Switzerland, in central Europe, is the land of the Alps. Its tallest peak is the Dufourspitze at 15,203 ft (4,634 m) on the Swiss side of the Italian border, one of 10 summits of the Monte Rosa massif. The tallest peak in all of the Alps, Mont Blanc (15,771 ft; 4,807 m), is actually in France. Most of Switzerland is composed of a mountainous plateau bordered by the great bulk of the Alps on the south and by the Jura Mountains on the northwest. The country's largest lakes—Geneva, Constance (Bodensee), and Maggiore—straddle the French, German-Austrian, and Italian borders, respectively. The Rhine, navigable from Basel to the North Sea, is the principal inland waterway.
Accommodations in Switzerland
Accommodations in Switzerland tend to be expensive. There are usually fewer hotels located around train stations than in other countries. You may inspect a hotel before committing to it.
Hotel rooms in Switzerland tend to be smaller than other places, but there are usually more services available. Prices include service, taxes and sometimes breakfast (ask).
Most Swiss hotels are members of the Swiss Hotel Association, which rates them according to their facilities and not necessarily their charm. For more general information on European hotel ratings.The hotel booking agent I use when traveling is usually Venere. You can find hotels on a map or by a list, then rank the hotels by guest rating, price, stars, or location.
The Swiss currency is the Swiss Franc, abbreviated to CHF. Swiss Franc banknotes are issued in the following denominations: 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1000 Francs. At the time of writing, 1 US Dollar = 1.35350 Swiss Franc (January, 2003).
Called Helvetia in ancient times, Switzerland in 1291 was a league of cantons in the Holy Roman Empire. Fashioned around the nucleus of three German forest districts of Schwyz, Uri, and Unterwalden, the Swiss Confederation slowly added new cantons. In 1648 the Treaty of Westphalia gave Switzerland its independence from the Holy Roman Empire.
French revolutionary troops occupied the country in 1798 and named it the Helvetic Republic, but Napoléon in 1803 restored its federal government. By 1815, the French- and Italian-speaking peoples of Switzerland had been granted political equality.
In 1815, the Congress of Vienna guaranteed the neutrality and recognized the independence of Switzerland. In the revolutionary period of 1847, the Catholic cantons seceded and organized a separate union called the Sonderbund, but they were defeated and rejoined the federation.
In 1848, the new Swiss constitution established a union modeled on that of the U.S. The federal constitution of 1874 established a strong central government while giving large powers of control to each canton. National unity and political conservatism grew as the country prospered from its neutrality. Its banking system became the world's leading repository for international accounts.
Strict neutrality was its policy in both world wars. Geneva was the seat of the League of Nations (later the European headquarters of the United Nations) and of a number of international organizations.
Allegations in the 1990s concerning secret assets of Jewish Holocaust victims deposited in Swiss banks led to international criticism and the establishment of a fund to reimburse the victims and their families.
Surprisingly, women were not given the right to vote or to hold office until 1971. Switzerland's first woman president—as well as the first Jew to assume the position—was Ruth Dreifuss in 1999.
In Sept. 2000, the Swiss voted against a plan to cut the number of foreigners in the country to 18% of the population (in 2000 foreigners made up 19.3%). Since 1970, four similar anti-immigration plans have failed.
On Sept 10, 2002, the Swiss abandoned their long-held neutrality to become the 190th member of the UN.
In Oct. 2003, Switzerland took a turn to the right when the far-right Swiss People's Party (SVP) had the strongest showing in parliamentary elections, garnering 28% of the vote. Its virulently anti-immigration, anti-EU leader, Christopher Blocher, was given a cabinet position. The SVP fared well again in October 2007 elections, winning 29% of the vote and gaining seven seats in Parliament. The party took the most votes in general election history. Immigration dominated the election, and the SVP was accused of running a racist campaign. In December, the coalition that has run Switzerland since 1959 fell apart when the SVP withdrew from the government to protest Parliament's ouster of Blocher as justice minister. The move shifted the government to the center-left. Also in December, Parliament elected Pascal Couchepin as president.
On June 1, 2008, 64% of voters opposed a law initiated by the SVP that would allow secret votes by the public to grant citizenship to foreigners in their towns.
Language in Switzerland
Four primary languages are spoken in Switzerland. See the map above for the approximate areas those languages are spoken in. The Federal Constitution stipulates that German, French, and Italian are Switzerland's official languages, whereas Romansh is an official language for communicating with Romansh-speaking persons. English is increasingly taught at an early age, sometimes taking priority over a second national language.
Transportation in Switzerland
Switzerland is served by more than 13000 miles of train, bus and boat routes.
Weather in Switzerland - When to Go
Due to the mountainous terrain in Switzerland, weather can vary greatly with altitude. Prediction of the weather can be tricky. For some historical climate information, including historic temperature and precipitation graphs that might help you plan your vacation in Switzerland, as well as current conditions
Eating in Swiss Restaurants
Although eating in a Swiss restaurant is generally more expensive than eating in a neighboring country, you can find interesting, inexpensive food in Switzerland. Lunches are often cheaper than the same meal at dinner. Look for the plate of the day.
General Eating Times: Lunch: 12-2 Dinner 6-8 pm
As you might expect, Swiss cuisine is based around dairy products -- cheese, milk, cream, butter and/or yogurt.
Beer is often cheaper and more readily available then soft drinks.
Meals include a service charge, but tipping is common. 5% of the total is the usual tip. According to locals in Zurich, it is customary, when paying with a credit card, to leave the tip in cash rather than adding it to the card total.
Public Holidays in Switzerland
New Years: January 1st and 2nd
Labor Day - May 1st
National Day: August 1st
Christmas Eve (afternoon only)
Christmas: December 25 and 26th
New Year's Eve (afternoon)