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Overview

Switzerland - Overview


Capital: Bern (also commonly spelled Berne)
Population: 7,866,500
Languages: The official administrative languages are German, French, Italian, and Romansh (Rumantsch), as ordered by usage. Each is the predominant language for business, administration and social purposes in different areas of the country, with German the most widely represented.
Currency: Swiss Franc (CHF)
Time Zone: UTC/GMT +1 hour

Switzerland is located in the mountainous central part of continental Europe and is considered to form part of Western Europe. It is bordered on all sides by other European countries, respectively Germany to the north, Austria and the Principality of Liechtenstein to the east, Italy to the south, and France to the west.

The four official languages of Switzerland sub-divide the country both administratively and in terms of socio-cultural identity, with the German and French zones being dominant. Administratively, Switzerland is formally divided into 26 cantons. Although most cantons are associated with one of the official languages, the population within a few of the cantons is split between two languages. The cantons also vary significantly in size and population, from the large but sparsely populated rural cantons to the small, densely populated cantons that incorporate Switzerland's cities. The largest of these cities is Zurich (G: Zürich, F: Zurich, I: Zurigo), which also represents one of world's key financial markets. Other major Swiss cities are Bern (F: Berne, I: Berna), Basel (F: Basle, I: Basilea), Geneva (F: Genève, G: Genf, I: Ginevra), and Lausanne (I: Losanna).

Switzerland has long been considered to be a country of great scenic beauty and has a thriving tourism industry. It is located in the Alpine region of Europe, and within its borders can be found the highest density of Alpine peaks over 4,000 metres, creating a dramatic landscape of snow-capped mountains, glaciers, and fertile valleys. The Alps stretch from the French border in the west to the Austrian border in the east, covering the central and lower half of Switzerland and extending over the Swiss-Italian border. The Alps are an important part of Switzerland's cultural identity and have had an influence on all aspects of its development, from politics to cuisine. The highest mountain in the Swiss Alps (and second highest Alp) is Monte Rosa which reaches 4,634 metres (15,203 feet) at its summit, the Dufourspitze. It is located on the Swiss border with Italy, close to Zermatt, in the Valais canton. Mont Blanc, which at 4810 metres (15,781 feet) is the highest mountain in the entire Alpine range, lies just across the border in the far south west, bridging France and Italy.

The Jura mountain range stretches from France across the north west part of Switzerland to the German border. The Jura range is geologically distinct from the Alps and presents a landscape of hills, forests and gorges that contrasts with the soaring, jagged peaks of the Alpine ranges. Between the two mountain ranges lies a flatter area of hills and plains known as the Swiss Plateau that extends diagonally from the south west to the north east borders, and it is here that the largest part of the Swiss population is located. Land use in the Swiss Plateau is split between residential, industrial and agricultural.

At either end of the Swiss Plateau can be found the major lakes that form part of the Swiss borders. In the north east is Lake Constance (Bodensee), which covers 207 square miles (536 square kilometres) and in the south west Lake Geneva (Lac Léman), covering 224 square miles (580 square kilometres). A number of other impressive lakes can be found within Switzerland, including Lake Neuchâtel (Lac de Neuchâtel) extending through Neuchâtel canton, the twin lakes of Thun (Thunersee) and Brienz (Brienzersee) in the mountainous Bernese Oberland, Lake Lucerne (Vierwaldstättersee) in the Lucerne (Luzern) region, and Lake Zurich (Zürichsee and Obersee) extending south east from Zurich. The city of Locarno is located on the northern shores of Lake Maggiore (Lago Maggiore) which stretches across the southern border of Switzerland into Italy.

Although one of Europe's smaller countries, the lakes, mountain ranges and flatter agricultural lands of Switzerland make this a land of diverse geography. A train or car journey of only a couple of hours reveals a changing landscape that can also feel very different in terms of climate and culture. The contrasts between the business-orientated urban areas of the north, the breathtaking scenery and chic ski resorts of the alpine regions, and the sunny, Mediterranean atmosphere of the Ticino canton reflect the influences of Switzerland's neighbours and make this a unique and fascinating country.


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