Holiday in Switzerland
Switzerland is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It has borders with France to the west, Italy to the south, Austria and Liechtenstein to the east and Germany to the north.
The climate is temperate, but varies with altitude. Switzerland has cold, cloudy, rainy/snowy winters and cool to warm, cloudy, humid summers with occasional showers.
Switzerland is known for its mountains (Alps in south, Jura in northwest) but it also has a central plateau of rolling hills, plains, and large lakes. The highest point is Dufourspitze at 4,634 m while Lake Maggiore is only 195 m above sea level.
Switzerland showcases three of Europe's most distinct cultures. To the northeast is the beer-drinking, sausage-eating German-speaking Switzerland; to the south-west the wine drinking and shopping spills effortlessly into France; in the south-east the sun warms cappuccino-sippers loitering in Italian-style plazas; and in the center: classic Swiss flugelhorns and mountain landscapes. Binding it all together is a distinct Swiss mentality.
Switzerland can be a glorious whirlwind trip whether you've packed your hiking boots, snowboard, or just a good book and a pair of sunglasses.
Zurich - Switzerland's biggest city and a major center of banking also has a thriving nightlife.
Geneva - This center of arts and culture, the second-largest city in Switzerland, is by far the international capital-- home to around 200 governmental and non-governmental organisations. Geneva was the home of John Calvin during the Reformation, elevating the city to the rank of "Protestant Rome," the effects of which drive Geneva today.
Berne - The Swiss capital features an amazingly well preserved old-town with arcades along almost every street. Great restaurants abound, as do bars and clubs.
Basel - Slightly smaller than Geneva, Switzerland's third city is the traveller's gateway to the German Rhineland and Alsace.
Lausanne - While Geneva is busy being the international capital, Lausanne fills the role in most of the rest of French-speaking Switzerland. Scenery, dining, dancing, boating and the Swiss wine-country are the draws.
Lugano - Italian-speaking Switzerland's top destination, with a gorgeous old-town and a pretty lake. The food is simply amazing.
Lucerne - Central Switzerland's main city with direct water links to all of the early Swiss historic sights. It's pretty too, and though it is heavily touristed the views and museums make putting up with the crowds well worthwhile.
Locarno - On the shore of southern Switzerland's largest lake.
Solothurn - Solothurn, situated on the river Aare and on the foot of the Jura mountain range is referred to as 'Switzerland's Finest Baroque town'.
Interlaken - The outdoor and action sports capital of Switzerland. Anything from skydiving, bungee jumping, hiking, white-water rafting, to canyoning.
Zermatt - There are a lot of mountain resorts in Switzerland, but only one of them has the Matterhorn.
Davos - The highest city in Europe and financial capital of the world in January. The largest ski resort of Switzerland.
St. Moritz - World's oldest winter resort.
Grindelwald - The classic resort at the foot of the Eiger.
Gstaad - For famous people only.
Crans Montana - On a sunny terrace facing the giants of Valais Alps.
Verbier - The big ski resort of the four valleys.
Common tourist destinations within Switzerland are easily reachable by car, e.g. Geneva from central eastern France, and Zurich from southern Germany. Although Switzerland is now part of the Schengen agreement, it is not part of the EU customs/tariff union. Therefore EU/Swiss border posts will focus on smuggling etc. and checks on main roads will remain in place even after 2008. Delays are usually short but cars may be stopped and no reason needs to be named. Some delay may be caused by queuing at busy times and there are often queues lasting hours to use the tunnels under the Alps from Italy such as Mont Blanc, Gotthard etc. Swiss motorway vignettes can and should be purchased at the border if your car does not already have a valid one for the year and you intend to use the Swiss motorways which is almost unavoidable.
The Swiss will spoil you with fantastic transportation - swift, disturbingly punctual trains, clean buses, and a half dozen different kinds of mountain transport systems, integrated into a coherent system. The discount options and variety of tickets can be bewildering, from half fare cards to multi-day, multi-use tickets good for buses, boats, trains, and even bike rentals. In general there's at least one train or bus per hour on every route, on many routes trains and buses are running every 30 min, but as with everything in Switzerland the transit runs less often, or at least for a shorter period of the day, on Sundays. Authoritative information, routes, and schedules can be found at , or from a ticket window in any train station.
Switzerland is not part of the European Union and the currency is the Swiss franc (or Franken or franco, depending in which language area you are), divided into 100 centimes, Rappen or centesimi. However, many places - such as supermarkets, restaurants, sightseeings' box offices, hotels and the railways or ticket machines - accept Euro and will give you change in Swiss Francs or in Euro if they have it in cash. A check or a price-label contain prices both in francs and in Euro. Usually in such cases the exchange-rate comply with official exchange-rate, but if it differs you will be notified in advance. Changing some money to Swiss Francs (CHF) is essential. Money can be exchanged at all train stations and most banks throughout the country.
Switzerland is more cash-oriented than most other European countries. It is not unusual to see bills being paid by cash, even Fr 200 and Fr 1000 notes. Some establishments (but fewer than previously) do not accept credit cards, check first. When doing credit card payments, carefully review the information printed on the receipt (details on this can be found in the "Stay Safe" section below). All ATMs accept foreign cards, getting cash should not be a problem.
Coins are issued in 5 centime (brass, rare), 10 centime, 20 centime, ½ Franc, 1 Franc, 2 Franc, and 5 Franc (all silver colored) denominations. One centime coins are no longer legal tender, but may be exchanged until 2027 for face value. Two centime coins have not been legal tender since the 1970's and are, consequently, worthless.
Banknotes are found in denominations of 10 (yellow), 20 (red), 50 (green), 100 (blue), 200 (brown), and 1000 (purple) Francs. They are all the same width and contain a variety of security features.
"Swiss-made": Souvenirs and Luxury Goods
Switzerland is famous for a few key goods: watches, chocolate, cheese, and Swiss Army knives.
Watches - Switzerland is the watch-making capital of the world, and "Swiss Made" on a watch face has long been a mark of quality. While the French-speaking regions of Switzerland are usually associated with Swiss watchmakers (like Rolex, Omega, and Patek Philippe), some fine watches are made in the Swiss-German-speaking region, such as IWC in Schaffhausen. Every large town will have quite a few horologers and jewelers with a vast selection of fancy watches displayed their windows, ranging from the fashionable Swatch for 60CHF to the handmade chronometer with the huge price tag. For fun, try to spot the most expensive of these mechanical creations and the ones with the most "bedazzle!!".
Chocolate - Switzerland may always have a rivalry with Belgium for the world's best chocolate, but there's no doubting that the Swiss variety is amazingly good. Switzerland is also home to the huge Nestlé food company. If you have a fine palate (and a fat wallet) - you can find two of the finest Swiss chocolatiers in Zurich: Teuscher (try the champagne truffles) and Sprüngli. For the rest of us, even the generic grocery store brand chocolates in Switzerland still blow away the Hershey bars found elsewhere. For a good value, try the "Frey" brand chocolates sold at Migros. If you want to try some real good and exclusive swiss chocolate, go for the Pamaco chocolates, derived from the noble Criollo beans and accomplished through the original, complex process of refinement that requires 72h (quite expensive though, a bar of 125g costs about CHF 8.-). For Lindt fans, it is possible to get them as low as half the supermarket price by going to the Lindt factory store in Kilchberg (near Zurich).
Cheese - many different regions of Switzerland have their own regional cheese speciality. Of these, the most well-known are Gruyère and Emmentaler (what Americans know as "Swiss cheese"). Be sure to sample the wide variety of cheeses sold in markets, and of course try the cheese fondue! Fondue is basically melted cheese and is used as a dip with other food such as bread. The original mixture consists of half Vacherin cheese and half Gruyère but many different combinations have been developed since.
Swiss Army knives - Switzerland is the official home of the Swiss Army Knife. There are two brands Victorinox and Wenger. Both brands are manufactured by Victorinox. The Wenger business went bankrupt and Victorinox purchased it (2005). Victorinox knives, knife collectors will agree, are far far superior, in terms of design, quality, functionality. The most popular Victorinox knife is the Swiss Champ which has 33 functions and currently costs (Jan 2008) CHF78 . Most Tourists will purchase this knife. The "biggest" Victorinox knife is the Swiss Champ 1.6795.XAVT- This has 80 functions and is supplied in a case. This knife costs CHF364. The 1.6795.XAVT may in years to come be a collector's model. Most shops throughout Switzerland stock Victorinox knifes, even some newsagents stock them. They are excellent gifts and souvenirs. The original "Swiss Army Knife" is not red with a white cross (as usually seen by tourists), but gray with a small Swiss flag. The Swiss Army Knife is also produced by Victorinox. Its main particularity is to have the production year engraved on the basis of the biggest blade (and no cork-screw because the Swiss soldier must not drink wine on duty). N.B. Swiss Army Knives must be packed in hold luggage.
Ski and tourist areas will sell the other kinds of touristy items - cowbells, clothing embroidered with white Edelweiss flowers, and Heidi-related stuff. Swiss people love cows in all shapes and sizes, and you can find cow-related goods everywhere, from stuffed toy cows to fake cow-hide jackets. If you have a generous souvenir budget, look for fine traditional handcrafted items such as hand-carved wooden figures in Brienz, and lace and fine linens in St. Gallen. If you have really deep pockets, or just wish you did, be sure to shop on Zurich's famed Bahnhofstrasse, one of the most exclusive shopping streets in the world. If you're looking for hip shops and thrift stores, head for the Niederdorf or the Stauffacher area.
The seven wonders
The Castle of Chillon: near Montreux
The Lavaux vineyards: on the shore of Lake Geneva
The Castles of Bellinzona: in the southern canton of Ticino
The Abbey of St. Gallen
The Top of Europe and the Sphinx observatory: a "village" with a post office on the 3,500 metres high Jungfraujoch above Wengen
The Grande Dixence: a 285 metres high dam, south of Sion
The Landwasser viaduct: on the railway between Chur and St. Moritz
The seven natural wonders
The Matterhorn: from Schwarzsee, Gornergrat or simply from the village of Zermatt
The northern walls of the Jungfrau and Eiger: two of the most celebrated mountains in the Alps, they can be seen from the valley of Lauterbrunnen or from one of the many summits that can be reached by train or cable car
The Aletsch Glacier: the longest in Europe, the Aletsch wild Forest is located above the glacier, best seen from above Bettmeralp
The lakes of the Upper Engadine: one of the highest inhabited valley in the Alps at the foot of Piz Bernina, they can be all seen from Muottas Muragl
The Lake Lucerne: from the Pilatus above Lucerne
The Oeschinensee: a mountain lake with no rivals above Kandersteg
The Rhine Falls: the largest in Europe, take a boat to the rock in the middle of the falls
The European Football Championships in 2008 was held in Austria and Switzerland. Basel, Berne, Geneva and Zurich were all hosting sites.
To use the motorways (known as Autobahnen, Autoroutes, or Autostrade, depending on where you are), vehicles under 3500 kg weight need to buy a "Vignette", a sticker which costs 40 CHF that allows you to use the motorways as much as you like for the entire year (more precisely, from 1 December of the preceding year to 31 January of the following, so a 2009 vignette is valid from 1 December 2008 until 31 January 2010). Trailers must have a separate vignette. Avoiding the motorways in order to save the toll price is generally futile; the amount is well worth it, even if you are only transiting. Failure to possess a valid vignette is punishable by a 100 CHF fine and a requirement to purchase a vignette immediately (total fine of 140 CHF).
Sharing vignettes is, of course, illegal and subject to the same fines as not having one.
Vehicles larger than 3500 kg have to pay a special toll assessed through special on-board units that is applied for all roads, not just the motorways.
Speed limits: 120 km/h on motorways, 80 km/h on normal roads and inside tunnels and 50 km/h inside villages. Vehicles unable to travel at 80 km/h are not permitted on the motorways. Whilst driving "a wee bit too fast" is common on motorways, people tend to stick pretty closely to the other two limits. Fines are hefty and traffic rules are strictly enforced.
Also, starting from 2007, Switzerland banned all GPS appliances with built-in speed cameras databases as they are equipped with "Radar Detectors".
According to some GPS navigator producers, it is advised to remove the Swiss radar database while driving in the country as the police may give you a fine and impound your device even if is turned off and placed in the trunk of your vehicle!
The blood alcohol concentration limit is 0.05%. As in every country, do not drink and drive, as you will lose your license for several months if you are cited and a heavy fine may be imposed.
If you like cars, Switzerland can seem like a bit of a tease. They feature some of the greatest driving roads in the world, but can literally throw you in jail for speeding, even on highways. If you stick to the limits, the back roads/mountain roads will still be a blast to drive on, while still maintaining you are not excessively fined/arrested.
Be aware that the 'priority to right' rule exists in most major cities, as well as towns and village centres. Dipped headlights are strongly recommended at all times.
Driving is the best way to see a wonderful country with outstanding roads. Six tips for mountain roads:
Honk if you're on a small road and you don't see around the bend.
The Postal Bus (bright yellow) always has priority. You can hear it approaching by means of its distinct three tone horn
The car driving uphill has priority over the car driving downhill.
Don't even think about driving as fast as the locals: they know every bend, you don't.
In general, drive at a speed which allows you to stop within the distance you can see, in order to be safe; and drive so that you would be happy to meet yourself coming the other way!
During Winter, although all vehicles are equipped with Winter tires, it is advised that you apply chains to the wheels of your car if driving in an area of heavy snowfall.
Veloland Schweiz has built up an extensive network of long distance cycle trails all across the country. There are many Swiss cities where you can rent bicycles if that is your means of traveling and you can even rent electric bicycles. During the summer it is quite common for cities to offer bicycle 'rental' for free! Cycling in cities is pretty safe, at least compared to other countries, and very common. As with the car you need to buy a vignette sticker for your bike too, these are a liability insurance in case of accidents. A common place to buy the stickers is the post office.
Vacation Rentals Switzerland