Switzerland

Switzerland

The popularized image of Switzerland is almost too perfect and timeless: spectacular Alpine scenery, cozy mountain chalets, dazzling ski runs, window boxes spilling over with red geraniums, tidy cities set on serene lakes, elegant grand hotels. Though you’ll undoubtedly encounter these along the way, they don’t present a complete picture of this modern country. Switzerland may guard its neutrality and assert its independence, but it is very much an active participant in the world.

If you’re going for the scenery or for the skiing, there are few places that can equal it (in quality or high prices). And there are few places as clean, safe and orderly as Switzerland. Likewise, few countries have such diversity in terms of culture and language: German is prevalent in Zurich and the northern, central and eastern regions; French in Geneva and the western region; Italian in Lugano and the southern region; and Romansch, the fourth national language, is the language of the southeastern part of the country, which includes the ski resort area of St. Moritz.

Despite its varied cultures and linguistic traditions, Switzerland is one of the most politically and economically stable countries in the world.

Geography

Switzerland shares a border with France to the west and southwest, Germany to the north, Austria and Liechtenstein to the east and Italy to the south. The country has three distinct geographical areas: the Jura (rolling hills with forests) in the west, running more or less parallel with the Swiss-French border and extending into both countries; the Plateau (forests, farmland, cities and lakes), in the center; and the Alps (high mountains), in the south.

Politically speaking, the country is divided into 26 cantons (the rough equivalent of states). There are 20 cantons and six half-cantons.