Switzerland is a compact European country and one of the richest countries in the world, neighboring Germany, Italy, France, Austria and Liechtenstein. You can judge the level of success and popularity of this picturesque place by the range of tourist options alone. Skiing and thermal spas, medieval abbeys and meditative panoramas of the Alps, organic gastronomy and terraced vineyards – modern Switzerland has concentrated all the advantages of its closest neighbors, without losing any of its national colors and personality.
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Switzerland is a travel destination with the reputation of a vacation spot for the power players in the world. It smells of old world stability, big money and polite effrontery. However, if you look closely, it turns out that the high cost of recreation in the homeland of William Tell is somewhat exaggerated. Moreover, if you walk not the most mainstream routes, do not choose resorts, designed for wealthy snobs, and not settle in boutique hotels, it is possible to spend a fascinating and not this expensive vacation.
Speaking of Switzerland, the first thing one thinks of is expensive watches, elite chocolates and delicious cheeses. Indeed, all this is in the Confederation, and in such quantities, which is enough for anyone who is ready for easy spending. Those who come to the country for the experience, too, will not be left stranded. After all, there is always the possibility of bursting into the emerald valleys and gorges, choose a tour of the mystical lakes with stops in the campsites, or drive to peripheral wineries. In addition, in Switzerland you can successfully both treat and learn – local clinics and universities are beyond competition for several decades.
Lovers of holidays in the style of “eco” should settle in the countryside, where the owners of farms and agro-yards will introduce the pastoral and outgoing Switzerland – the one where there is a place to sleep in the barns, intimate conversation with the chimes of Alpine cows and familiarity with the recipes of family cheese-making. And of course, do not forget that small and self-sufficient Switzerland is a 26 cantons with different traditions, four national languages and an amazing mix of four mentalities: practical and basic German, witty and frivolous French, Italian, which overflows with excess of feelings, and the original patriotic Swiss.
Switzerland has a continental climate, which varies according to the relief. The westernmost cantons, for example, have a strong Atlantic influence, but the further south and east the contrasts between the seasons become marked. Winters in the country are moderately cold, with a large temperature difference between the plains and mountainous areas. While January in Geneva is almost always +2. +3 ° C, in the high valleys of the Jura canton the thermometer sinks to the “Siberian” mark of -30 ° C.
Two categories of tourists like winter Switzerland: fans of skiing and lovers of sipping sizzling mulled wine at the Christmas markets and Shrovetide carnival. For shopaholics, January is the most “fishy” month – sales in Switzerland start after the Christmas break. Spring comes to the Alps early, but the weather is not stable, so those who come to the country in March, will be more comfortable to explore the sights of Geneva and Zurich – it is noticeably warmer there. April is a more pleasant, though a little rainy month with an average air temperature of +13 ° C. In addition, spring is the Catholic Easter and Parade of the Guilds in Zurich, accompanied by a lively public festivities.
Summer starts in May and in June, the Swiss besiege the lakeside beaches to get a nice golden tan. It’s warmest in the south of the country during this time, where the air warms up to +28. +30 °С. It is not so hot in the northern cantons, but it is also quite comfortable – about +19. +24 °С. As for water temperatures, the most invigorating swimming will be in Lake Geneva, and the warmest – in Lakes Lugano and Maggiore in the canton of Ticino. The highlight of the local August event is a flamboyant techno-party called Street Parade, essentially no different from Berlin’s rampant Love Parade.
Autumn comes to Switzerland right on schedule, that is, in September. In the south of the country, it is dry and warm, but in the central cantons, the rains are a frequent visitor. October in the homeland of the most accurate clocks is overcast and gloomy, windy, frightening with night frosts, and in the mountainous areas there are also serious frosts. However, in late autumn the most impatient “lords of skiing and snowboarding” come to the Confederation, as in the last days of November the slopes of most ski resorts are opened.
Traces of human presence in Switzerland can be traced back to the Stone Age. In the 5th century BC the tribes of Celtic-Rhaetians and Helvetians came here, because of whom the country got its first name – Helvetia. For several centuries the Celts were in conflict with the Roman Empire, sometimes attacking its colonies, sometimes forming alliances with the Gauls against Roman rule. The Helvets were so vexed by the “eternal city” that the Romans had to launch an urgent military campaign to annex the Swiss territories.
The Middle Ages freed Helvetia from Roman rule, but turned her into a dependency of the Germanic tribes and feudal fragmentation. It was in the fourth century that Christianity made its way into the Alps. Switzerland began to take shape as a state under Charlemagne, who divided the country into counties. In 843, however, the German kings usurped the Swiss “inheritance” of the monarch, who later incorporated Helvetia into the Holy Roman Empire.
In the course of the thirteenth century, Swiss cities turned into centers of international trade and Mediterranean routes ran through them. At the same time the cantons of Schwyz, Uri and Unterwalden were united in a military alliance to resist the pressure of the Habsburgs who ruled the Holy Roman Empire. The cities from these administrative units later succeeded in achieving free status, the first step towards Swiss independence.
At the end of the eighteenth century Helvetia was still not a centralized state, and so when, in 1795, the cantons began to experience revolutionary outbreaks, France took advantage of the situation by bringing its troops into Helvetic territory. Switzerland succeeded in gaining independence from French influence only in 1815 at the Congress of Vienna, although social and religious unrest continued unabated. In 1848 the country finally had a constitution and the status of a Confederation, and in 1850 the capital was moved to Bern.
Mentality and language
The native Swiss are practical, mostly conservative and law-abiding patriots. The concept of personal space in the Confederation is sacrosanct, so it can take years or even decades to make friends and just friends. At the same time, the attitude towards rights and freedoms among the descendants of the Helvetians is ambiguous. For example: a Swiss who is disadvantaged by even something insignificant will not be lazy to hold a solitary picket, but will never turn on the vacuum cleaner on Sunday, because it is against the law of the canton. And the locals also love to travel, both abroad and within their country. However, statistics show that the Swiss don’t like to get too far from their homeland, preferring to stay at the resorts of neighboring France, Italy and Germany.
There are four official languages in the Confederation: German, French, Italian and Romansh. German is spoken by 65 percent of the population, but it is not a standard Hochdeutsch language, but a dialectal variant, which is difficult to understand even for Germans. At the same time, any Swiss living in a German-speaking canton can speak the correct Goethe’s language and indulge in it when the situation demands it. The share of French and Italian speakers is several times less: 23% and 8.3%, and the share of Rhaeto-Romanic speakers even 1%. At the same time there is an interpenetration of cultures – most residents speak at least two of the national languages (usually German and French), diluting them with English, which they learn at school.
The national currency is the Swiss franc (CHF). CHF 1 is 76.46 rubles (as of March 2020). In addition to paper bills, coins in denominations of ½, 1, 2 and 5 francs and small coins of 5, 10 and 20 rappen are used. It is best to travel with a sufficient amount of cash francs or at least euros. If necessary to convert money on the spot, it can be done in bank branches, as well as official points of exchange, located at train stations, hotels, airports and department stores.
The standard working hours of exchange offices at airports – from 06:00 to 21:00, banks – from 08:00 to 16:00, rarely – until 18:00. As for the rate, it is the same everywhere, and deviations, if any, are insignificant. In cases where the stock of cash is small, it is worth using a credit card. In Switzerland it is realistic to pay for almost everything with it, including tickets from the ticket machines at public transport stops. You can withdraw money from ATMs in Switzerland without any complications. Some of them only dispense francs, and some also dispense euros.
Attractions in Switzerland
The compact Switzerland is dotted with medieval monuments and constantly enthralled by its epic natural backdrops, so prepare yourself for a constant dilemma: where to go first? In addition, this is the rare case where the size of the village does not matter – the country is full of tiny communities, whose panoramas can outweigh the advertised tourist sites of the capital.
Among the most spoiled with attention and money you can’t help but include Lucerne, where Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock and even Queen Victoria loved to visit. Leo Tolstoy also visited the capital of the canton, and as usual he left unnoticed and dissatisfied with the snobbery of the local nobility. Today Lucerne’s guests are welcomed by streets of painted houses resembling frosted gingerbread, Kapelbrücke bridge-gallery, turquoise domes of Jesuit Church, Gutsch castle, which was transformed into a luxury hotel, and the amazing Museum of transport with retro locomotives, cable cars and electric cars.
Travelers interested in history simply must spend time in Zurich. Lurking in the old quarter of Switzerland’s moneyiest city are the Romanesque silhouette of Grossmünster Cathedral and the sharp spire of the Fraumuenster Abbey, once home to nuns of the nobility who took monastic vows willingly and forcedly. The church of St. Peter and the Swiss National Museum are also located here. Speaking of museums: they are original and certainly not boring. An example of this – FIFA Museum, at whose interactive exhibits every second soccer fan dreams to come across.
The capital of the country, Bern, is a thorough, solidly patriarchal city with a photogenic old center. Here it is necessary to stop by the walls of the Bern Cathedral to be imbued with macabre bas-reliefs and stained-glass windows, and to remember the show, played out hourly on the Citglogge tower. Incidentally, the hands have been ticking since 1530. If you’re looking for atypical sights, take selfies near the city’s fountains. For instance, against the backdrop of the Child Eater, which would look more organic in an Asian temple ensemble than in tolerant and child-loving Europe. Also Bern is the city of bridges and museums, so the first should certainly be counted, and the second – to get a ticket.
Lausanne is a luxurious resort on the shores of Lake Geneva, where Coco Chanel long “sat” after the French accused her of collaborationism. Today’s Lausanne is above all the Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame, the Church of St. Francis and the Rumine Palace. Fans of antiquities and fine arts will appreciate the local museums – History Museum, Museum of Design and Applied Art and Art Brut. Those who want to party hard will find bars and nightclubs in abundance in Lausanne.
The modern and historical sights of Geneva exist in a harmonious symbiosis, so if you find yourself in the “capital of the world”, do not miss the city’s main “Goth” – Notre Dame Basilica, the eclectic facades of St. Peter’s Cathedral, the Place du Burg de Four, remembering the sandals of the Roman legionnaires, and the Palais des Nations. Positive photos against the backdrop of the mighty Jets d’Eau and the Flower Clock are also a must, as are promenades through the Vieux Carouge, the Botanical Gardens and the halls of the Museum of Arts and History.
The youth and student city of Fribourg is worth staying in, already because its historic center has remained in almost unchanged condition. Here tourists can enjoy Gothic cathedrals with Baroque chapels, old bridges with roofs, and several curious museums with puppets and modern art exhibits. The city itself, like the canton, is divided into French and German parts, the boundary between which is the river Sarin. To make it clearer: the inhabitants of the western bank chatter in French, and the population of the eastern bank prefers the language of Goethe.
If you want traditional and stereotypical Switzerland, go to Appenzell, where the parliament meets on the square, like hundreds of years ago, and women have had the right to vote only since 1991. In the compact town, nestled at the foot of the Alps, it’s hard to see any dominant architectural features, so wander among the quaint toy houses and ancient chapels, and marvel at the caring way the farmers greet the cows coming back from pasture.
Stein am Rhein, on the banks of the Rhine, is another Swiss town that looks like an old postcard. The streetscapes of the settlement are mostly newfangled – during World War II the place was “under attack” by Allied bombers – but the atmosphere of the commune does not become any less fairy-tale. For those who have had enough of “gingerbread” houses, it is worth broadening the range of impressions in Thun, where there is a snow-white castle, lots of pretty wooden bridges, and the pedestrian zone of the central street passes through the roofs of cafes and stores.
A visit to Gruyere is good for all fans of hard cheeses, as it is their birthplace. Tourists are allowed into the factory where the Alpine delicacy is made, but it is not worth spending too much time at the enterprise, as Gruyere also has a very interesting castle and eerie Museum of Giger, the genius of fantastic realism, who invented the image of monsters for the blockbuster film Alien.