Switzerland

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Home Page > Travelogues > Switzerland (a.k.a. Suisse, Schweiz, Svizra)

Quick Access for this Page -- [ Introduction ] [ Travelogues By Region ] [ Links ]

Click on the colored areas of the map to access a travelogue.  The colors indicate different regions of Switzerland -- scroll down for explanation and introduction for each location. (Original map comes from the CIA World Factbook)

IntroductionWhat you probably know about Switzerland -- Swiss bank accounts, the role of Switzerland in major international institutions (the United Nations, the International Olympic Committee, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent), Swiss fondue, Swiss knives, the Swiss Alps (and those low-sounding Alp-horns), Swiss chocolate, Swiss watches, and Swiss neutrality.

How much you probably don't know about Switzerland will surprise you.  Switzerland is truly an international country with four very distinct regions speaking four different languages, each carved out from the shreds of the Thirty Years War of the 17th Century and maintained ever since.  The west is Francophone, including the prominent cities of Geneva Map of Switzerland(Genève) and Lausanne on Lake Geneva, but also including resort towns like Montreaux and Neuchâtel.  The south is Italian, almost indistinct in culture and flavor from Italy herself.  The north and center are Germanic, and include the capital of Bern (Bären), Lucerne (Luzern), and Zurich.  Finally, the east near Austria and Liechtenstein is the province of Graubünden whose citizens speak Romantsch, a Germanic language with a lot of Italian and Latin influence.  Each language is represented on their (incredibly gaudy) money, and each sector has its street signs in different languages.

Switzerland is dominated by small towns, many sitting on gorgeous Alpine lakes amidst beautiful mountainous backdrops.  The townfolk are very friendly and the atmosphere inviting.  Many of these towns have retained their oldest structures (city walls and towers), helped by the fact that Switzerland has not been attacked in a good long time.

Switzerland's reputation as a very regulated society dates back to the post-Thirty Years War period when Calvinism, a strongly pious form of Protestantianism, became the dominant religion of the country.  The Swiss enacted prohibitions on alcohol consumption, other vices, working on Sundays, etc.  The effects of these laws are still felt -- visitors will find Switzerland to be mostly locked up on Sundays, and the prices of beer and wine will seem extremely high.  The Swiss are more formal and sophisticated people than most I've seen, and are prone to dress up more formally whenever they go out.

Finally, the decor in Swiss cities is very colorful and ornate.  The facades of the buildings in Lucerne and Schaffhausen are bright and elaborate.  The fountains of Bern are sometimes comical with their loud, grotesque figurines.  And the architecture in very rich Zurich is erudite and imposing.  It's simply a beautiful place to visit.  But be warned, nothing in Switzerland is a bargain!

Travelogues by Region.  The coloring of the locations on the map above indicate different regions in Switzerland, as shown below.  

GREEN:  The Rhein River west of Bodensee.   The Rhein River may be considered Germany's river, but it begins in Switzerland, specifically in the Graubünden region where six small rivers converge to form a large stream.  It is after the Bodensee (Lake Constance) bordering Germany View of the Rheinfallthat the Rhein takes on its power.  Four travelogues cover this border region.  The first is Schaffhausen, a beautiful riverside town with a white castle.  Nearby is the Rheinfall (pictured), an attraction unto itself with the beautiful Schloss Laufen overlooking Europe's most massive waterfall.  Further downstream are Rheinfelden, a lovely German-style town with an old stone bridge crossing the border, and the big industrial city of Basel that straddles the borders of Switzerland, Germany, and France! RED:  The Province of Graubünden.  This province has the odd property of being shaped almost exactly like Switzerland itself.  With its unique laAlpine mountain views of Arosanguage, very friendly people, and less overt affluence, it is almost a country within a country.  I have made one visit to this part of Switzerland, that to its capital of Chur and the ski resort town of Arosa (pictured).  Chur is a very old (Roman-era) city propped up at the mouth of the Plessur Valley where it joins the young Rhein (where in summer it is small enough to wade through).  Meanwhile, Arosa is perched high in the mountains and gave me some of the best snow shots around!

PURPLE:  Germanic Central Switzerland.  Old-style castles, city walls and towers, churches, and medieval traditions abound in this part of SwitLucernezerland.  Lucerne's (pictured) city wall is almost completely intact, running across the high land over town with seven tall stone towers.  Zug's construction is virtually concentric with new districts being built around the old ones (and the downtown being among the most pristine you'll see.)  And then there's affluent Zurich, with its famous Grossmuenster and Fraumuenster lording over the mouth of the Zurichsee.

ORANGE:  Bern and the Aare Valley.  The Swiss capital of Bern (pictured) is nestled in a wide bend in the Aare River, and has among one of tbern_02.jpg (28144 bytes)he largest medieval-style downtowns around.  Massive clock towers and dozens of huge fountains topped with brightly painted (and sometimes grotesque) figurines give the city its color, and its flavor is derived from its wide range of sophisticated international cuisines.  Upriver a short ways is the wonderful and popular small town of Thun with its fairy tale-style Thun Castle and wonderful lakeside.
BLUE:  GENEVA.  Switzerland's best-known city, Geneva is famous for its premier role on thgeneva_05.jpg (32997 bytes)e international stage.  The United Nations has several of its institutions based there, and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum is one of my favorite tourist attractions.  The rest of the city is really impressive, with beautiful churches, massive fountains, grand shopping districts, and the lovely Lake Geneva.  Just a short bus ride away is the Saleve gondola in the small town of Veyrier where one can get a great mountaintop view of the city and lake.  

LinksThe below links connect you to external sites in a new window.  All links are official sites sanctioned by the national, state, or local governments unless otherwise indicated.  These links will open to the local language home page (either French, German, Italian, or Romantsch), which will offer an icon or link to an English-language section (normally limited content).  If an English language link is not available, click on the "Tourismus" or "Turismo" section.  This is for the tourism page, which should have English content available.  Links updated 29 December 2005.

Country Links:

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Switzerland's National Tourism Website

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US Embassy to Switzerland

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US Consular Information Sheet on Switzerland

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Swiss Embassy to US 

 

City and Town Links:

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Arosa Home Page 

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Basel Home Page (See Note 1 below)

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Bern Home Page 

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Chur Tourism Page 

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Geneva Home Page

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Lucerne Home Page 

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Rheinfelden Tourism Page

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Rheinfall Home Page

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Schaffhausen Tourism Page 

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Thun Home Page

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Veyrier Home Page (in French)

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Zug Home Page

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Zurich Tourism Page

Note 1.  The Basel home page is available in German, English, and French.  The links to access these other pages are given in a text icon at the upper right of each page that looks like this:  D | E | F.  Click on the "E" letter for the English pages (D for German, F for French).

 

   
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