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Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Hotel des Glaciers, Butlin's or Club Med, your choice!

Hotels seem to be the flavour of this Sepia Saturday month, almost. Of course it is still summer holiday time in the northern hemisphere, unlike down here in Australia where it's rather wild and wintery, and way too chilly for either swimming or sunbaking, but we can look forward to warmer days to come. 

I was looking through my Aunty Pat's postcard collection and came across this one for the Hotel des Glaciers. The hotel address appears in white writing in the grass on the bottom right of the card but I can't quite decipher it ,so I can't be sure whether or not this particular hotel still exists. There are several hotels of the same name in France and Italy but none look quite like this. Most of Aunty Pat's postcards are unused souvenirs, but there are a number that have been sent to her by friends.

 Certainly a beautiful alpine summer scene, in Combloux, Haute Savoie, with Mont Blanc in the distance.  Location discovered thanks to Anne's research below.                        

The note from Pat's friend Margie McP reads as follows:
"Dear Pat, does this make you nostalgic? I spent New Year weekend at the session - the Chalet bursting at the seams with 110 students of 21 nationalities. Your card posted on the board. Thanks so much for yours to me. Are you still hoping to come to the Assembly, or will the Treasury be tough. I hope to see you. Best wishes from Margie McP."

I don't know who Margie was, but I do know that in July 1947 while studying for an MA degree at Oxford, Pat represented New Zealand at a conference of the International Student Service held in Denmark, so I think that this may have been what Margie was referring to, rather than suggesting that Pat might be feeling nostalgic for the Hotel Des Glaciers, where what sounds like a similar conference was taking place in January 1948. Pat had been to Switzerland before in 1946 however, so perhaps she had previously stayed here.  The mail service must have been pretty fast if Margie envisaged that Pat might actually receive the card and be able to come in response to it. In fact, the card had to be re-addressed and forwarded on, as Pat must have moved or changed her mailing address, as was the case with most of Pat's cards, but nevertheless she clearly received them eventually and saved them for posterity.

 The original address that Margie had written was St Anne's Society, Oxford, which was an organisation founded in 1879 and originally called the Society for Home-Students. It was devoted to the emancipation of women students who could not afford to live in college but still wished to study at Oxford. Pat and other young women in the same situation would have lived in lodgings across the city and been able to attend lectures and tutorials with the assistance and encouragement of the Society. In 1952 a wealthy benefactor who believed in the education of women left her estate to St Anne's, and as a result it eventually became a full college. You can read more about the Society's history on the web site of St Anne's College.

Pat went on to work in Geneva later in 1948 for the International Student Service.  I've previously written a tribute to her life achievements here. When my parents and I spent a year in Cambridge in 1954, Pat was back in New Zealand, although she subsequently returned to Geneva to work for another international organisation there a few years later. Finances of such organisations were no doubt stretched, and Pat may not have been able to join Margie on that occasion. When travelling for work she frequently stayed at the homes of the many friends she had made around the world. 

Now we move on to a different kind of hotel, contrasting in both style and location. While living in Cambridge in 1954, my parents went to London to see the musical "The King and I", starring Herbert Lom and Ann Martin, at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and my mother Jean saved the theatre programme, price 6d, in her scrapbook of our 1954 trip. It includes the following advertisement for Butlin's Ocean Hotel at Saltdean near Brighton. That establishment ceased operating at the end of 2004, but back in 1954 it was in its prime. It had just re-opened as a holiday hotel under the ownership of Billy Butlin in 1953, after having been commandeered by the government during the second World War. You can see photos and read more about it here on a page entitled Butlin's Memories. The advertisement seems primarily directed at men and only refers to women as an afterthought, but I guess that was simply a reflection of the way society viewed the relative positions of men and women back in the fifties. "You're the man paying for it all", as a cafe proprietor once said to my husband years ago! Women were not left out however, with another advertisement in the programme entitled 'The King and You' addressed directly to them, claiming that in his kingdom of the home, Mr Therm would save them work, worry and money.

Did this man leaping around or lazing about have no family to worry about? The advertisement doesn't mention their possible existence.

Herbert Lom, from the Theatre Royal programme

A package holiday at a Butlin's style hotel doesn't sound ideal to me and I've never been to one, but perhaps a week at Club Med could be viewed as an upmarket version of the same concept. We were lucky enough to be able to stay at Club Med in Wengen, Switzerland as part of a trip overseas in January 1993. All meals, entertainment and activities such as skiing lessons were included, which definitely made for a more relaxing holiday with children. One of our boys can be seen sitting on the snow in the centre of this shot taken in front of the Club hotel, prior to the start of lessons. He and the others all went on to become good skiers, unlike their mother, who never really got the hang of it. On the other hand, after giving up on the ski lessons, I was able to take a spectacular train journey through an underground tunnel up to the summit of the Jungfrau mountain and view the Eiger Glacier en route. Jungfraujoch railway station is the highest in Europe.

Australian ski fields have had good falls this season with more snow expected, but I'm not tempted! 

Postscript: Yes Gail, we do get snow in Australia. I've mentioned it in an earlier blog entitled What's that Funny White Stuff?, but here are a couple more photos to prove it, taken on family ski holidays at Perisher NSW in the mid 1990s.



For more blogs on themes such as hotels, holidays, fancy designs and nostalgia from the past, head for Sepia Saturday # 290 , 


  1. Butlin’s was the place to visit in the 50s, and as a youngster I always longed to go. My parents preferred a caravan in Cornwall and looking back on it now I’m glad they chose that option. We had some wonderful holidays, and I have a ton of lovely memories.
    Thank you for sharing this post Jo, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Barbara.
    PS I remember going to the cinema to see the King and I with Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr, wonderful!

  2. Hello Jo, thanks for coming over to my blog and for the reminder re links and labels. I completely forgot to include them but have corrected that now. The image you mention is a luggage label from 1929.

  3. I like the Butlin's ad. The phrase 'getting away from it all' is a popular one, but getting 'away from yourself' puts a much more personal spin on it. Quite clever. I was surprised by your last line referring to Australian ski fields having had good falls this season with more snow expected. Somehow I've never pictured Australia with snow.

  4. Using Google image search, peering at the white text in the card and comparing it to this card: I think your card has Mont Blanc in the background and is at Combloux. Here is another card,95032645,var,COMBLOUX--HOTEL-DES-GLACIERS,language,E.html What do you think? Regards Anne

    1. Excellent, thanks so much Anne! Definitely the same place, and from checking out a few more google references I was able to see that it subsequently changed its name to Chalet des Etudiants, which is fitting in light of the endeavours that Pat and Margie were involved in. I even found a postcard with the exact same view, apart from the name change: see
      It seems it may only exist in old postcards however, or perhaps as one site suggests, it has become a private property.

    2. Link to the same postcard view with name change:

    3. It is strange but looking at the foliage in both pictures, I think it is exactly the same card

    4. Yes, same photo apart from hotel name, card written almost 3 years later, different printer. Here is the reverse side of the second card:
      Interesting that Margie refers to the Chalet, although It's called the Hotel des Glaciers on her card.

  5. The thing I love most of all about Sepia Saturday is the way a theme is merely a starting point for people to wander off in whichever direction they want to go. This means that as you read the posts you never get bored (because people go in many different directions) and you discover a great deal of fascinating information. A most enjoyable post for both these reasons

  6. That is an interesting postmark with the skier. Google translation: health and joy of life by the winter sports. It is probably related to the 1948 Winter Olympics that were in Switzerland.

  7. I'm with Alan on this one -- the theme is hotel, but because of a hotel postcard, you were prompted to tell us a wonderful story about Pat and her friend Margie, which led to the fascinating story of St. Anne's College. Wonderful blog!

  8. Ah yes the snow season. Holidaying in Bali last month, I was amused to hear my step-brother eagerly musing on the likelihood of getting to the snow the next weekend. He did! From the beach to the snow in one week. Crazy!

  9. A Butlin's sounds like a holiday from hell, to me!
    Snow, however, at the moment, would be most refreshing (we are having a heatwave and the humidity has left me a damp, wilted puddle)

  10. Interesting ad, lovely photos and believe it or not I like the winter scenes the best!

  11. And for me it was a great travelogue --- Alps, to ocean and the "King and I", to snow --- and Pat and Margie's story, as well as Anne's research -- you served up quite a plate full.

  12. It's amazing how many concentrated memories can be contained in an old postcard of a hotel from a brief holiday. I think those first years after the war must have generated special feelings for anyone taking a European holiday.

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  14. Loved the stories all through, an education, entertainment, and well documented too!

  15. I think Butlin's must be similar to some of the hotels that were once so popular in the Catskill Mountains, though those were mostly Jewish enclaves. They offered everything a person could want for a vacation, if one wanted to be around a lot of people. I'd say cruise ships are today's version of Butlin's and the Catskills.