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Explore the peaceful mountains of Switzerland

By Dmitry Petrounin Dmitry Petrounin Section editor Profile
If you're looking for the beating heart of Europe, look no further than Switzerland. In the land of four languages borders become meaningless, melting away to leave a harmonious collection of cultures. Grab your best walking shoes and head for the hills to make the very most of the country's mountains, snow-topped glaciers, and ancient farmhouses. The memories of a country so at peace with itself will remain with you for a lifetime.

Travel guide

Geography

Switzerland a landlocked country situated in Western Europe, where it is bordered by Italy to the south, France to the west, Germany to the north, and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east. It is divided between the Alps, the Swiss Plateau and the Jura, spanning an area of 41,285 km2 (15,940 sq mi). While the Alps occupy the greater part of the country, the Swiss population of around 8 million people is concentrated mostly on the Plateau, where the largest cities are to be found; including the two global and economic centres Zürich and Geneva.

Things to do

Switzerland has numerous resorts offering the best skiing in the world, and the Matterhorn is the epitome of it all. If you don't enjoy skiing, you can sit it out and enjoy the breathtaking scenery instead! From the city of Lucerne, you can take a cable car to the top of Mt. Pilatus. Enjoy hiking its trails with the stunning view over the Swiss Alps. If you want some time to relax, why not pack a picnic and head to the Rhine Falls, Europe's largest waterfall! For adrenaline-seekers, Interlaken is a big outdoor adventure park offering sky diving, water skiing, skiing and hiking.

Fasnacht Spring Carnival

This carnival in Basel is recognized as the largest popular festival in Switzerland, with some 15,000 to 20,000 masked participants taking part. It takes placed the Monday to Thursday following Ash Wednesday. It is highly anticipated all year round by both tourists and locals alike.

History

For history buffs in Switzerland, there is an abundance of historical sites out there for you to discover, for example, Augusta Raurica. Since no new towns were established in the Middle Ages or in the modern era, it is the best-preserved Roman town north of the Alps. It is named after the Celtic Rauriker tribe and the Roman Emperor Augustus. The museum offers a fantastic insight into the daily lives of the people who lived here around the time of Christ's birth. There are numerous museums all over the country as well as one-of-a-kind architecture.

Language

The four national languages of Switzerland are German, French, Italian and Romansh. All but Romansh maintain equal status as official languages at the national level within the Federal Administration of the Swiss Confederation. German is spoken in northern, central and eastern Switzerland, French in western Switzerland, Italian in southern Switzerland and Rumantsch in southeastern Switzerland.

The regions overlap a little; German is spoken as well as Rumantsch in all Rumantsch areas and also along with French in the bilingual cities of Biel/Bienne, Fribourg/Freiburg, Murten/Morat and in some smaller towns and villages along the language border in western Switzerland.

Transport

The Swiss Travel System is a brand used by the Swiss Federal Railways since 1989 to promote a range of public transportation tickets aimed at foreign visitors of Switzerland. Modern trains and regular departure and arrival times ensure that you travel quickly and comfortably to any location within the country. Take advantage of the special services for guests from abroad, including exclusive tickets, fare reductions on mountain railways and panorama routes, as well as numerous other extras. With immediate confirmation, secure booking and low prices guaranteed, you can travel around Switzerland stress-free.

Our Editorial team's advice

p>Clean and ecological, Switzerland is the ideal destination for nature, history and sport lovers. With fantastic skiing opportunities in winter, and cycling and mountain biking in the summer, this country is becoming more and more popular for tourists. Most tourist offices on the plains or mountains give out maps and routes to help you make the most of your holiday. You can hire bicycles from almost all CFF train stations, and these can easily be carried onto trains. For those who prefer to trek, there are numerous scenic routes running through different villages, via farms and woods, over mountain tops, vineyards and lake shores.

Switzerland's capital, Bern, is an amazing old city that is definitely worth a visit. Geneva offers spectacular views of the city's lake (Lake Geneva), an abundance of museums, the world's largest foundation as well as a selection of delicious restaurants. Visit the Graubunden area, where you'll find old villages with houses dating back to the 13th century. You should not miss out on the ?Swiss Riviera' which is situated in Lavaux (Cantan of Vaud) and runs along Lake Geneva. You can visit vineyards that overlook the lake, the beautiful castle ?Château de Chillon', and the town of Montreux, which is famous for its annual jazz festival.

To save money, buy a travel pass. The biggest expense for tourists is long distance travel, but thanks to the Swiss travel system you can travel round the country for very affordable prices. You can get even cheaper rates if you book your train in advance.

pros

  • +Great quality of Alpine and cross-country skiing, as well as charming resorts.
  • +The mountains are a well preserved natural environment, providing a wide range of activities.
  • +The starry-eyed beauty of the great lakes.

cons

  • -Living costs can be expensive, due to high wages and the country's tradition of luxury tourism.
  • -Switzerland is a highly conservative country, less open to foreigners, its people showing little warmth and spontaneity.

Traditions

Its 23 counties make Switzerland richly folkloric and deeply rooted in its past. Many of its villages and small towns open weekly markets selling fresh products from the surrounding farms, offering people the opportunity to see its farming traditions. History buffs will enjoy the fact that Switzerland has the highest number of museums in Europe (over 1 000). Internationally, Switzerland is known for its inviolable neutrality, with some of the best trained armies in the world to defend it. It is also home to several peace organisations, notably the Red Cross which was founded by the Swiss philanthropist and humanist Henri Dunant in 1863.

Switzerland is a country made up of four cultural traditions, Swiss-German, French, Italian and Romansh and many of the holiday traditions reflect those countries.

At Christmas time there are Christmas trees in the Swiss-German, Romansh and French areas but in the Italian area there is usually none. December 6th is St. Nicholas Day and in some areas gifts are brought by Santa Claus, Sameichiaus, Father Christmas and his wife Lucy or La Befana. Candles, fruits and toys are distributed and in some cases, there is a parade held in honour of St. Nicholas.

In the Swiss-German areas the sound of silver bell marks the arrival of Christkindli (an angel dressed in white with a veil covering her face). The tree candles are lit as she enters each house and hands out presents from the basket held by her child helpers.

The week before Christmas, children dress up and visit homes with small gifts. Bell ringing has also become a tradition. After the Christmas midnight mass service, families gather to share huge homemade doughnuts (ringli) and a cup of hot chocolate.

Food

Each region of Switzerland has its own specialties. Generally speaking, basic food items include a huge selection of bread and dairy products such as milk, yogurt, butter and - of course - world famous Swiss cheese. Fondue and raclette are popular in the French-speaking area, whilst sausages and rösti (fried potatoes) are the specialities of the German area.

There are dozens of types of bread in Switzerland. However "Zopf" is a very special bread, typically served on Sunday for breakfast. Bürli are small breads served for breakfast or at BBQ parties.

For a main meal, the ?émincé à la Zurichoise' is worth tasting (thin slices of calf and kidney in a cream sauce with white wine and mushrooms); the ?papet vaudois' (sausage with cabbage and a "papet" of Irish potatoes and leeks) and the Bölletünne (onion tart and bacon, cream, eggs and cumin) are also delicious.

Fruits are available from all over the world; locally grown fruits include apples, pears, grapes and different types of berries, such as black berries, blueberries, raspberries, red currants and strawberries.

For dessert, try the delicious world famous Swiss chocolate. Dreikönigskuchen (Epiphanies cake) is a special cake served on January 6 ("Dreikönigstag", Epiphanies day). Apfelküchlein is a deep fried apple cookie that tastes great either warm or cold, with or without vanilla sauce. Basler Leckerli are also a good choice - basel cookies made with honey!

Ideal Weather Search

Find weekly weather forecasts for Switzerland . Different criteria make it possible to predict with precision the best time of year to go to Switzerland . A comprehensive weather score, made up of temperature indicators, bad weather predictions, sunshine levels and wind speeds, will allow you to choose the activities best suited to the weather conditions and therefore make the most of your holiday in Switzerland .

Souvenirs

There are countless items to fill your shopping basket: watches, jewellery, chocolate, embroidery, Swiss knives... Shops open from 9h00 to 18h30 from Monday to Saturday, and up to 17h00 on Saturday. In the large cities, they remain open up to 21h00 on Thursday, while some remain closed on Monday morning.

What to see

Tessin , The green valleys of the canton of Tessin , Switzerland
Tessin
Eastern Switzerland , Switzerland
Eastern Switzerland
Bernese Oberland and Schweizer Mittelland , Spectacular views of the Bernese Oberland , Switzerland
Bernese Oberland and Schweizer Mittelland
The Quatre-Cantons lake area , Lake Lucerne , Switzerland
The Quatre-Cantons lake area
The Friburg canton , A stay in Fribourg , Switzerland
The Friburg canton
Neuchâtel canton and the Jura Arch , The Medieval castle of Grandson , Switzerland
Neuchâtel canton and the Jura Arch
The Vaud Alps , Switzerland
The Vaud Alps
Grisons , The canton of Grisons , Switzerland
Grisons
Valais , The valleys of the canton of Valais , Switzerland
Valais
Vaud Canton and the Lake Leman (Lake Geneva) region , Lake Geneva , Switzerland
Vaud Canton and the Lake Leman (Lake Geneva) region
Flims-Laax-Falera , One name, three resorts , Switzerland
Flims-Laax-Falera
Gstaad , A large ski resort , Switzerland
Gstaad
Crans Montana , The Valais canton as scenery , Switzerland
Crans Montana
Villars , An ideal location , Switzerland
Villars
Saas-Fee , Switzerland
Saas-Fee