Jean Estoril is one of the many pseudonyms of Mabel Esther Allan and so it should come as no surprise to those following this series that Drina dances all over Europe, with a brief, but significant, visit to New York in the middle. In an earlier set of posts on this site, I wrote about the first Drina book I ever read and you can read that here: https://picturesandconversations.co.uk/2020/05/09/my-lockdown-books-forty-six/
Drina visits Kandersteg in two of the books: Drina’s Dancing Year and Drina dances in Switzerland. However, in the first of these, Kandersteg is not actually named; it’s only by reading the second that we discover Drina has been there before. And in neither of the books does Kandersteg feature largely. On both occasions Drina and her grandparents go there for a holiday. It’s maybe worth pointing out here that Kandersteg features in other books by Mabel Esther Allan and they will have played their part in fascinating me. But it was with Drina I first discovered Kandersteg.
In Drina’s Dancing Year, the second book in the series, Drina and the Chesters go to Kandersteg in August. Drina has been unwell in the preceding term and her grandmother thinks the sunshine and mountain air will do her good. Drina falls in love with the village and especially the mountains, so different from anything she has experienced before. And it’s here that she begins to realise the impact that different places might have upon her. It’s a real snapshot, covering only a few pages, but it does make an impression on Drina (and clearly on me too).
Places, Drina was beginning to see, could be very fascinatingDrina’s Dancing Year 1958
The second visit takes place much later on in the series during Drina’s last year in the school. Or, at least, in what should have been her last year in the school. Her grandfather has been seriously ill and has been advised to get out of London for the winter. (Oh, the joy of being told to go abroad for your health and actually being able to do it!) So he and his wife rent a villa near Lugano and Drina accompanies them. However, she has to become a weekly boarder at a nearby finishing school, something she hates the thought of and struggles to adjust to. In the end she finds a way of living with the situation but she’s still not happy.
For Christmas, the trio go to Kandersteg where Drina’s friend Rose joins them. The winter feel of the village (where there has been more snow than would usually be expected in December) is described evocatively. Kandersteg, high in the Alps, is beautifully contrasted with the much warmer climes of Lugano in Switzerland’s southern canton of Ticino. And the train journeys really come to life too: Drina’s from southern to northern Switzerland, Rose’s from London to Kandersteg and the day trip the two girls make to Milan to see Drina’s other grandmother.
I went to Kandersteg in September on a day trip from Bern. Although the passing years have brought changes (I visited nearly forty five years after Drina’s winter holiday there was published) it’s still recognisable as the place Mabel Esther Allan described. I’d love to return and play on the trains and take the cable car up higher into the mountains; to see lakes and valleys and daydream in the sunshine or snowscape.