"Switzerland - General..." Switzerland Favorite Tip by karakal73

Switzerland General: 375 reviews and 351 photos

 
 

Favorite thing: Switzerland - General Information

Geography
The Swiss Confederation is a landlocked nation state in Central Europe. Countries bordering Switzerland are France to the west, Germany to the north, Austria and Liechtenstein to the east and Italy to the south.

Bern is the capital city and the seat of the Federal Government and situated on the Swiss plains. Zurich, Basel and Geneva are the main centres of business and industry. Luzern, Lugano and Lausanne are other important centres of culture and tourism. The country is split into 26 Cantons, or small states each of which have their own constitution and elected regional assembly, similar to the United States of America.

Much of Switzerland is mountainous, with the Alps covering about two thirds of the southern part of the country. The highest peak in Switzerland is Monte Rosa on the Italian border at 4,600m or 15,000 ft. Other spectacular mountains include the Matterhorn and Eiger.

The north west border with France has the Jura Mountains which slope up to the Alps through the Swiss Mittelland plateau. Switzerland is well known for its lakes including Lake Geneva on the western frontier with France, Lake Luzern in central Switzerland, Lake Lugano on the southern frontier with Italy and Lake Constance on the western frontier with Germany and Austria.

Switzerland's enjoys a continental climate, heavily influenced by the mountainous terrain varying according to altitude. The valleys and plains have hot summers and cold winters with the mountains colder throughout the year. Temperatures in the Ticino region in the south tend to be warmer, as does the western part of Lake Geneva. The Alpine geography creates a series of regional microclimates, the Italian Canton of Ticino having an almost Mediterranean climate, to permanent http://www.grindelwald.ch/galerie/7.htmlglaciers and snow fields in the high Alps.

Environment
The flora and fauna of Switzerland are heavily influenced by the mountainous landscape with deep valleys, lakes and rivers. This remote landscape has contributed to preserving many rare species of plants, birds and animals which have been driven out of areas colonised by humans.

Coniferous trees are very common as they are hardy enough to survive the harsh cold winters and higher in the Alps there are Alpine pastures and scrub bushes. The hot summers support many rare flowers in the high Alpine pastures, including Eidelweiss. Palm trees can be found in the Canton of Ticino!

Wolves and lynxes are still found living in the wild. Foxes are increasing in cities and towns. Deer, ibex and chamois, both mountain goats also live wild, mainly in the high Alpine valleys and pastures. Many types of freshwater fish are found in the lakes and rivers, including dace, trout, perch, char, pike and freshwater salmon.

Birdlife includes swans, ducks, coots, seagulls (which live by the many lakes), sparrows, thrushes and pigeons. The Alpine valleys and mountains support birds of prey like eagles and recently the Bearded Vulture has been reintroduced to the Alps. Despite the reintroduction of birds like the vulture, birdlife is still being harmed by human activities and over 80 species are threatened with extinction.

Scorpions are found in Switzerland, together with many species of amphibians, including toads, and reptiles, as well as snakes and salamanders.

The heavy industrialisation of parts of Switzerland, particularly the chemical and manufacturing industries, has left a continuing legacy of environmental damage and pollution. Acid rain has affected Alpine forests and chemical spills into rivers and lakes, notably mercury into the Rhine, has affected fish and other ecosystems like marshland. The increase in wolf and lynx populations have led to conflicts with humans and a programme is underway to educate the Swiss people about predators.

Switzerland has one of the oldest National Parks in Europe. This is in the eastern part of Switzerland in the Canton of Graubunden.

Environmental matters are taken very seriously in Switzerland and legislation, driven by the population, has resulted in considerable change for the better in recent years. The Swiss Agency for the Environment, Forests and Landscape (BUWAL) is responsible for managing Switzerland's natural environment.

Population
The population of Switzerland is estimated at just over seven million. Twenty per cent of the population are foreign nationals. With much of the land area mountainous and one fifth of the country covered by lakes, glaciers, rocks and permanent snow, Switzerland is densely populated. Switzerland's history and position in Central Europe has led to three major distinct national identities evolving: German, French and Italian. A very small, 0.7% of the population, are Romansch and are mainly in the eastern mountains of Grisons, in the Canton Graubunden.

In the 19th century Switzerland was the poorest country in continental Europe which inspired a tradition of emigration, still part of the culture today. The number of Swiss citizens resident in Switzerland has decreased since 1996 with about 10,000 leaving every year. Asylum seekers and refugees have traditionally been welcomed in Switzerland since the 1957 Hungarian revolution. Immigrant groups include Hungarians, Tibetans, Tamils and most recently Kosovars. Switzerland accepted the second highest numbers of Kosovan asylum seekers after Germany in 1998.

Languages
There are three official languages in Switzerland reflecting the three main national identities: German (74% of the population), French (21% of the population) and Italian (4.5% of the population). In practice, many documents also appear in English, which is widely spoken throughout. Most Swiss speak at least two, if not three, languages with one generally being English. Raeto-Romansch is spoken by a very small (0.7%) part of the population in the eastern mountains. Spoken Swiss German, Schwyzertüütsch or Schweizerdeutsch, is very different from the 'High' German spoken in Germany, or Hoch Deutsch. There are concerns that the dialects of Schwyzertüütsch spoken in different German speaking Cantons are becoming more distant from the 'official' Hoch Deutsch.

Religion
The Swiss population is almost equally split between the Roman Catholic and Protestant faiths. The most common of the Protestant faith is Calvinism and Switzerland had an important role in the Reformation of the 16th Century. John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli, a Zurich priest, both spoke out against the Roman Catholic church from Switzerland.

The other main world faiths are not that well represented in Switzerland but include Islam (Muslim faith), Judaism (Jewish faith) and faiths such as Hinduism and Buddism are found mainly within the immigrant communities.

Food
Switzerland is commonly associated with chocolate and cheese Fondues, but has a rich and varied culinary tradition in part drawing from French, German and Italian cultures with some uniquely Swiss additions.

Traditional Swiss Fondues are a blend of Emmental and Gruyere cheeses, nutmeg, garlic, cornflour and Kirsch (Swiss Schnapps) all melted in a ceramic Fondue Pot into which diners dip small cubes of bread, and served with pickled gherkins and onions. The origins of the Fondue are thought to be from the high valleys where, cut off during the long winter months, the foods which kept the longest were stale bread, cheese and pickles. Fondues in different regions of Switzerland can be found using the local cheeses, and meat Fondues are a popular modern dish where chunks of meat (instead of bread) are dipped into hot oil (instead of cheese) and 'deep fried', then dipped in various sauces. With all the lakes and rivers of Switzerland, there are many traditional freshwater fish dishes, including dace, trout, perch, char, pike and freshwater salmon.

Cakes, pastries, tarts, gateaux and chocolate are common deserts or snacks. Breakfast is often muesli, and Birchermuesli, which uses yoghurt instead of milk or a selection of meats, cheeses and bread or pastries like croissants. Many meat and sausage dishes are accompanied by Rösti, a dish of grated potato fried into a pancake.

Tea, coffee and hot chocolate are the most common beverages, although tea tends to be drunk with a slice of lemon rather than milk. Lager beers such as Hurliman are drunk more in the German Cantons, with wine being drunk in the Italian and French Cantons. Switzerland produces many fine wines, mainly in the French Cantons of Valais on the south facing hills of Lake Geneva, Neuchatel and Sion, which are rarely found outside of the country. Kirsch, Pflumli and Grappa, all fiery spirits similar to Schnapps are drunk after meals and used in Fondues.

Economy
Although having one of the smallest populations, Switzerland is the wealthiest country in Europe in terms of income per head. There are many contributing factors to this: the stable history, excellent industrial relations between employers and the workforce and a very highly skilled labour force and the almost complete lack of interference from Government.

Today the major contributors to the Swiss economy are services, like banking and tourism, manufacturing, particularly of precision machinery and the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. The currency of Switzerland is the Swiss Franc, which is stable and strong in the global financial markets. Interest rates are the lowest in Europe and inflation was under 1% in 1999.

Anonymous numbered Swiss Bank Accounts are well known through films and media, and there are in the region of 400 banks in Switzerland. In fact Swiss law and banking practice has been changed so that investors can be identified if the account or deposit is the subject of a criminal investigation, criminal, that is under Swiss law. Despite this, Swiss bank accounts are still very popular with those wishing to deposit funds of dubious origin or evade the tax authorities, tax evasion not being considered a criminal act in Switzerland! Many dormant,numbered accounts are believed to belong to Holocaust victims and in 1998 US$125,000m was paid to Jewish organisations by some of the larger Swiss banks to protect the Swiss banking system from lawsuits.

The Swiss watch industry fulfils over 50% of the world's demand for precision watches and includes famous brands like Rolex and Tissot. The watch and precision instrument industry is the major employer in some regions of Switzerland and 95% of products are exported.

Tourism is both a major contributor to the economy and one of the larger employers, although many non-Swiss work in the tourism industry. Agriculture now only employs about 4% of the population and this decline in the number of people working the land has led to strong subsidies to the sector.

The most important issue affecting the Swiss economy is Switzerland's relationship with the European Union. The Swiss people voted not to establish closer links with the EU through the European Economic Area in a referendum in 1992. In 1999 however, a bilateral agreement was signed with the EU which when implemented will allow, among other things, the free movement of labour, payment of state benefits to non-Swiss and a considerable increase in freight traffic. Given the generally conservative nature of the Swiss people and that full membership of the EU would make Switzerland, the wealthiest country in Europe, the largest net contributor, it is likely that future relations will take the form of more bilateral agreements.

Arts
Switzerland's artistic tradition has focused more on hosting visiting talent rather than the nurture of indigenous creative Swiss, with a few notable exceptions. Voltaire, Byron, Shelley, James Joyce, Holbein the Younger and Charlie Chaplin all chose to work in Switzerland.

The few examples of Prehistoric art include findings of jewellery in tombs. Little evidence of the art of the early residents of Switzerland remains. Roman settlements like the remains of the colony of Augusta Raurica at Basel give examples of Roman art, like mosaics and jewellery.

More recent Swiss artists include Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918) a 19th century Art Nouveau painter, and Paul Klee (1879-1940). Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966),a 20th Century Swiss painter and sculptor was a surrealist best known for his bronze sculptures.

Switzerland has many museums with extensive collections, and a thriving contemporary art scene.

Great Swiss thinkers and scientists include Carl Gustav Jung the psychologist, Jean Piaget, a scientist, psychologist and sociologist, and Daniel Bernoulli and Leonhard Euler, both mathematicians. Albert Einstein although born in Germany, took Swiss nationality and did much of his work on the theory of relativity in Zurich.

Swiss writers include Jean-Jacques Rousseau, famous for his political writings which helped spark the French Revolution and Johann David Wyss who wrote Swiss Family Robinson.

Sport
Switzerland is best known for its winter sports, such as skiing. However the Swiss are keen on a wide variety of sports, including football, cycling, tennis, skating and many others. Most of the larger cities have professional football teams and there are three football league divisions.

Curling is a sport played on ice with two teams of four players. The purpose of the game is to slide a heavy granite stone closer to the centre of a target than the other team. The players guide the stones by sweeping the ice ahead of the stone, which can influence speed and direction.

Given the climate and geography, walking, hiking and mountaineering for the more adventurous are popular. In most of Switzerland it is possible to go for a walk somewhere in the mountains as a day trip. In winter a day out skiing is very popular, rather than a week holiday!

Holidays
The Swiss are very much into their holidays and festivals. Any excuse, historical, religious, sporting, business or just a party! The main Swiss National Holiday is Swiss National Day, 1st August every year. This has been chosen as Switzerland's Birthday. Nearly every Swiss city, town or community celebrates Swiss National Day with processions, fireworks, street parties and formal events like dinners or banquets. The event typically includes a celebration of the creation of the first Federated Cantons in 1291. One particular feature of Swiss National Day is that on the mountain slopes towering above the many lakes beacons, or bonfires, are lit and the night sky is full of fire.

February in Switzerland is carnival time or Fasnacht. Cities like Luzern, Basel and Zurich party for several days. In Luzern each day of the carnival can start at five o'clock in the morning with marching bands playing their music. Throughout the day processions walk through the streets of the city and many Luzerners and visitors put on fancy dress. In the evenings there are bonfires and fireworks in the city's parks. Religious festivals are important holidays but which ones are celebrated depends on whether the Canton is Roman Catholic or Protestant. The traditional festival of Christmas is celebrated.

Famous art and culture festivals include the Montreux Music Festival, the Locarno Film Festival and the music festivals of Luzern.

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  • Updated Aug 25, 2002
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