Located in central Europe, Switzerland is bordered by Germany , Austria , Liechtenstein , Italy , and France . A small country, Switzerland’s very name conjures up images of chocolates, cheese, watches, bankers, and snow-capped mountains.
Switzerland was inhabited by a Celtic tribe called Helvetia in the ancient times. It became a part of the Holy Roman Empire in AD 1032 but soon succumbed to the mighty Habsburgs of Germany. The death of the Habsburg ruler Rudolf I in AD 1291 led to the formation of the Swiss Confederation. Switzerland was declared a neutral state following the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 and was accorded permanent neutrality in 1815 by the Congress of Vienna. A new federal constitution came into force in 1848 and Bern became the capital city. The Swiss remained neutral in both the World Wars.
The picturesque city of Zurich , located on the banks of the Limmat River, is the intellectual and cultural capital of Switzerland and the hub of tourist activity. The 13th-century St. Peter’s Church and the Fraumünster Church are two important sights. An evening walk along the banks of Lake Zürich or the alleys of the old town will cover almost all the attractions of the city.
On the banks of the River Rhône is Geneva , a city that houses over 200 international organisations. The ropeway journey to Mont Salève offers a breathtaking view of the entire city. The Cathedral St Pierre, Place du Bourg-de-Four, Museum of Art and History, Petit Palais, Museum of Old Musical Instruments, and the Horology Museum are some attractions of Geneva .
The three different parts (French speaking, German speaking and Italian speaking) of the country all have a very distinct atmosphere which makes it an adventure to explore. Switzerland is nature’s playground and offers numerous opportunities for outdoor activities. The Alps and the Jura slopes are great places for skiing. Hiking, mountaineering and ski mountaineering, paragliding and hang-gliding, water-skiing, sailing, windsurfing, rafting, and canoeing are some of the outdoor activities that you can undertake in Switzerland.
Since Switzerland is in the middle of the Alps outdoor opportunities like hiking or skiing are better than anywhere else. Only one drawback: it’s not the cheapest of places to stay.
Say ‘Geneva’ to a person and what will come up first? An inhabitant of the city itself will probably say that it is ‘a continent on its own’. Say it to a foreigner and he or she will probably refer to the building of the United Nations located in Geneva. After the foundation of the Red Cross in 1864, Geneva became the home of many international organizations. The European head-office is located here still, together with departments of organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Centre for Particle Physics (CERN).
Geneva is divided in two parts by the Rhone river that flows out of the lac Leman (lake Geneva). The old city is located on the southern shore (rive gauche or left bank), the train station north of the river, and the airport north-west of the city,straddling the French border, but only a short bus ride away. Most sights are within easy walking distance and the public transport system (with busses and trams) is very reliable.
This ‘smallest of the large capitals’, as it is called, offers nearly everthing, ranging from extensive banking and shopping areas to rich artistic and cultural input. Geneva is packed with museums and, to a lesser extent, historical sights. When you have had it for the day, go to one of the many parks, largely created by the financial imput of many wealthy citizens. Most of the time during the summer, you can watch a free concert in one of the theatres or simply prepare yourself for the nightlife in Geneva.
Basel, the second largest city of Switzerland, is known as a pharmaceutical multinational centre. However, it would be a bit narrow-minded to leave it at that. Basel is an interesting arty city, split up by the river Rhine and its medieval past is endowed with some of the greatest minds of European history, including Erasmus, Ulrich Zwingli and later Friedrich Nietzsche and Hermann Hesse. Its long-standing patronage of the arts has resulted in a ponoply of first-rate museums and galleries, which are well worth visiting, as is its historic centre. The right bank (better known as Kleinbasel) is the more modern centre. On the left bank (Grossbasel), one can trace the history of Basel in the old town that is ruled by the Münster cathedral where the bones of the reformist Erasmus are buried.
Basel’s sights can be easily explored on foot. The highest concentration of sights is around the old marketplace and the cathedral. The hilly surroundings of the city offer some excellent views and walks. Don’t miss your chance to stand on the three countries corner (Switzerland, France and Germany). A good day-trip is a visit to Kaiseraugst, just some few kilometres from Basel. Here, you can visit the remnants of the oldest roman city on the Rhine.
Zurich (better: Zürich), located 409 meters above sea level at the northern end of the Lake of Zurich on the Swiss central plateau, is charming and multilateral. Its well-preserved Old Town is to be found on both banks of the River Limmat which flows out of the lake in a northerly direction. With a population of some 360.000 inhabitants, Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland. The canton of the same name hosts 1.1 million inhabitants and is thus the country’s most densely populated canton.
Zurich was founded as a Roman customs post on the site of what is now Lindenhof in the year 15 B.C. From the 10th century onwards, it enjoyed the status of a town, and in 1218 was granted the rights of a free city. Rudolf Brun introduced a guild constitution after the downfall of the government in 1336. In 1351 the city joined the Everlasting League of the Confederates. After that, it has grown increasingly in importance, especially under the rule of Mayor Hans Waldmann (15th century). 1519 saw the beginning of the Reformation under the leadership of Ulrich Zwingli. During the 19th century, Alfred Escher transformed Zurich into a trade and business centre (machine and textile industry, banks, insurance companies, tourism), not in the least because of the founding of the Zurich Stock Exchange in 1877. This gave the city a fourth rank on the world’s list and made it into what it still is: Switzerland’s most important business centre and the world’s gold trading centre.
The Old Town consists of narrow streets which can be easily explored by foot. Along the riverside, you can find baroque guildhouses that tell their own version of the city’s past. Winding streets that show a nostalgic Zurich or maybe even expose the city’s fringe – just give way for the enthusiasm this inspirited and colourful (both with houses and people) city appeals. You will find a myriad of small boutiques, antique shops, bars and cafes in the Old Town on the left bank of the Limmat.
The main shopping area is concentrated nearby the train station. Stroll down the famous ‘Bahnhofstrasse’ – one of the most beautiful shopping streets in Europe – towards ‘Paradeplatz’ and the lake. Here you will find all sorts of elegant boutiques, department stores and specialist shops with a rich selection of high quality goods. When you feel like it, take a tour on the river so you can lay eyes on the nice skyline of Zurich.
Besides being a business centre and a shopping paradise, Zurich is known for ‘culture’: Old Churches, such as the ‘Grossmünster’ and the ‘Fraumünster’ with stained glass windows by Marc Chagall; art galleries with the finest collections, amongst them Chagall, Miro and Picasso and museums for all sorts of tastes. Try to stay at least two days. This will give you the time to explore not only the city by daylight but also Zurich’s exciting and varied nightlife, ranging from jazzy bars and popular discos to cabaret performances in smokey clubs.
Lausanne, better known as the Olympic City of the world, is a small city that has a lot to offer. There are several good museums (besides the famous Olympic Museum) and some interesting sights, such as the Gothic Cathedral. Built on three hills, Lausanne offers some astonishing views of the surroundings. It’ll only take a short walk to take a boat tour on the lake or a short ride to explore the great snowy outdoors.
Montreux is located at the shore of Lake Geneva, set against an Alpine mountain range background. The town itself has some interesting historical sights that remind of a time when Montreux was still small and didn’t have the reputation it has these days. Money flows in this city that hosts several grand international festivals, such as the Montreux Jazz Festival and the Film Festival. When you’ve had it with the shopping and the sunbathing at the ‘Swiss Riviera’, make sure you pay a visit to the famous medieval Château de Chillon or set off for the nearby Lausanne.
Welcome to the walhallah of skiing. St Moritz attracts visitors from all over the world who want to beat the snow by (cross-country) skiing, bobsledding or trekking. No matter whether this is your first time on skis or whether you were born with them, the area has slopes for both the beginner and the expert. There are good accommodation facilities and it won’t be difficult to find a place where you can enjoy the après-ski. St Moritz is also known for its mineral springs.
Davos is a busy resort in a beautiful alpine playground. The town extends for several kilometers along the broad Landwasser River Valley, between two giant mountain ranges. The area is part of the southeastern canton of Graubünden, “the holiday corner of Switzerland” and home to some of the best developed winter sports centers in the world: Arosa, Klosters, Flims, St. Moritz and Pontrèsina. Apart from these tourist centers, the canton is relatively unspoiled, boasting beautiful alpine lakes and exquisite mountain settings.
Davos was once hugely popular with Brits, but has fallen out of favor and is now dominated by Germans. Few resorts in the world have more extensive slopes, or offer more for all standards. But the area has its drawbacks: it is split into several unlinked sectors, and relatively ancient and queue-prone lifts access many of them. Those prepared to accept such drawbacks normally do so as the price of staying in a captivating Alpine village.
During the mid-19th century, the area became known for its health benefits. The clean, dry air and high altitudes provided the perfect environment to recover from tuberculosis and other lung ailments so prevalent at this time. Many of the old sanitariums have been converted to present-day hotels. The medical importance has continued, as several highly specialized practices still provide therapies and research for allergies, respiratory illnesses, and dermatological problems. It is also a world renowned medical conference center, and many top-tier international meetings are held at the convention center.
In 1877 a natural ice rink was built, which became the first step towards the development of a world-class winter sports destination. Flanked on both sides by stunning mountain views, this setting provided a natural attraction. The high Landwasser Valley is wind protected by forested mountain slopes. It was, and remains, a perfect environment to enjoy nature at its finest throughout the year.
Skiing and boarding in Davos is excellent. Seven distinct ski areas have been developed in the immediate area, so snow sports enthusiasts can spend a week and ski a different resort every day. From west to east along the northern face are the resorts of Schatzalp/Strela, Parsenn, Gotschna, and Madrisa. On the opposite side of the valley, you can ski or board at Pischa, Jakobshorn, or the Rinerhorn. The Parsenn is the largest and most familiar of the group. A wide selection of terrain offers satisfying skiing for all ability levels. The area is renowned for its off-piste skiing and long cruisers.
Although the mountain setting is spectacular, much of Davos’ architecture is undistinguished. The area has the hustle and bustle of a busy town, with only two major roads to handle the flow of traffic. The ski areas are widely spread along the mountain faces and are easily accessible from town, but only some are connected by lifts. Although improvements are being made each year, much of the lift system is still antiquated, and during peak times skiers may experience long lines. The transit system between ski areas, however, is excellent.
Après-ski options are abundant. The dining is exceptional, the nightlife can hop, and cultural activities regularly poke through the snow.
All Davos content and information is provided through a partnership with SkiEurope
Switzerland has a pretty capital city. Bern is a small city with many sights, most of them dating back to the 15-th century.
Bern is also known for its Bear Pits where you can see real bears – the city’s name derives from the German word for bear.
Sights include the 12th-century Clock Tower, the botanical gardens, the Kunstmuseum (Paul Klee), the Albert Einstein House and the arcades in the center where you can shop till you drop under the vaulted arcades.
Grindelwald is one of the most famous Swiss ski and winter sport resorts. Enveloped in a real scenic and unique alpine landscape, the world famous alpine peaks and mountains Wetterhorn, Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau form the background scenery of the Grindelwald valley. The “glacier village” of Grindelwald, with its total surface area of 171 sqkm is the second largest community in the canton of Berne. The territory of Grindelwald rises from a height of 720 m above sea level to that of 4,107 m above sea level. The village itself lies at a height of 1,050 m above sea level and is home to 3,800 inhabitants and up to 7,000 guests.
Grindelwald is a good example of being one of the first tourist centres in Switzerland. As early as the 17th century, tourists have visited Grindelwald, many of whom were of international origin. Grindelwald has become a popular destination for people from all over the world to pursue numerous sports, or a variety of recreational activities, as well as just for relaxation. Swiss guests alone provide for one fifth of the total bed nights and the majority of apartment rentals (130,000 overnight stays per year). Germans and Japanese, both with a quantity of about 100,000 overnight stays per year, are the most seen foreign guests in Grindelwald, followed by the Brits (about 50,000).
Photo by Wikimedia Commons.