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A stay at Davos

When the Doyles return from their trip to Switzerland in the summer of 1893, Louise’s health deteriorates. She is suffering from tuberculosis and the diagnosis of the doctors called to her bedside by Conan Doyle is very pessimistic. Consequently, the Doyles will settle in Davos, a place renowned for its healthy climate, by the end of the year. Until 1895 the couple will regularly stay there and also in other regions in the cantons of Berne and the Grisons. These Swiss retreats will help Louise to fight the disease for more than ten years, but she will eventually die from it in 1906.

“ A most
glorious place ”

Davos, in the Canton of the Grisons, becomes, in the 19th century, a famous resort for people suffering from diseases of the lungs such as tuberculosis. The health-giving virtues of its pure and dry air are praised by doctors, books and press articles, and the little village in the Grisons develops, from the second half of the 19th century, curative establishments and hotels.

Arthur Conan Doyle therefore makes arrangements for him and his wife to leave for Davos, where he hopes to find a healthier climate that would help to preserve Louise’s health. She will subsequently depart for the Canton of the Grisons with her sister Emily in November. Conan Doyle is delayed by the need to complete arrangements for their intended long absence and also by a series of lectures in England and Scotland. He therefore joins Louise and Emily the following month with his sister Lottie who will replace Emily as Louise’s companion. The Doyles and Lottie register first at the Kurhaus Hotel, then move to the Grand Hôtel Belvédère, an institution appreciated by British tourists.

Davos under the snow

Davos ([1893-1894]). (BCU-Lausanne, IS 4314/5/1/3)

“ This locality, with picturesque houses scattered among the green pastures, sheltered from the N. and E. winds, has become a favourite resort for consumptive patients, especially in winter (pop. 4780). ”

“Davos-Platz,” La Suisse et les parties limitrophes de l’Italie, de la Savoie et du Tyrol : Manuel du voyageur par K. Baedecker, 1893, p.371.

Advertisement for the hotel Belvédère in Davos

Advertisement for the hotel Belvédère in Davos, published in Davos-Platz as an Alpine winter-station for consumptive patients (1882)

Davos under the snow

Davos Dörfli” ([1893-1894]).
(BCU-Lausanne, IS 4314/5/1/3)

The circumstances of this stay at Davos do not prevent Conan Doyle from enjoying the place and speaking about it with enthusiasm. In a letter to Sir John Robinson, editor of The Daily News, he writes : “ This is a most glorious place – such a blue sky + bright sun, although 5000 feet up.  The air too so exhiliarating [sic] ! It is a rare place to work ”.

For him, life in the little Grisons village is nonetheless rather quiet. Beside his writing, he engages in winter sports and occasionally gives lectures and readings at meetings of the English Literary Society of Davos.

A street in Davos

Regent Street of Davos”
A street in Davos ([1893-1894]). (BCU-Lausanne, IS 4314/5/1/3)

Fancy-dress ball at the Belvédère

Arthur Conan Doyle desguised as a viking

Arthur Conan Doyle disguised as a viking ([1895]). (BCU-Lausanne, IS 4314/5/1/1)

When staying at in Davos, Arthur Conan Doyle makes a remarkable appearance disguised as a Viking during a fancy-dress ball organised by the Grand Hôtel Belvédère. He will wear this costume more than once, for instance two months later at another ball in St-Moritz.

Winter sports

The ice-rink of Davos

Ice races at Davos”
The ice-rink of Davos ([1893-1894]). (BCU-Lausanne, IS 4314/5/1/3)

From the second half of the 1870’s, the number of British tourists grows at Davos as a result of the positive accounts of the place that they disseminate when they return home. Davos then ceases to be regarded only as a health resort but is also seen as a destination for healthy people wishing to benefit from the fresh air of the mountains. 

Davos must therefore offer distractions to tourists – and to people taking a spa cure whose health is good enough. The little English colony which rallies round the Belvédère Hotel takes advantage of the frozen lake of Davos for ice-skating, an activity which they already liked to practise at home.

Although an ice-rink has existed since 1869 in the garden of the Kurhaus Hotel, it is too small to meet the needs of the British ice-skaters, and a bigger one is created in the centre of Davos in 1880-1881, with a pavilion and an adjoining restaurant. In the aftermath, an ice-skating club is created, which will be followed, a few years later, by a curling club.


Arthur Conan Doyle holding a sledge in Davos

Giant Toboggan at Davos. 1894
Arthur Conan Doyle holding a sledge in Davos (1894). (BCU-Lausanne, IS 4314/5/1/1)

Ice-skaters on the ice-rink of Davos

Viennese fancy skater”
Ice-skaters on the ice-rink of Davos ([1893-1894]). (BCU-Lausanne, IS 4314/5/1/3)

Meanwhile the sledge, originally just a mean of transportation, also becomes a popular entertainment, once again under the encouragement of the British tourists, who will even create the Davos Toboggan Club, the first sledging club to appear in Switzerland. Sledge runs are then specifically built and competitions are organized. Thus Davos becomes a leading place for winter sports, witnessing the birth of sporting clubs and international competitions.

Arthur Conan Doyle with a “Rennwolf”

Arthur Conan Doyle with a “Rennwolf” ([1893-1894]). (BCU-Lausanne, IS 4314/5/1/3)

Arthur Conan Doyle and his son Adrian ice-skating

Arthur Conan Doyle and his son Adrian ice-skating ([1924]).
(BCU-Lausanne, IS 4314/5/1/10)

Ice sports of all kinds

An enthusiastic sportsman, Arthur Conan Doyle tried many winter sports in Davos, but also elsewhere in Switzerland. These pictures show him ice skating in Grindelwald, sledging at Clavadel and practising skeleton at St-Moritz on the Cresta Run. He even tried curling. However, the winter sport most associated with Conan Doyle is skiing, an activity in which he will be considered a pioneer in Switzerland.

Arthur Conan Doyle playing curling

Arthur Conan Doyle playing curling ([1924]).
(BCU-Lausanne, IS 4314/5/1/1)

Arthur Conan Doyle on a sledge in Clavadel

Head of Clavadel Run”
Arthur Conan Doyle on a sledge in Clavadel ([1894-1895]).
(BCU-Lausanne, IS 4314/5/1/3)

Arthur Conan Doyle on skis

Arthur Conan Doyle on skis ([1894]). (BCU-Lausanne, IS 4314/5/4/1/9)

Arthur Conan Doyle descending the Cresta Run

Descent of Cresta Run without brakes”
Arthur Conan Doyle descending the Cresta Run ([1894-1895]).
(BCU-Lausanne, IS 4314/5/4/1/9)

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