What do I associate with Switzerland? Mountains, lakes, skiing, banking, cuckoo clocks, chocolate and watches. Although it's thought of as being very mountainous, Switzerland has a large plateau area, where the big cities were built and most of the population live. There are two separate mountain ranges, the Alps to the south and the Jura, to the west. The Alps constitute about 60% of the country's total area and there are 208 mountains over 3,000 metres high - with 24 of them over 4,000 metres. The highest is Monte Rosa (Dufoursptiz) at 4,634 metres, situated on the Swiss/Italian border. The Swiss Alps, are also renowned for glaciers and these form the headwaters of several of Europe's major rivers: Rhine, Inn, Ticino and Rhône, flowing north, south, east and west.
Switzerland has existed as a state in its present form since the adoption of the Swiss Federal Constitution in 1848. But the cantons which constitute the present day country established a defensive alliance in 1291, that has existed in roughly that form since, give or take a few invasions. Switzerland has been famously neutral through all the World Wars and beyond. Less commendably, Switzerland was the last western republic (the Principality of Liechtenstein, which is closely associated with Switzerland, followed in 1984) to grant women the right to vote.
Facts and Factoids
- Switzerland is known as Confoederatio Helvetica – which explains the abbreviation CH. Modern Switzerland is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern(e) as the federal city (not formally the capital).
- Switzerland is not governed by one head of state. Instead it has a seven-member executive council that serves as the Swiss collective head of state. A president is elected for one-year in office.
- Switzerland has four national languages, although English is increasingly popular. The four official languages are French, German, Italian and Rhaeto-Romantsch (with Latin roots),
- Switzerland's Gotthard Tunnel is the longest in the world – measuring 57 kilometres in length.
- There are enough nuclear fallout shelters in Switzerland to accommodate its entire human population. This is due to laws that require everybody to have access to a shelter in their building or nearby.
- The Swiss invented Velcro, cellophane, the Swiss Army Knife, absinthe, the potato peeler, Helvetica font, LSD, muesli, edible chocolate gold and milk chocolate. (The Swiss eat more chocolate than any other nation in the world.)
- Switzerland is one of the only two countries to have a square flag. The Vatican has the only other square flag in the world.
What to See in Switzerland?
Head to Switzerland for glorious mountain and lake scenery, hiking and winter sports. And make sure your bank account is topped up. I've been through Switzerland several times, for short trips (it's too expensive to stay for long), on road (and rail) trips to southern and eastern Europe, experiencing some of the famous road tunnels, as well as taking in the views, and skiing.
Read about some of my trips here: