Finishing schools are educational institutions that teach young individuals social courtesy and upper-class cultural traditions to prepare them for the future and adult life. Traditionally, the high-class and rich people used to send their daughters to these schools to prepare them for married life.
Due to its location and scenery, lifestyle, political stability, and multilingualism, Switzerland has been home to some of the best finishing schools in the world. Today, only one remains still. Further on, we will talk about the history of the finishing schools, the only one remaining in Switzerland, “Institut Villa Pierrefeu”, their curriculum, fees, and programs.
The History of Finishing Schools
Finishing schools are said to date from late 1800, and their existence was conditioned by the social life of the higher class at that time. While boys were going to boarding school to learn French, Latin, and German, girls were going to finishing school, though these institutions were quite different. Boarding schools intended to shape young boys into gentlemen and prepare them to take over the family business. However, girls were primarily taught etiquette, manners, how to manage the household, and some O-level and A level subjects. They attended finishing school from the age of 13, 14, and 15, until marriage.
In the 1960s, the feminist revolution fought against gender equality and education, emphasizing the silliness of these disciplines. With the shift in the perception of women’s role in society, the existence of finishing schools was put in jeopardy.
Finishing schools saw a rebirth in the early 90s as their module was altered entirely. Nowadays, there is a small number of these kinds of establishments, and they have rebranded themselves into diverse and cultural appreciation institutions.
The two finishing schools that contributed to Switzerland’s reputation—both located in Lausanne—were Brilliantmont, founded in 1882, now an international secondary school, and Château Mont-Choisi, which closed around 1995. The latter being the one Carla Bruni Sarkozy attended. Another well-known finishing school was Institut Alpin Videmanette in Rougemont, which Diana, Princess of Wales, attended.
Institut Villa Pierrefeu
Institut Villa Pierrefeu is the only finishing school left in Switzerland. As a family business, the school is run by Viviane Neri and her son Philippe. The school is located in Montreux, with a view of Lake Geneva. This institution was founded in 1954 by Neri’s mother, Dorette Failletaz, and had a primarily British and German student body.
When Neri took over, she shifted the client base to young women of Asia and South America, changed the language of instruction, and transformed the curriculum. Sewing, interior decorating, and the history of art and furniture are no longer taught. The owner reported since 2012, there has been a more significant number of British people interested in the school. This reason, along with others, lead her to open up a school for boys in 2013.
To retain anonymity, students only share their first names, so consequently, there is no public record of people or famous individuals who have attended this school. The curriculum is a blend of theoretical and practical training, with a total of up to 200 hours of coursework and only 30 or so students at a time.
Finishing school curriculum
One might even ask the question, what is taught in finishing school? When it comes to Institut Villa Pierrefeu, they base their curriculum on the Germanic type, which initially includes lessons on how to wait on guests, table manners and service, skills on house management, and how to address people adequately.
Credits for the longevity of this finishing school are the ability to adapt with time, regularly update on material, and the focus on international diversity. Students are taught proper protocol and formalities of different countries and how to respect any culture’s traditions.
Switzerland finishing school fees
The tuition fees for finishing schools were generally quite high, considering their distinctive and unique teaching approach. Today, the tuition fee varies depending on the course and its duration. The general cost has changed during the years; at the moment, a six-week course at the Institut Villa Pierrefeu costs around CHF 30,000.
Finishing school courses
At the moment, the Institut Villa Pierrefeu offers three courses. The first program is an intensive summer course geared towards women over 18 years old where they receive a diploma in international etiquette & protocol in the course of 3 to 6 weeks. The second program is a 1 to 2 weeks long intensive etiquette seminar geared towards men and women over 21. This seminar focuses on the Europian Art of Dining and Exploring Cultural Differences courses. Last but not least, the third program is a Bespoke and special training course.
Finishing schools are almost an estranged concept to people nowadays. Most of them have already vanished, some have changed their activity entirely, and others, like Institut Villa Pierrefeu, have modified and adapted their curriculum. With the updated roles of men and women in society, it’s hard to conserve finishing schools’ traditional mission.