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Switzerland

Photo by Sally Balibouse

Switzerland destinations

Bern and the Bernese Oberland

Central Switzerland and Lucerne

Geneva and Western Switzerland

Ticino and the Valais

Switzerland

Switzerland – 26 Cantons of beauty

Images of lush Alpine pastures, snow-capped peaks, crystal-clear lakes, bell-clad cows and heroic St Bernards compete with those of startlingly efficient trains, discreet bankers, liveable cities and an all-round enviable way of life.

Switzerland’s population is one of the world’s best educated (many Swiss are able to switch easily between at least three languages), healthiest (although this is definitely NOT the place to go without rock-solid travel insurance) and wealthiest (we never said it was going to be cheap!).

The best thing about it all is the fact that the Swiss, ever-polite, are determined to share their natural wonders and urban gems and have made it one of the world’s easiest destinations to explore and navigate.

We’ve divided Switzerland into three main destinations and each one has a selection of itineraries to choose from. Later we’ll be including Northern Switzerland, featuring the cities of Basle and Zurich and also the Graubunden Canton.


Bern and the Bernese Oberland

Bern is Switzerland’s capital but only its fifth-largest city. Indeed, this says much about its gentle approach to being one of Europe’s best examples of democracy.

Some of the natural wonders that have made Switzerland famous (the Jungfrau Region, Glacier 3000) mean that the region known as Bernese Oberland, should be the place to head for. Above all, stunning Alpine scenery combines with chocolate-box charm regardless of when you go.

Make Interlaken your base and you can also enjoy the beauty of the jewel-toned lakes (Thun and Brienz) that sandwich it. Or just head to waterfall-filled Lauterbrunnen and explore the pretty car-free Alpine villages of the Jungfrau.

The natural beauty of the Bern Canton is as bold as it gets, with towering Alpine peaks, brilliantly blue lakes, plenty of snow in winter and ‘kiss the sky’ trails. Furthermore, the super efficient transport network and enthusiastic tourism service providers make getting around and active a dream well within reach.


Central Switzerland and Lucerne

This central region is made up of the cantons of Uri, Schwyz, Obwalden, Nidwalden, Lucerne and Zug. It’s also the heart and soul of the country, from a historical and emotional viewpoint. Here founding myths, iconic imagery, quintessential landscape and much of the national character combine to create the essence of ‘Swissness’.

This is the place where the William Tell legend grew and also the independence that the Swiss pride themselves on. Here is where you’ll see a mountain swathed in clouds looming above a mesmerizing lake and married to folkloric tales of dragons. Over there is another magnificent peak, able to silence visitors with majestic sunsets and sunrises.

The jewel in the crown is Lucerne, its glittering perfection matched only by its popularity. Furthermore, the towns of Lake Lucerne offer a pleasing mix of understated local life and luxurious creature comforts. Check out Weggis, Vitznau and Seelisberg.


Ticino and the Valais

If western Switzerland retains a French touch and central and northern Switzerland maintain a German air, then Ticino exudes an Italian gusto that is infectious. If you’ve ever found yourself in love with Italy but exasperated by its dramas then Ticino can make your dream come true: Italian features, Swiss fixtures!

Don’t miss the towns on Lago Maggiore like Locarno and Ascona. Aficionados of scenic train journeys will love the Centovalli experience. The capital, Lugano, and Lake Lugano, plus the castles of Bellinzona all merit a visit too. Röstigraben is nowhere better exemplified than in the southwestern canton of Valais, where half of the county speaks French and the other half German. Keeping watch over it all is Switzerland’s most impressive mountain, the Matterhorn.

The name ‘Valais’ derives from the fact that it includes the valley of the Rhône’s as the river wends its way from the Alps to Lake Geneva, separating the Pennine Alps from the Bernese Alps. Smaller valleys feed in form this main Rhône valley.


Nuts & Bolts

Population 8 million
Official languages German, French, Italian and Romansh
Currency Swiss Franc (CHF; note NOT the euro!)
Country Code +41
Capital Bern
Main Cities Zürich, Geneva, Basel and Bern
Borders Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein
Government style Direct democracy
Number of cantons 26

 


When To Go

Switzerland is very much a year-round destination, and excellent infrastructure means that no great difficulty is faced because of the time of year.

Things to take into consideration when planning your Swiss travels include your interests (eg, snowsports), your budget (the low season offers some great deals on accommodation), how much time you have and how much you’d like to see.

One thing to keep in mind is that many mountain passes are closed to traffic in the winter months, although some are served by car trains.

How Much Time To Spend

Tidy, efficient Switzerland can be decently covered in a matter of days (ie, if you’re focusing solely on the big-ticket sights) or comprehensively in a month. Most people are satisfied with a week to 10 days to take in the highlights and pursue a special interest such as hiking, wine, or skiing.

Sample itineraries might include:

THREE DAYS
Start in Bern and explore the city’s Old Town.
Get an early start to Interlaken, then head to the Jungfrau villages.
Early in the morning is the best time to get up to the Jungfraujoch. Hike down from Kleine Scheidegg to Grindelwald. Travel to your departure point.

ONE WEEK
Same itinerary as above, and add the following from Day 4:
From Grindelwald, head back to Interlaken and take a train to Lucerne. Tour the Old Town. Overnight in Lucerne.
Explore Lucerne’s sights (such as the Sammlung Rosengart) and then catch the William Tell Express to Ticino. Spend the night in Locarno/Ascona.
A full day in Locarno/Ascona and on Lago Maggiore.
Take the Centovalli Express in the morning, changing trains at Domodossola (Italy) for Lausanne.
Explore Lausanne’s Old Town; enjoy a fondue in a typically wood-lined cafe. If it’s your last day; catch your train to your departure point.

TWO WEEKS
All of the above, plus:
From Lausanne catch the train to nearby Montreux and from there head to Château de Chillon. In the afternoon walk and do some wine-tasting in the Lavaux region. Overnight in Lausanne.
The next day, take the train from Lausanne to Zermatt and grab as many Matterhorn views as you can. Overnight in Zermatt.
A full day in Zermatt, either hiking or enjoying snow sports at Matterhorn Glacier Paradise. Overnight in Zermatt.
In the morning, take the world-famous Glacier Express from Zermatt to St Moritz (seven hours). Stay in St Moritz overnight.
Spend a full day explore the town and/or its surrounds. The next day, take the Bernina Express to either Chur or Davos, before continuing to Zürich. Head out to dinner in to Züri West and then enjoy a night on the town.
Spend a full day exploring Zürich’s Old Town and at least one art museum/gallery. Travel to your final departure point.

Other thing to consider are your interests.

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO SEE & DO?
Big Mountains, Big Sky, Big Air Graubünden, Bernese Oberland
Small City Charm Lucerne, Bern
Big City Thrills (Art, Architecture, Nightlife) Zürich, Basel
Swiss Wines Lavaux
Mediterranean-style Magic Lago Maggiore, Locarno & Ascona
Thrills & Spills Interlaken
French Savoir-faire Geneva, Lausanne
Winter Wonderland Valais
Summer Lake Swimming Lake Geneva, Lake Lucerne
Big Easy Walk The Swiss Path

High and Low Season

Switzerland’s busiest season is its summer school holiday months of July and August.

Mountain resorts hibernate from mid-October to early December, before revving up for the busy Christmas season and the all-important ski season, which (generally) takes place from late-November (depending on snowfall) to April.

May, June and September are often good months to grab an accommodation bargain.

Weather and Climate

Switzerland has a temperate climate with no great extremes. Seasons, which are distinguishable, are known for activities such as swimming (in the lakes in summer), hiking (spring and autumn) and, of course, skiing and snowboarding (winter).

There is a noticeable difference between the north and south of the country, with Italian-speaking Ticino enjoying some 300-odd days of sunshine a year and very warm temperatures in the summer months.

The north and east of the country (Zürich, Graubünden etc) are known for their cold winters and snow, especially in the mountain regions.

The western end of Switzerland has a mild climate, with warm summers and wet springs and autumns.

Events and Holidays

Swiss public holidays include the following, although remember that each canton has its own local holidays throughout the year.

January 1st New Year’s Day
Good Friday and Easter Monday (not in Valais)
May 1st or the first Monday in May (not all cantons)
May 14th   Ascension
May Whit Monday – last Monday of month (not ?in Valais)
August 1st – Swiss National Day
December 25th – Christmas Day
December 26th – Boxing Day

Consult: http://www.feiertagskalender.ch/

Time Zone

Switzerland is located in the CET (Central European Time) zone.

To check the local time in Switzerland, click here.

Daylight Saving Time (DST) happens in the Spring (last Sunday in March at 1AM) when clocks are advanced one hour. In the Autumn (last Sunday in October at 1AM), clocks shift back one hour to standard time to give more daylight in the morning.

What To Pack and Wear

It always pays to pack a good pair of walking shoes or hiking boots, plus a water-repellent jacket.

If you’re heading to any high-altitude spots, long trousers, a long-sleeved fleece and a jacket to keep out the wind and rain are good ideas.

Switzerland is not especially formal or fashionable in its dress codes, so there’s no need to pack your glad rags, even if you’re intending to dine in some of its finer establishments.

Many mountain resorts have well-stocked gear shops, although the prices may sting.

What it Costs

Switzerland is notoriously expensive and the Swiss franc is a strong currency, making it a destination that rewards careful budgeting (in itself a rather Swiss thing to do) and planning, but also a certain pragmatism: very little will strike you as being cheap here, but you also won’t find yourself complaining about quality all the time (customer service may well be a different matter!). Things such a train travel will most likely cost more than you’re used to back home, but the smoothness and efficiency of the experience will be a highlight. Comfort yourself in the knowledge that great local chocolate, cheese and wine can be found for very good prices at most supermarkets — reason enough to come!

Abstract Pricing at a Glance

Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.

Price ranges are quoted in Swiss francs (CHF).

See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
Free
€ => Tickets less than CHF10 per person
€€ => Tickets CHF10-CHF25 per person
€€€ => Tickets CHF25 per person

Sleep
€ => Rooms less than CHF250 for a double
€€ => Rooms CHF250-CHF400 for a double
€€€ => Rooms CHF400 for a double

Eat
€=> Less than CHF30 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
€€ => CHF30-CHF75 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
€€€ => CHF75 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)

Shop
N/A => Not applicable

Tours
€ => Tickets less than CHF10 per person
€€ => Tickets CHF10-CHF25 per person
€€€ => Tickets CHF25 per person

Airfare and Car Rental Prices

Fly the Friendly Skies

Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.

But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.

Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.

That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their ‘friend’ or subscribe to their e-mailings. operators such as Swissair, easyJet, British Airways, Etihad Regional, Lufthansa and many others offer an extensive range of routes connecting Switzerland to the rest of Europe.

Have Car, Will Travel

Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping.

Uber is available in Switzerland, although there have been legal disputes. Through a smart phone app, you can line up rides all over town. It’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.

All the major car rental companies such as Avis, Sixt, Hertz and Europcar operate in Switzerland.

Insurance

Hopefully, your trip to Switzerland goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?

Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.

Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:

Trip Cancellation — About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.

Medical — If you’re coming from outside Europe, consider medical insurance as an essential part of your planning for Switzerland, as healthcare is extremely expensive. If you have a Health Care Plan back home it may cover you for most situations which arise abroad but you need to check this out and in any case additional medical travel insurance will cover you for private health care or other expenses.

Travellers from European Union member states should obtain an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) card which entitles them to healthcare on the same terms as citizens from the country they are visiting. This is a reciprocal agreement which means for example that EEA visitors to the UK will receive free care in NHS hospitals in the same way that UK residents do.  Some countries e.g. France make a charge known as a patient contribution for GP visits or stays in hospital for both their own citizens and visitors from the EEA. Even so, travellers are well advised to have additional medical insurance to cover for example the cost of repatriation, mountain rescue in ski resorts and other emergencies.

Switzerland has an agreement with all European Union countries and ?is part of the European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA).

Trip Interruption — For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to get off the cruise ship or abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.

Travel Delay — Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.

Baggage — Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.

Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travellers.

Do I need travel insurance?

If your trip is expensive it’s essential and even if it isn’t it’s certainly a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. Your English or other European language skills are also crucial because insurance policies often include concierge services with 24-hour hotlines that can connect you quickly with someone who speaks your language.

How do I choose an insurance provider?

Do your homework — check around.

The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregates like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.

Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).

In Europe the largest insurers are Allianz, Axa and Zurich but there are many smaller providers such as insureandgo and Direct Line.

Pre-existing health conditions
— Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition or charge an additional premium related to the condition.  Some companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.

Credit card insurance
— If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.

Exchange Rates and Currency

The currency of Switzerland is the Swiss franc (generally abbreviated to CHF in prices). A Swiss franc is divided into 100 centimes or Rappen (French and German, respectively; cents). The notes come in 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 1000 franc denominations, while coins are 5, 10, 20, 50 (a small coin marked as a half-franc) cents and one, two and five franc denominations.

Many travellers like to have a small amount of local currency when they arrive in a country but this is becoming less and less important as ATMs and Bureaux de Change appear everywhere especially in transport terminals.

Many stores (particularly in the bigger cities, or at major train stations and airports) will accept euros (often giving change in Swiss francs though).

Money, ATMs, Credit Cards

ATMs
If you get money from an ATM machine abroad you will usually incur charges (typically 1.5 or 2% per transaction)

Credit Cards
Credit and debit cards are accepted widely throughout ?Switzerland.

Don’t forget to call your debit and/or credit card company before you travel to inform them of your planned itinerary. If you don’t do this in advance, you risk having your card denied/declined when you try to use it in a destination far from home. You should also call your company immediately to report loss or theft. The numbers to call are usually on the back of the card — which doesn’t make sense if they are lost or stolen. So make a note of them and store them where you’ll have easy access.

Cards with embedded chips that prevent counterfeit fraud are widespread throughout Switzerland. Check with your bank and credit card company for details on your specific cards. If you don’t have a chip in your card, you may have trouble paying at some merchants; although cash is always accepted!

Tipping and Costs That Add Up

The good news for travelers in Switzerland is that you don’t need to get stressed about tipping – you don’t have to do it and when you do it really should reflect good or excellent service rather than be something you are expected to do. On the whole workers in tourism are reasonably well paid and don’t depend upon tips to make up their wages. In some cases over-tipping can be embarrassing for all concerned.

Restaurants
Restaurants include a ‘service’ charge in the price. Rounding up the price to the nearest franc for good service is appreciated. For exceptionally good service, you can add a little more )say, to the nearest five or 10 francs).

Taxis
With taxis, just round up to the next franc for a short journey or, for a long ride, a couple of extra francs or even CHF5. Again 10% is the maximum you should consider unless of course the driver carries your bags into the hotel or airport when a little more will be appreciated.

Hotels
You may wish to give the porter a franc for each bag he carries but, while it will be appreciated, it is not normally expected. Similarly you may wish to leave a small tip for the housekeeping staff, especially if they have been particularly helpful, but this is completely up to you.

Other costs:
Invariably, there are incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between CHF10 and CHF40 or local equivalent per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, insect repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. Local grocery, super/hypermarkets and pharmacies will be cheaper than tourist shops for all of the above.

Transportation

Almost everyone leaves Switzerland marveling at the efficiency and reliability of her transport network. There’s really no part of the country you can’t get to thanks to public transport and in addition to its 27,000km reach, it’s safe, well-managed and clean.

We don’t claim to provide an exhaustive list of services and ticket options. A great tool for figuring out which kind of ticket or pass you require is online at Ticketfinder. Another very useful website is that of Swiss Travel System.

For details of well-known scenic (or ‘panoramic’) trips, click on the links for the Bernina Express, Glacier Express, Golden Round Trip, Goldenpass Line and William Tell Express.

Getting There

If you’re coming form mainland Europe, there are any number of ways you might arrive: by air, train, car, boat or bike, but from outside Europe you’re probably going to arrive by air.

Switzerland is a signatory (since 2008) to the Schengen agreement, which means that people arriving from the EU needn’t show a passport. If you’re from a non-EU country, you’ll need to show your passport or ID card, and a visa (visit here to check if required). https://www.sem.admin.ch/sem/en/home/publiservice/weisungen-kreisschreiben/visa/liste1_staatsangehoerigkeit/a.html

Getting Around

TRAIN
The Swiss railway network (known in German as Schweizerische Bundesbahnen, or just SBB) travel statistics speak for themselves: over 350 million passengers annually, of whom 98% made their connections via roughly 3000km (1864mi) of rail interspersed with 808 stations.

Second-class train travel in Switzerland is so comfortable and commodious as to be considered first-class travel in many other parts of the world; there’s really no need to consider paying extra for first class.

ALPINE TRANSPORT
A great number of Swiss peaks can be reached by public transport, thanks to funiculaires, cable cars, cog railways and the like. Famous mountain regions accessible to all include Jungfraujoch (including beautiful Kleine Scheidegg), Klein Matterhorn, Gornergrat, Klein Titlis, Schilthorn, Pilatus and Rigi, to name just a few. A full list can be found here.

POSTBUS
Where the trains can’t take you, the yellow buses can. Departures are usually timed to meet train arrivals and generally leave from the train station or very close by. Tickets can be purchased on board and travel passes and discount cards are valid.

BOAT
The lakes covered in this app (Lake Geneva, Lake Lucerne, Lake Maggiore, Lake Zürich, Lake Thun and Lake Brienz) are all serviced by ferries, some of which are sights to behold. Travel passes and discount cards (ie, the Swiss Pass and the Half-fare Travel Card etc) are valid on Swiss-operated services but not on Lake Maggiore, whose services are operated by an Italian company.

AIR
It’s unlikely you’ll be taking a plane to get around Switzerland, but if that’s how you’re arriving/departing it’s good to know that Switzerland’s three main airports (Zürich, Geneva and EuroAirport Basel) have excellent transport connections to the cities they serve and thus Swiss destinations further afield.

Transportation Hubs

Airports
The country’s three main airports are Zürich, Geneva and Basel-Mulhouse. Every one of them has excellent transport connections into their respective city centers, or even for destinations further afield (eg, Lausanne from Geneva airport, Bern from Zürich).

Main Train Stations
The country’s busiest train stations are Zürich (indeed, one of the world’s busiest stations), Basel, Geneva, Bern and Lucerne. As a general rule, stations are tidy and efficent. The bigger ones offer a range of helpful services, such a baggage check-in for connecting flights, decent cafe-restaurants, banking services, shops,

Discounts and Passes

DISCOUNTS

PASSES
Transport passes provide extra savings for those under 26 years of age, or traveling in groups and for children (who all travel for free when under 6 years). if you’re traveling as a family, ask for a Swiss Family Card (free) from any train station. It provides children aged between six and 16 years with free travel (all children under six years of age travel free in Switzerland), provided they’re accompanied by a paying parent.

For many visitors on a tight schedule looking to see as much of the country as possible, the Swiss Travel Pass is an excellent choice. It allows unlimited rail, road and boat travel for time frames of three, four, eight and days of consecutive travel. It can only be purchased by non-residents of Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

The pass includes free public transport in 75 different cities and towns within Switzerland, free travel on panoramic routes such as the Bernina Express, plus free entry to almost 500 museums. Travel on mountain-top trains (such as the Jungfraubahn) and cable cars entitle the pass holder to a 50% discount.

Fares for first-/second-class passes start at CHF382/239 (three days).

The Swiss Travel Pass Flex offers a similar, but less comprehensive deal, with three, four, eight or 15 non-consecutive days of travel in one month, with free travel on the first and last activated days and 50% discounts on the days in between, plus 50% discounts on mountain railways and cable cars, plus free entry to hundreds of museums. Prices start at CHF382/239 for first-/second-class travel (three days).

Those spending more than a month in Switzerland and who plan to make good use of the rail network may want to look into the Half-fare Travel Card. It entitles you to half-price travel on all SBB routes and discounts on mountain/private railways, boat travel and postbus travel. You’ll also score a 50% discount on public transport in 75 Swiss towns and cities. Buy the non-Swiss residents’ version of the card (CHF120 for one month) at Swiss train stations.

If you have bought a Swiss Travel Pass Flex, you can buy the Swiss Half Fare Card Combi for CHF 60, which offers the same services as the Swiss Half Fare Card.

If your travels in Switzerland are likely to be contained within one specific area, then a regional pass might be the way to go. Passes (2nd-class, adult) are available for Bernese Oberland (from CHF240), Central Switzerland (from CHF170 in summer for two days to CHF280 for 10 days; less in winter ) and the Lake Geneva-Alps region (from CHF105 for five days). Discounts are available for holders of half fare cards and children. You can buy the passes at Swiss train stations.

Background

Switzerland’s distinct culture comes from its unique blend of mountains, lakes, cities and villages and the undeniable influence of neighboring Germany, France and Italy (with occasional dashes of Austria and Liechtenstein). The Swiss are proud of this mix and of the country’s outsize influence on international affairs (despite their avowed neutrality).

Culture

The linguistic casserole, which sees locals blithely skip from local dialect at breakfast with family members, to High German at work, French for a conference call, then English for drinks with expat friends has had an undeniable effect, ensuring that the Swiss prize tolerance, politeness and consensus. The Swiss aim to get along with their neighbors, their colleagues, their fellow Swiss and their tourists, all while maintaining a certain neutrality in matters of politics

Etiquette

The Swiss pride themselves on being polite, although they are not overly formal. Be sure to offer a greeting when entering an establishment such as a restaurant, cafe or shop, and a ‘merci/danke/grazie’ never goes astray when leaving.

Certain cultural norms tend to follow linguistic lines, with French speakers preferring not to talk explicitly about money, and German speakers often being quite direct and up-front.

Men will generally shake hands when meeting, and women will often kiss three times, although this is not obligatory.

Don’t start drinking wine with your meal until you host has raised their glass to say ‘cheers’. Making eye contact with everyone at the table during this special time is a must.

Despite a love of procedure and paperwork, the Swiss don’t seem to have any hard-and-fast rules about queuing (although first-in, first-served is supposed to be the form) or standing up for other passengers on public transport. Nor do they have a preferred side for standing when riding an escalator.

Religion

Switzerland has no official state religion, although Christianity is the dominant faith among the Swiss. Within this, the main denominations are Roman Catholicism (38%) and Swiss Reformed Church (27%).

There are small numbers of Muslims and Jews, and at least 20% of the population considers themselves nonreligious.

Language

Switzerland has four official languages: German (spoken by 64% of the population), French (23%), Italian (8%) and Romansh (less than 1%).

Within the 17 German-speaking cantons local variations of Swiss German are spoken (it is not a written language). Cities where German is spoken include Zürich, Bern, Lucerne, Basel and Interlaken.

Western Switzerland is French speaking and is known as ‘la Romandie’ or ‘la Suisse romande’. Its cities include Geneva, Lausanne, Neuchâtel and towns such as Montreux.

Italian is spoken in Ticino and Romansh is the language of Graubünden, although almost everyone in these cantons speaks at least one other official Swiss language (and often English).

In cities and areas dependent on tourism, such as ski resorts, English is widely spoken, especially in hotels, restaurants and shops.

Recommended Reading

The Gilded Chalet: Off-piste in Literary Switzerland, by Padraig Rooney

Slow Train to Switzerland, by Diccon Bewes

Swiss Politics for Complete Beginners, by Pierre Corman

Movies

The Swiss film industry is a small one, although a number of worthy features have found modest audiences outside its borders. Many Swiss actors, directors and crew find work in other countries’ film industries, simply because of the lack of regular work in Switzerland. Films from neighbouring Germany, France and Italy generally prove popular with their Swiss linguistic counterparts, and English-language films are often released in both their original language (with subtitles in local languages) and dubbed (for more commercial fare).

Swiss documentaries enjoy a strong local audience and are produced in far greater numbers than feature films. They are often screened on local TV and at film festivals.

Three of the Best Swiss Films
Die Schweizermacher (The Swissmakers), Rolf Lyssy (dir), 1978. Easily the country’s most popular film, this is a comic look at the hoop-jumping demanded of people seeking Swiss nationality.
Home, Ursula Meier (dir) 2008. A dysfunctional family calls an unfinished motorway home. Starring Isabelle Huppert.
Dora oder Die sexuellen Neurosen unserer Eltern (Dora or The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents), Stina Werenfels (dir), 2015. A young developmentally delayed woman explores life and love, all the while her mother’s boundaries and ideas.

Five Swiss Names
Jean-Luc Goddard: The French-Swiss godfather of La Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) and director of Breathless (1960) calls Switzerland home.
HR Giger: The Chur-born partly artist responsible for the distinctive visual effects of the monster hit film Alien (1978).
Bruno Ganz: Zürich-born actor deservedly made world famous for his powerhouse performance as Hitler in the 2004 film Der Untergang (Downfall).
Ursula Meier: A French-Swiss film director and writer, her best films are Home (2008) and Sister (2012).
Kacey Mottet Klein: Young Lausanne-born actor making an impact in French-language films such as Keeper (2015), and Ursula Meier’s Sister (2012) and Home (2008).

Music

Many people will leap straight into a yodelling attempt when asked to name something, anything, that they think of when it comes to Swiss music.

Think of it as the original Alpine telephone: yodelling was used by mountain residents to communicate with each other from alp to alp and to let the cows know that it was time to come home. It works through changes in pitch and emplys sounds rather than words.

Another local offering includes the beautiful alphorn,

Mani Matter
Sophie Hunger
Alphorn & yodel
The Young Gods
Yello
influence of festivals
DJs

Soundtrack for a Road Trip

We’ve listed a few ideas for your Swiss road trip, from the bleeding obvious (see No 1!) to some relatively obscure (if you’re not Swiss) acts.

1. Oh Yeah, by Yello
2. Supermoon, by Sophie Hunger
3. L’Eau Rouge, by The Young Gods
4. Lost in Colors, by Ripperton
5. Déjeuner en Paix, by Stephan Eicher
6. Eisbär, by Grauzone

Websites and Maps

Websites

The following are all useful and in English.

www.myswitzerland.com (The official website of Switzerland Tourism)

www.sbb.ch (Swiss Federal Railways website)

www.swissinfo.ch (News, current affairs, Swiss culture)

www.wanderland.ch (Excellent online resource for hikers, with an interactive map)

MAPS

Swisstopo, from the Federal Office of Topgraphy, has excellent maps (detailed, accurate) to 1:25000; 1:33333 and 1:50000 scale.

Kümmerley Frey publishes great maps on a range of themes (road, regional, hiking, biking).

Other

Five Key Facts

1. You may know it as Switzerland, but its official Latin name is the Confoederatio Helvetica (Helvetic Confederation), hence the CH at the end of web addresses.
2. Yes, Switzerland lies in the heart of Europe, but it’s not part of the EU’s single currency, hence the Swiss Franc.
3. Even though German is the official language of 60% of the country, most people will speak a local version (Swiss-German, an oral language) of that language. When someone from Zürich speaks with someone from Basel version, they will either communicate in Hochdeutsch (High German) or, increasingly nowadays, English.
4. The average Swiss consumes 120 3-ounce bars of chocolate per year; the world’s highest rate per capita.
5. Don’t assume the way things are in one canton (county) will be how it is in another: each canton has powerful rights within the federal system.