in front of us.
I was sent back to Switzerland a few years later on a work trip, and returned again a couple of years after that to visit friends who had recently moved to Geneva. And it was on this last trip that I met my now partner, Matt, an Englishman who had just accepted a job in Lausanne.
For all that I’d enjoyed my trips to Switzerland, I was reluctant to move over. I loved the buzz of London, the abundance of theatre, music, bars and restaurants that the big city offered me. Lausanne, on my first visits to see Matt, seemed tame and a little dull in comparison.
But over the next few years, on weekend trips to Switzerland, something happened. I learned to ski and snowshoe in winter, I went hiking and swam in the clear water of Lac Léman in summer; we took cable cars up mountains to see the most glorious views, and visited lakes so blue that my friends back home thought I’d Photoshopped myself onto a computer generated backdrop. True, Lausanne couldn’t offer me the buzz that London did, the quality restaurants at reasonable prices (very reasonable, compared to Swiss prices), the regular trips to the theatre and nights at pop-up bars, but it didn’t have to: it had the great outdoors instead.
I moved over in 2013, and since then I’ve experienced things I never would have otherwise. I’ve picked grapes in the vineyards of Lavaux (a UNESCO heritage wine producing area near Lausanne); I’ve hiked to mountain huts and watched the sunrise; I’ve skied next to the longest glacier in Europe (the stunning Aletsch) and sledged down the continent’s longest toboggan run (the Faulhorn in the Bernese Oberland).
All of this, along with Switzerland’s fascinating history, has fed into my debut novel, The Other Daughter, about a British woman who has to reassess her life after discovering a big family secret that connects her to Switzerland. It’s set mainly in summer, in and around Lausanne and Montreux – the so-called Swiss Riviera – and I hope I’ve captured some of the awe I felt on discovering the area for myself: the joy of swimming in Lac Léman on a hot day (my favourite spot is Lutry, a pretty medieval village a bus ride from Lausanne, where the water is turquoise and willow trees provide shade); the pain of hiking up a hill to be rewarded with the most beautiful view at the top (Les Pléiades and Rochers-de-Naye are two lovely local spots); and the novelty of taking a train for an hour or so and finding yourself the other side of the Röstigraben linguistic border, where the architecture is more austere, Bretzels are more popular than croissants and everyone speaks Swiss German instead of French.
I’ve lived here nearly eight years now and Switzerland has well and truly won me over. I still look forward (in non-Covid times) to a weekend back in London, eating, drinking, shopping and seeing friends, but I’d struggle to give up autumnal hikes in the mountains, a glass of vin chaud at the end of a ski day and a fondue with friends before tobogganing down a hill after dark. Switzerland isn’t perfect – but it comes pretty close at times.
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