Living in Switzerland
With no single ethnic, linguistic or religious identity Switzerland offers a wealth of different impressions. Each of its 26 cantons has its own constitution, parliament, government and courts. This decentralized structure means that the cantons have mostly retained their own unique characters. The Swiss cherish their parochial multiple-identity, embracing their differences and thriving on co-operation and tolerance. Local pride is further enhanced with a huge range of historic traditions. Ranging from colorful local spectacles to sophisticated art, music and film festivals.
Perhaps the most exuberant examples are found in Luzern, Bern, Basel and Montreux, which feature bands, masked parades, street dancing and spontaneous partying. Switzerland is a carnival country, across its 26 cantons and throughout the year there will be a celebration or festival taking place. In the winter months, between December and March, the country hosts numerous winter sports events, including several world championships.
Swiss cities are graceful lakeside municipalities, full of character and surrounded by stunning scenery. They have often retained their medieval alleys and cobbled streets, ornate houses and churches and are much smaller in scale than their other European counterparts like London or Paris.
Switzerland in a nutshell
This small country can be roughly divided into three main cultural and ethnic groups:
French speaking regions
Geneva: International airport, Luxury shopping, charming old town, banking and diplomatic hub. Lausanne: Lausanne has a private air field and is the Olympic capital of the world.
Montreux and the Swiss Riviera: International Jazz Festival. The Lavaux Vineyards are a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Key alpine locations: Verbier (Valais), Crans Montana (Valais), Villars (Vaud) Also Jura mountains & Neuchâtel
German speaking regions
Alpine locations: Mittelland, Bernese Oberland: World class skiing in Zermatt (Valais), Gstaad (Bern). The St Bernard Pass, The Matterhorn
Eastern Switzerland and Graubünden: Swiss National Park, pristine wilderness, wildlife and wild flowers, magnificent medieval buildings, winter sports – St Moritz, Davos and Klosters
Zurich: Vibrant contemporary art, finance and shopping, financial capital and excellent International Airport
Zug: Important international business city.
Luzern: Charming historic city.
Bern: A friendly and easy-going capital, UNESCO World Heritage Site, mountains, glaciers and waterfalls.
Italian speaking regions
Ticino: Scenic lakes, tropical Mediterranean climate, the birth place of William Tell, cultural capital of central Switzerland. Italian lifestyle with Swiss efficiency.
Although famous for its glorious alpine scenery, the landscapes within Switzerland are markedly diverse, from the lush velvety grasslands of Emmental, to the cultivated vineyards raised above Lake Geneva. In the southeast you find wild, high-sided valleys densely covered in ancient forest but around Lugano, on the Italian border, the climate is subtropical Mediterranean. Here palm trees and flowers flourish in city parks and private gardens.
Political and economic stability and a long tradition of fostering intellectual and cultural innovation means that education has always been an important part of life in Switzerland. Albert Einstein received his diploma from the ETH Zurich in 1901. Further evidence of the success of the education system in Switzerland can be found among the 113 Nobel Prizes awarded to Swiss nationals and the 9 Nobel Peace Prizes awarded to organisations located in Switzerland. Geneva is home to the world’s largest particle physics research laboratory CERN. A defining feature of Lausanne is its international student population, attracted by Switzerland’s most prestigious university, the Federal Institute of Technology. In all Swiss cities you will find numerous excellent private schools and academies enhancing the countries reputation for learning.
A sophisticated and cosmopolitan society, education in Switzerland is, quite naturally, a multilingual affair with all children learning not only their canton language but also an official second language as well as English.
Activities and Entertainment
All winter and adventure sports are well-catered for in Switzerland - hiking, sailing, golf, horse riding, cycling to name a few. Safety standards are notably high making this the perfect place to bring children and introduce them too the joys of outdoor sports. The possibilities for exploring the great outdoors in Switzerland are year-round and almost limitless.
The best-known Alpine regions, justifiably popular, boast some of the finest winter skiing and summer hiking in Europe: Bernese Oberland, Interlaken, Wengen, Grindelwald, Verbier, Crans-Montana, Zermatt, Davos, Klosters and St Moritz.
Art and Culture
The three great cultural cities of Switzerland, Geneva, Zurich and Basel are home to numerous world-class museums and art galleries. In both Zurich and Lausanne, an active arts scene and underground culture feeds a dynamic nightlife, as vibrant as any found in much larger international cities. Carnivals and Festivals (Feiertage, jours féries, festività) have a long tradition in Switzerland and every sort of parade, music and general merrymaking can be found from town jamborees to international extravaganzas like the renowned Montreux Jazz Festival and sophisticated Art Basel.
Swiss cooking is firmly rooted in dairy products: cheese, milk, cream, butter and yogurt. The Swiss take great joy in communal eating – hence national dishes, like fondue, which are designed for a group of diners to experience. The regional food across Switzerland is hearty, seasonal and comforting: sausages, smoked sausages and wafer thin air-dried meats, rosti, raclette, a substantial pile of cold and hot meats, game, wild mushrooms, rich stews topped with cheese, black cherries, apples, meringues (invented in Switzerland) and more sausages. Fish dishes are popular around the lake districts of Geneva, Neuchâtel and Biel – powan, perch and trout are particular favorites. The famous dish Filet de Perche is a delicacy which can be found in restaurants around nearly every lake.
Viticulture flourishes on steeply terraced hillsides across the region. The quality of wine produced is high and very little leaves the local market – the quality of its wine is one of Switzerland’s best-kept secrets.
By air: Zurich is a major intercontinental hub and Geneva and Basel are likewise busy international airports. Smaller Swiss airports such as Bern, Lugano and Sion can be useful entry points and many private airfields are found in ski resorts and major destinations. Overland: Switzerland is well connected by high-speed trains, famous for their cleanliness and efficiency, from across Europe.
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