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Picture perfect from every Alpine turn and medieval tower, Switzerland’s spectacular scenery is a feast for the eyes.

The natural world takes centre stage here all the year round. In winter the drama of the Swiss Alps comes into its own with soaring mountain peaks, deep blue glaciers and a perfect blanket of twinkling snow.

Skiers play on the pistes of Grindelwald, Davos and St Moritz, while day-trippers take in the vistas from a cabin of the Glacier Express train.

When summer takes its turn the snows melt to reveal a landscape of gently rolling pastures and wild flower meadows, just the place for grazing those much-appreciated providers of Swiss chocolate and cheese.

 

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Culture and history

Orson Welles caustically observed, “In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, 500 years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

Quite apart from diminishing the not inconsiderable achievements of such luminaries as Paracelsus, Rousseau, Jung, Le Corbusier and Nestlé, and the fact that the cuckoo clock actually originates in Bavaria, few of us are in a position to downplay the achievements of a country which can maintain a year-round train service – even to Europe’s highest station close to the summit of Jungfrau – whatever the weather conditions. Old traditions are respectfully preserved, from cheese and lace making to woodcarving and accordion playing, and outdoor activities pursued with an almost fanatical zeal – this is the birthplace of winter sports after all.

The Celtic Helvetian tribe were the first known people to inhabit the area now known as Switzerland, but by the first century BC they were ousted by the Roman Empire. When the empire fell in 400 AD Germanic tribes began to populate the region. Switzerland’s official history begins at the end of the 13th century when three groups in the region signed an agreement to join together in refusing any external law. Over the next two centuries, following a series of military successes, the Swiss confederation grew to encompass several more cantons, including Lucerne, Zurich, Bern and Basel. However, after suffering a defeat against a combined French and Venetian force in 1515 they fell back and declared their neutrality. Switzerland was officially accepted as an independent nation in 1648 with the European peace treaty.

Things to do

Breathe deep, savour that fresh Alpine air and prepare yourself for a feast of fondue – Saga’s holidays to Switzerland offer plenty of opportunity for both. Hop aboard the Glacier Express, winding its way over viaducts and bridges to Zermatt at the foot of the mighty Matterhorn Mountain. Explore UNESCO-protected Bern, join a cruise from Basel to travel up the Rhine River into Germany or perhaps dip a toe into Lake Geneva – wherever your tour takes you, Switzerland offers a sight for sore eyes and a breath of fresh air (quite literally).

The Swiss Alps

The scenery in the Swiss Alps is nothing short of magnificent – from the glinting lakes at Interlaken to the mighty Eiger in Grindelwald, the sights will take your breath away. Sip a hot chocolate in the storybook town of Lucerne, quaff champagne with the glitterati in Verbier or hole up in a remote mountain chalet and let the world go on without you.

Zurich

Zurich has become one cool customer in recent times and it is also Switzerland’s financial centre. Situated in the north of the country, not far from the German border, it’s a lively place to visit with a thriving cultural scene, a handsome Old Town and of course, this being Switzerland, its own lake.

Geneva

Geneva sits on the shores of Lake Geneva not far from the French border. It is a sophisticated and cosmopolitan spot where you’ll spot diplomatic representatives from every corner of the world – this is of course the home of the United Nations. Take a lakeside stroll from the grand Palace of Nations to the Jet d’Eau fountain before a spot of window-shopping (or otherwise) in the upmarket chocolate shops of the old town.

Flight time

It takes just one and a half hours to fly between London and Zurich.

Currency

Franc -

The currency is the Swiss franc, divided into 100 rappen (known as centimes in French-speaking areas).

Phrases

Grüezi – hello

Uf widerluege – goodbye

Nei – No

Jo – Yes

Bitte – please

Danke – thank you

Es duet mr leid – Sorry

Ich verstand nit – I don’t understand

Broscht - Cheers

Timezone

Switzerland is one hour ahead of GMT (two hours ahead during British Summer Time).

Electricity

All sockets take small round two-pin plugs so an adaptor is required for most British electrical appliances. Mains voltage is 220 volts (50 cycles).

Language

French,German,Italian -

Swiss nationals bring a new meaning to the word multi-lingual, confidently maintaining four official languages: French, German, Italian and Romansh.

Needless to say, most residents can also speak fluent English when required.

Tipping

Most Swiss restaurants automatically add a service charge to your bill removing any expectation of a tip. If service is especially good you may want to leave a small sum to show your appreciation.

Climate

Famous for the quality of its cool clean air, Switzerland experiences a wide variety of weather conditions.

In the high Alpine peaks you’ll find year round snow and ice, but low lying places in the south enjoy an almost Mediterranean climate and have mild winters and hot summers.

The weather can be very changeable during the spring and autumn months and it’s always good to carry a waterproof jacket with you and something warmer if you plan on visiting higher altitudes.

Health

It is advisable to carry the name, address and telephone number of your local GP, as if you become unwell your insurance company may require this information. Health facilities, hygiene and disease risks vary worldwide.

As health information can change at any time, we’d advise you to consult your GP at least 12 weeks before departure.

Country-specific information and advice on possible health risks is also published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre and The British Foreign and Commonwealth Travel Advice Unit provides important health and safety information for British nationals travelling abroad.

Population and size

The population of Switzerland stands at just under 8 million – which, to put it in perspective, is just a little less than the number of people who live in London.

This landlocked, famously neutral country shares borders with Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Italy and France. The United Kingdom is nearly six times the size of Switzerland, which measures 41,284 square kilometres.

Smoking

Smoking is banned in most public buildings.



Climate