Officially the Swiss Confederation, Switzerland is made up of 26 cantons. It is beautiful, rich, clean and well-ordered, known for its banking, watch making and chocolate. One of the most famously neutral countries in the world, Switzerland has not been involved in a war since 1815. It also has a tradition of humanitarianism. Not only is it the birthplace of the Geneva Convention and the Red Cross, but several international bodies have offices here.
Landlocked by Germany, Austria and Liechtenstein, Italy and France, there are four national languages (German, French, Italian and Romansch). English is a fifth, unofficial, language.
Approximately two-thirds of Switzerland (centre and east) is in the German-speaking area. French is spoken in the west (in Lausanne and Geneva). Italian and Romansch are spoken in the south. Switzerland is no mere patchwork however. While its German, French and Italian heritages inform its culture and cuisine, the country is united in its desire to remain one country. Its motto is after all “One for all, all for one”.
The world-class ski resorts and its business cities mean that there is plenty of competition among airlines to offer cheap flights to Switzerland.
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In the summer months, average temperatures are in the 18-28 degree range. January and February see plummeting temperatures – 7 to -2. Spring and autumn are mild – 8 to 15 degrees. Naturally, the higher you go, the colder it gets.
Switzerland is, depending on your activity, a year-round destination. Spring, summer and autumn are all good times to search for Switzerland flights. In June and July, the alpine wild flowers are in bloom. Skiers will enjoy the winter months. The downhill ski season runs from mid-December to late March. At higher altitudes, it can last in April. At Zermatt (the resort that sits in the shadow of the mighty Matterhorn) and Saas Fee for example, there is year-round skiing on the glaciers.
For celebrations, particularly Swiss National Day, be there for 1 August. This is when people gather around bonfires to listen to speeches about the independence of Switzerland. Not such a dry affair, there are also fireworks, parades, music (especially accordions) and at Neuhausen am Rheinfall in Schaffhouse, the Rhine waterfalls are illuminated.
November to mid-December is the low tourist season.
Public transport is excellent. Comprehensive and punctual, reasonably priced and clean, getting around by public transport is a tourist’s dream. Swiss Federal Railways operates rail services throughout Switzerland. Two of the largest Alpine lines are BLS, which runs the Bern–Lötschberg–Simplon route between the Swiss capital and Italy; and RhB, the Rhatische Bahn, which operates services within Canton Graubünden. Buses complement the train services and stations are generally found in the forecourts of train stations. Many cities also have trams.
There are ferry services operating on Switzerland’s largest lakes including Luzern’s Vierwaldstattersee, Lago di Lugano, Maggiore and Como. Ferry services are generally seasonal, between April and October.
The post bus is a novel way of getting to the remotest parts of Switzerland. The service has been operating for 100 years. One of the most scenic mountain/valley journeys runs from Meiringen over four alpine passes – Grimsel Pass (2,163m / 7,100 feet), Nufenen Pass (2,478m / 8,130 feet), Gotthard Pass (2,092m / 6,800 feet) and Susten Pass (2,148m / 7,047 feet). There are 25 bridges and 23 tunnels along this route.
There are many ways of getting to the top of the mountains. These include funicular, cable-car, gondola, T-bar skilift or draglift.
SWISS, the flag carrier, offers domestic Switzerland flights between Basel, Bern, Geneva, Lugano and Zurich.
(prices quoted are from London)