October 24, 2018 / 01:03


If you could travel through only one European country, which might you choose? Italy? France? Germany? How about a taste of three in one? That can only mean Switzerland!

25 July 2012 Wednesday 17:31


If you could travel through only one European country, which might you choose? Italy? France? Germany? How about a taste of three in one? That can only mean Switzerland!

Known as a summer and winter sports paradise (just look at those glistening white 4000m-plus Alpine peaks and glittering lakes), Switzerland is where people first skied for fun. Illustrious names evoke all the romance and glamorous drama of the mountain high life: Zermatt, St Moritz, Interlaken, Gstaad, the Jungfrau, Verbier and more. Cities like Geneva (the most cosmopolitan), Zürich (the most outrageous), Basel and Lausanne heave with heady artistic activity and sometimes incendiary nightlife.

Beyond the après-ski chic, edelweiss and Heidi lies a complex country of cohabiting cultures. It not only has four languages (Swiss German, French, Italian and Romansch), but the cultural variety to match. You could be chomping on sausages over beer in an oom-pah-pah Stübli one day and pasta over a glass of merlot in a granite grotto the next. And if over-indulgence becomes a problem try one of the country's thermal baths, from Yverdon-les-Bains to Scuol.

The grandeur of the finest churches, such as the cathedrals in Lausanne and Bern, contrasts with sparkling but lesser-known treasures like the frescoes of Müstair or the abbey complex of St Gallen (both World Heritage sites). The list of enchanting towns is endless: from Lucerne with its covered bridge to Neuchâtel and its fountains; from Gruyères with its cheese, and Grimentz with its traditional timber houses to the sgraffito-blazoned buildings of Engadine towns like Scuol and Zuoz.

Whether visiting the remotest Ticino villages or sampling the finest of Valais wines, you'll find Switzerland a chocolate box bursting with unexpected flavours.




Switzerland consists of 23 "Kantone" (singular "Kanton", also referred to as cantons or states), 3 of them are divided into "Halb-Kantone" (split states) with the following authorities:

"Grosser Rat", "Kantonsrat" or "Landesrat" (the name varies between the cantons), legislative authority
"Kantonsregierung", executive authority
"Kantonsgericht", judicial authority

The cantons Appenzell, Glarus and Unterwalden do not perform elections and voting, but a so called "Landsgemeinde", an out door assembly of all its citizens. The attendees raise their hands to show if they agree with or deny a particular request.

The duties of the cantons are defined in their "Kantonsverfassung" (cantonal constitution) and include:

Transportation ("Kantonsstrassen", cantonal roads)
Social institutions

This is a list of all cantons in the so called "official order":

Zürich (ZH)
Bern / Berne (BE)
Luzern (LU)
Uri (UR)
Schwyz (SZ)
Unterwalden (Obwalden (OW) / Nidwalden (NW))
Glarus (GL)
Zug (ZG)
Freiburg / Fribourg (FR)
Solothurn (SO)
Basel (Basel Stadt (BS)/ Basel Land (BL))
Schaffhausen (SH)
Appenzell (Appenzell Ausserrhoden (AR) / Appenzell Innerrhoden (AI))
Sankt Gallen (SG)
Graubünden (GR)
Aargau (AG)
Thurgau (TG)
Ticino (TI)
Vaud (VD)
Valais / Wallis (VS)
Neuchâtel (NE)
Genève (GE)
Jura (JU)



Population: 7,783 million, 22% of whom are foreign nationals
Capital city: Berne
Main cities and population: Zurich (365,000), Geneva (183,000), Basle (165,000), Berne (123,000), Lausanne (122,000)
National languages: German (64%), French (20%), Italian (6%), Rumantsch (0.5%)
Surface area: 41,285 km2 / 15,940 sq miles
Distances: 220 km/137 miles (North-South), 348 km/217 miles (East-West)
Highest point: Monte Rosa (Valais): 4,634 m/15,000 feet
Lowest point: Lake Maggiore (Ticino): 193 m/643 feet
Main airports: Zurich Kloten, Geneva Cointrin, Basle-Mulhouse, Berne-Belp, Lugano, Agno



The oldest traces of human existence in Switzerland date back about 150,000 years, and the oldest flint tool found in the country is thought to be about 100,000 years old.

The best known early prehistoric site is at Cotencher in Canton Neuchâtel, where Neandertal hunters left flint cutting tools in a cave some 60,000 years ago.

Farming reached central Europe from the Mediterranean area in the 6th millennium BC. The oldest known farming settlements in Switzerland are those found at Gächlingen in Canton Schaffhausen, which have been dated to around 5300 BC.

Metal - in the form of copper - was first made in Switzerland around 3800 BC, and bronze - a much harder and stronger alloy of copper and tin - some 1500 years later. The iron age began in Switzerland around 800 BC.

Although copper ore was found locally, tin had to be imported - an indication that trade was already highly developed.

The so-called "Amesbury Archer", or "King of Stonehenge", buried in southern Britain around 2300 BC, and discovered in 2002, probably came from what is now Switzerland.



The period following Roman rule, generally known as the Dark Ages or Early Middle Ages, lasted from about 400 to 1000. The territory of what is now Switzerland shared a similar evolution with the rest of western Europe.

The first couple of centuries or so was a time of migration, moving in the general direction of east to west. Peoples were displaced as waves of new tribes arrived from Asia.

Switzerland was settled by different peoples, who brought not only new lifestyles, but also new languages.

Christianity which had arrived in Switzerland under the Romans, took root and spread, partly through the work of missionaries. The church, with its system of bishoprics and monasteries, became a major landowner with rights over all those who lived on its lands.

At the same time, noble families were increasing their power and building up their landholdings by conquest, inheritance and marriage.

For a brief period the Frankish king Charlemagne controlled much of Western Europe and took the title Emperor of the West in 800.

However, even under Charlemagne there was no idea of a state. At every level of society, relations between weak and strong were based on personal allegiance. The emperor ruled through a network of noble families.

Throughout the period, and beyond, the balance of power between kings, dukes and the church constantly shifted as each jockeyed to preserve its old privileges or to grab new ones. A further level of power was added in 962 when the German king Otto I persuaded the Pope to crown him Emperor of what much later became known as the Holy Roman Empire.



The year 1291 is traditionally regarded as the foundation of the Swiss Confederation, when three rural communities made an alliance to protect their freedoms against encroachments by would-be overlords.

The 14th and 15th centuries saw this group expand to a loose confederation with both rural and urban members. By the end of the period the Confederation was strong enough to have a serious impact on the balance of power in Europe in wars where their troops gained a fearsome reputation for their skill and courage.

Expansion proceeded in several ways. In some cases new members joined the Confederation as equals; other communities or territories came by purchase or conquest.

The rights of the inhabitants of the Confederation still depended both on the place where they lived and on their position in society.

The Confederate members administered their own affairs, but also held frequent diets to discuss issues of common interest. In this period Zurich, Bern and Lucerne took it in turns to summon the meeting. Each member sent one or two representatives, drawn from the political leadership.



The 16th century was a time of upheaval throughout western Europe, when a movement to reform the Roman Catholic church split western Christendom into two opposing camps, as Protestants rejected the authority of the Pope.

Although the movement was ostensibly a religious one, it reflected deep underlying tensions in the social structure. In Switzerland, as elsewhere, it was accompanied by riots and destruction. Supporters of the reform all over Europe smashed the "idolatrous" statues and pictures in churches, and threw monks and nuns out of their monasteries, in many cases never to return.

But discontent went beyond obvious manifestation of discontent with the church to attack the very structure of society. "Extremist" Protestant movements like the Anabaptists, which found their followers in the rural regions and which among other things called for an end to tithes and rents, were forcibly repressed by mainstream Protestant leaders.

Theological debate gave rise to a debate about tolerance; Geneva adopted an authoritarian stance, imprisoning, expelling or even burning those Protestants who disagreed with the official line, while Basel became a centre of intellectual freedom.



The 17th century saw three further landmarks in the development of modern-day Switzerland. All came as a result of the 30 Years War (1618-48), which ravaged large swathes of Europe, particularly Germany, but in which the Confederation succeeded in remaining neutral.

Firstly, the war made it clear to the Confederation members that despite their deep differences, it was in their interest to stay together as the only way to avoid being drawn into a Europe-wide conflict. Secondly, they gradually formalised the important policy of armed neutrality, to prevent border incursions by the warring armies.

Thirdly, Swiss independence from the Holy Roman Empire was formally recognised by signatories of the Treaty of Westphalia, which ended the war. Despite this, Switzerland was not a haven of peace. Both social and religious tensions sparked armed conflict within the country in the second half of the century.


The 18th century was a period of relative peace and prosperity, until its last decade when French revolutionary troops invaded and destroyed the old political system.

During the 18th century, great advances were made in scientific agriculture. New industries got off the ground, including clockmaking and textiles.

Learned and patriotic societies sprang up all over the country. Swiss intellectuals discussed new scientific and philosophical ideas with their counterparts abroad. At the same time, they promoted Swiss national awareness, going beyond narrow cantonal boundaries.

The new industrial and intellectual elite challenged the entrenched ruling circles.

The century ended in Europe-wide turmoil after the French revolution and France's subsequent wars against European monarchies. French troops invaded Switzerland in 1798, broke the power of the ruling élites there and temporarily destroyed the cantonal system by creating the centralised Helvetic Republic.

For the first and only time in their history the Swiss were forced to abandon their neutrality and provide troops for France.



The foundations of modern Switzerland were laid down in the 19th century. The most important event was undoubtedly the adoption of the 1848 constitution, which gave the country a more centralised government and created a single economic area where cantonal rivalries had previously hindered development.
Among other things the new goverment abolished internal tolls, it unified weights, measures and the currency and it took charge of the postal system.

These moves made possible the development of many of the industries and services which are still the cornerstone of Switzerland's prosperity, such as chemicals, engineering, the food industry and banking.
However, for many people conditions continued to be very difficult. Poverty, hunger and lack of employment prospects encouraged large-scale emigration throughout the 19th century, much of it to north and south America.



The 20th century saw important changes in Switzerland in both domestic and foreign policy.

The political system opened up. At the beginning of the century a single party dominated the government; by the end of it four parties had guaranteed ministerial posts. The economy ran into difficulties in the 1920s and 30s, but overall Switzerland prospered. The move away from agriculture and into highly skilled specialist industries continued. From being a country of emigration, in the second half of the century it became a country which drew immigrants.

The standard of living increased dramatically for most people. They gained far better social security and working conditions, as well as access to an extensive range of consumer goods.

The century also saw a sharp shift in Switzerland's relations with Europe and the rest of the world. For most of the period Switzerland continued outside the European mainstream. It took no active part in either of the two World Wars. However it later found it harder and harder to remain a "special case" in the face of globalisation and European integration. The issue of Swiss neutrality remained a central topic of debate.

At the end of the century, Switzerland reexamined its role in World War II. The Bergier commission of expert historians investigated criticism of Switzerland's wartime behaviour and produced its final report in 2002. The Bergier report has been a key element in leading the public to re-evaluate a period of history which had previously been largely ignored. Its thorough investigation threw light on both positive and negative aspects of Swiss behaviour.


Switzerland has an area of 41,285 square kilometres (15,940 square miles). The productive area - that is, the area without the lakes, rivers, unproductive vegetation and no vegetation at all - covers 30,753 square km (11,870 square miles).

It  measures 220 kilometers (137 miles) from north to south and 350 km (217 miles) from east to west. The Jura, the Plateau and the Alps form the three main geographic regions of the country.

Switzerland has a population of 7.7 million. Population density is high, with 193 people per square km (500 per square mile) of the productive area in 2008. In the agglomerations, which cover about 20% of the total surface area, the density is 590 per square km (1528 per square mile).



The Plateau stretches from Lake Geneva in the south west to Lake Constance in the north east, with an average altitude of 580 m (1902 ft).

It covers about 30 percent of the country`s surface area, but is home to two thirds of the population. There are 450 people to every square kilometre (1,166 per square mile). Few regions in Europe are more densely populated.

Most of Switzerland's industry and farmland is concentrated in the Plateau.

Urbanised landscape

If you travel across the Plateau, from Lake Geneva to Lake Constance, you never pass through unpopulated territory. The landscape continually shows signs of man's presence. When you leave a town, the next one is never far away. Villages lie within sight of each other.

The countryside in the Plateau tends to be highly organised; the fields often look as if they have been drawn with a ruler. Fields are small: nowhere are there endless acres given over to a single crop. Instead, meadows alternate with fields sown to cereals or other crops and with small woods. The land is used intensively.

The dense population and economic concentration in the Plateau means that more and more cultivated land is being lost. In Switzerland as a whole, 1 m2 (11 sq.ft.) of land has been built over every second since the early 1980s by encroaching housing and infrastructure. The greatest expansion has been in the conurbations of the Plateau.

Even outside the built-up areas there have been many changes. Orchards have given way to crops that can be mechanically harvested. In the period 1984-95, for every four trees grubbed up, only one was planted. However, the total length of hedgerows has increased, and there has been a move towards restoring open streams, which in previous decades had been built over.



Switzerland has 6 per cent of Europe's stock of fresh water. The Rhine, Rhone and Inn all take their source here, although their waters flow into three seas: the North Sea, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

The Rhine Falls, a few kilometers downstream of Schaffhausen, are the largest in Europe. They are 150 m (450 ft) wide and 23 m (75.4 ft) high.

In addition, Switzerland has over 1,500 lakes. The two largest, Lakes Geneva and Constance, lie on the border. Lake Geneva is shared with France, and Lake Constance with Germany and Austria. Lake Geneva, which lies on the course of the Rhone, is the largest freshwater lake in central Europe.

The biggest lake which lies wholly within Switzerland is Lake Neuchâtel with an area of 218.4 square km (84.3 square miles). Probably the best known lake is Lake Lucerne in Central Switzerland (113.7 square km / 44 square miles).



Bern is the capital of Switzerland, and also the capital of the canton of the same name.

As the seat of government, the city houses the federal ministries and a number of other federal institutions, including the National Bank. It is also the headquarters of the Universal Postal Union, one of the specialised agencies of the United Nations. In addition it is the seat of public services, such as Swiss Post (the state-owned post office) and the Swiss Federal Railways. The city has a small airport in the suburb of Belp. Although Zurich is Switzerland's main rail hub, Bern has a direct rail service to several of the major cities of Switzerland, as well as to European cities such as Paris, Berlin, Barcelona and Milan.

The city was founded in the 12th century on a tongue of land surrounded on three sides by the river Aare. However, the first settlements in the area go back to pre-Roman times. It grew rich as a trading centre, and subsequently became an aggressive political and military power, ruling over a number of subject territories. It was one of the leading members of the old Swiss Confederation. Although the French invasion of 1798 put an end to the system of rulers and subjects, Bern retained its leading position, and in 1848 was chosen as the permanent capital of the modern Swiss state.

There are several theories as to the derivation of the name. It may come from Brenodor, the name of a Celtic settlement built on the site.

However, the popular story has that Bern was named after the bear (German: Bär), the first animal to be killed by its founder, Duke Berchtold V von Zähringen, when he went hunting near his new city.

Bears have a long association with the town, which has had a bear pit since the end of the 15th century.



Just over two thirds of the Swiss population now live in urban areas. About one third of the population live in the conurbations of the five biggest cities: Zurich, Geneva, Basel, Bern and Lausanne.

Of the rest, about half live in the other urban regions and half live in rural areas.

Only 16 towns have a population of over 30,000.

Recent trends

In recent years the trend has been for people to move out of the city centres into the communes of the outer suburbs.

People used to leave the mountain regions in search of work and a more comfortable way of life, but many of these regions are now becoming inhabited again. At weekends and during the vacation people come from the lowlands for recreation. Old houses are being renovated as second homes. "Our village is modeled after how the mountain dwellers used to live, with houses packed together tightly: they chose their plots away from the avalanche slopes, using the forest for protection, and they built their houses there close together. In those days, up to 500 people were crammed into 40 houses. The houses were full of people and in days gone by, when people used to enjoy sitting out on the stone steps in front of the house after work, they must have seemed more neighborly and happier. Now there are only 40 people here (...) and so most of the houses are empty."

Giovanni Orelli (1928 - ) Novelist, poet and essayist from Ticino





Switzerland has had a law establishing equality between men and women since 1981. The Federal Office for the Equality of Women and Men was established in 1988 and a law banning any form of discrimination, including at the workplace, has been in force since 1996.

However, Switzerland lags behind most Western European countries in many aspects of sex equality. The "Gender Gap Index", a survey of 115 countries worldwide published by the World Economic Forum in 2006, put Switzerland in 25th position. The top four places in the index were taken by Nordic countries; the UK was 9th and the US 22nd.



People marry relatively late; they concentrate on their training and career before they start a family. Swiss women are among the oldest in Europe at the birth of their first child.

The majority of couples have only 1 or 2 children. In 2004 the average number of children per woman was 1.42, less than the EU average of 1.5. The world average is 2.65.

Surveys have shown that parents put financial difficulties as the main reason for restricting family size. Large flats are expensive, and there is a shortage of affordable child care.



Switzerland has four national languages, but they vary greatly in the number of speakers.

German is by far the most widely spoken language in Switzerland: 19 of the country’s 26 cantons are predominantly (Swiss) German-speaking.

French is spoken in the western part of the country, the "Suisse Romande." Four cantons are French-speaking: Geneva, Jura, Neuchâtel and Vaud. Three cantons are bilingual: in Bern, Fribourg and Valais both French and German are spoken.


Italian is spoken in Ticino and four southern valleys of Canton Graubünden.
Rhaeto-Rumantsch (Rumantsch)

Rumantsch is spoken in the only trilingual canton, Graubünden. The other two languages spoken there are German and Italian. Rumantsch, like Italian and French, is a language with Latin roots. It is spoken by just 0.5% of the total Swiss population.
Other languages

The many foreigners resident in Switzerland have brought with them their own languages, which taken as a whole now outnumber both Rumantsch and Italian. The 2000 census showed that speakers of Serbian/Croatian were the largest foreign language group, with 1.4% of the population. English was the main language for 1%

Switzerland has got a rich history of contact with other cultures like German and French. In fact Italian culture also plays a prominent role in the arts and culture of this country. However it is not possible to speak of a homogeneous tradition as there is a very strong regionalism. In fact there is a strong Rhaeto-Romanic influence on the eastern Swiss mountains.

Thus there is a variety of traditions in Switzerland. Folk arts play an important role. This does not mean that it is expressed only with the help of autonomous bodies whose purpose is to eulogize folk traditions. Rather folk traditions exist through embroidery, wood carving, poetry, dance and music among the common people. In fact these traditions also exist through local and regional rites that demarcate special times in the year. Yodeling is a very stereotypical activity in Switzerland but it is wrong to think that the whole country engages in this. Rather even this tradition is limited to only some mountain regions.

The alphorn is a musical instrument that plays a very important role in the music tradition of the country. It is unique to the Swiss culture and is a wooden musical instrument that looks like a trumpet. This instrument has been thought to show the "perfect form" which is needed for a musical 'wind' instrument. Even this musical instrument is found mainly in some mountainous regions of the country and has come to find a unique place in its tradition. Folk culture in the Alpine region consists mainly of expressive dances. The part of Switzerland that speaks French is rich in musical ensembles.

The woodcarving tradition acquired new heights in the form of chip carving in the country. While in most other European countries, it is mostly a form of business, here in Switzerland, it is mostly seen as popular art. Everyday carved objects thus, play an important role in the popular culture of Switzerland. For instance, walking sticks, wooden spoons, neckband used in bells and milk stools are fairly popular. Nativity figures carved of wood are fairly popular. In fact, one also finds houses whose facades are richly carved with wood. One main feature of the woodcarving tradition is that this is mostly found in places where Protestant Christianity thrives. The places which consist mostly of Roman Catholics see less of the woodcarving tradition.

Embroidery is another common tradition though it is generally found in the clothing of women and is mostly limited to scarves, hats and cuffs. These are some of the prominent traditions of Switzerland and once you arrive here, you will enjoy them very much.


Advent is the period beginning on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Eve, historically seen as the preparation of the arrival of Christ.

During the 19th century in particular, this waiting period before Christmas was viewed as a way of teaching children patience before a reward - hence the development of the Advent Calendar, a calendar with 24 little flaps opening onto windows with images within a Christmas scene.

Advent Calendars are very much a part of the Swiss Christmas tradition, as is the Advent wreath which has four candles, one for each of the Sundays in Advent (on the first Sunday, one candle is burnt, on the second, two are lit, and so on.

Christmas markets are held all over Switzerland during the Advent season.


This tradition ("Chasing St Nicholas") takes place on December 5 in Catholic areas of Switzerland, most notably in Küssnacht am Rigi in Canton Schwyz. This is in fact not a chase, but a torchlit procession. It is led by up to 200 men wearing long white shirts and carrying on their heads huge "Infuln", or mitres, made of thick cardboard and colourful transparent paper and lit by candles from the inside. These figures dance through streets, turning and bowing.

St Nicholas himself appears after them, escorted by several Schmutzlis (his dark-robed assistants). They in turn are followed by several hundred men (the Klausjäger, or pursuers) in white farmers' shirts and red neck ties. Some beat large cow bells rhythmically against their legs, others blow brass instruments or cowhorns. Yet more noise is created by the loud cracking of whips.


St Nicholas (Nicholas of Myra, Patron Saint of children) is popularly called Samichlaus in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. He appears not on Christmas Eve or Day, but on December 6, when children awake to find the shoe or boot they put out the night before filled with mandarin oranges, nuts and cookies.

St Nicholas is accompanied by a character called Schmutzli on his visits to children, in particular in the central cantons. In contrast to the Patron Saint, Schmutzli usually is a rather dark and gloomy figure who carries a cane ("Rute") as well as the jute sack filled with presents. Female characters take on a similar role in other parts of the country, such as Befana in the Italian-speaking southern canton of Ticino and Chauche-vieille in French-speaking Western Switzerland. In Ticino, children hang up stockings on night of January 5-6 (the word Befana is derived from Epiphany): "good" children receive sweets, while tradition has it that "bad" children find a lump of coal, or sugar lumps resembling coal, in their stockings.


The evening of December 24, is very much a family celebration in Switzerland. This is the evening on which small children get to see the decorated and lit tree in all its splendour for the first time, complete with wrapped gifts underneath.

In Switzerland, it is not uncommon to have candles rather than electric lights on the tree. Unfortunately, there is the occasional accident involving burning trees. Electric lights decorating Swiss Christmas trees usually emit a warm yellowish light, rather than the blinking coloured lights often seen in the United States and Britain.

Traditionally, children in Catholic areas were told that the presents were brought by the Christkind (German), Le petit Jésus (French), or Gesu Bambino. But probably these days children are just as familiar with the character almost universally recognized as Santa Claus.



A great variety of customs are celebrated in different parts of Switzerland during the winter months.

Trychle in Meiringen

Trychle processions take place in the villages of the Hasliberg and Haslital in the week between Christmas and the New Year, mainly after dark. The participants, in different masks and disguises, make as much noise as possible with drums and cowbells.

On the evening of the last working day before New Year the groups from the different villages meet in Meiringen for a final series of processions in the ceremony known as Übersitz.


Epiphany falls on January 6th, and is known as Three Kings Day. Traditionally it marks the day when the three kings presented their gifts to the baby Jesus.

A widespread custom connected with this day is "star singing". It takes different forms in different parts of the country (and in some areas is even held before Christmas), but takes its name from the star which the groups of singers carry with them, representing the star which guided the three kings in the biblical story.

At least some of the singers are dressed as the three kings, and they may go from house to house, process through the streets or sing in the village square.

In the Lötschental in Canton Valais young men elaborately dressed up as kings go through the villages on hobby horses, which are made of a plank of wood draped in expensively decorated cloth, and with a small horsehead. They are accompanied by two companions, known as "goigglär", dressed in colourful costumes, whose job is to draw attention to their horse and show it off as they make their way round the houses of the village notables and then into the restaurants, eating and drinking at each. The same custom is also carried out on New Year's eve with minor differences.

Secular festivals

Other festivals with no religious connotations also take place on or around January 6th. For example, in Schwyz a whip-cracking competition is held. The crowd is also treated to the procession of "Japanese", a carnival association dressed in Japanese-style costumes, accompanied by three riders and a band, who throw sweets to the children.


The Silvesterkläuse celebrate the New Year in a custom almost entirely confined to the area surrounding the village of Urnäsch in the half-canton of Appenzell Outer-Rhodes.

The best known Kläuse wear male or female masks and costumes with huge cowbells back and front and carry enormous headdresses depicting typical local scenes. These are known as "beautiful" Kläuse. There are two other kinds of costume: the "ugly" ones wear demonic masks, sometimes with horns, and rough garments made of foliage and brushwood, and the "forest" Kläuse dress in foliage.

The Kläuse - all men - go from farmhouse to farmhouse, where they perform a special kind of yodel, and bring new year greetings.

The Silvesterkläuse celebrate the New Year on January 13th. This is the date of New Year according to the old Julian calendar, which now runs 13 days behind the generally accepted Gregorian calendar. The Protestants in Appenzell rejected the calendar reform of 1582 because it was decreed by the Pope. (As far as everyday business is concerned, Appenzell Outer-Rhodes - the Protestant half-canton - finally made the switch in 1798.)

Vogel Gryff in Kleinbasel

The Vogel Gryff festival is held in Kleinbasel, the part of Basel on the right bank of the Rhine, the traditional rival of the richer area on the left bank. The date of the festival rotates according to a three year cycle between 13, 20 and 27 January.

Three heraldic figures, "Vogel Gryff" (a griffin), "Wild Maa" (green man) and "Leu" (lion) dance in the streets of the town, accompanied by three drummers, three standard-bearers and four "Ueli" (jesters), who collect money for the needy of Kleinbasel.

Although the festival is named after the Vogel Gryff, it starts with the Wild Maa floating down the Rhine on a raft consisting of two small boats fastened together. He takes care always to present his back to the left bank, indicating the disdain of the people of Kleinbasel for their neighbours.

Other customs

A well known custom in the Upper Engadine valley in Canton Graubünden is the "Schlitteda", a procession of horse-drawn sleighs which takes place in different villages over the January weekends. At the front of each sleigh sits a young woman in traditional costume, while a man in tails and a top hat guides it from behind.



Fasnacht, or carnival, in Switzerland may not be quite the spectacle that its counterpart in Rio is, but anybody who thinks the Swiss are conservative and staid may be surprised at the festivities during this time of year. And unlike carnival in Rio, which is held at the peak of summer, the Swiss have to dress up a lot more warmly.

During the carnival season, participants let their hair down and enjoy life to the full. Masks and costumes help people take on a new identity while they parade through the streets, often playing musical instruments.

From canton to canton. It is normally just before or just after the beginning of Lent. The roots of the tradition are disputed: some people claim it goes back to a mixture of pagan spring festivals, Christian rites and secular folk customs. In some cantons, carnival is based on pagan traditions of using fearsome masks to chase away evil spirits.

Although carnivals were held in mediaeval times, in later centuries the authorities often saw them as subversive and tried to ban them. Carnivals as they exist today date back usually no further than the 19th century. Bern's modern carnival was introduced as recently as 1982.
Switzerland's biggest and best-known carnivals are held in Basel and Lucerne.


Fasnacht in Basel is one of the country's best known and most extravagant traditions. When the carnival gets underway in the early hours of the morning (the Morgenstraich) the streets of this northern Swiss city come alive with the sound of drumming, flute-playing and marching by masked and costumed figures.

The Morgenstraich traditionally starts on the Monday after Ash Wednesday, at 4 am precisely. Although the Fasnacht tradition can be traced back to the 14th century, the Morgenstraich was first given official approval in 1835. Participants would march through the city with torches - until these were banned ten years later - and then with lanterns. Today, all street lighting is turned off in the city during the Morgenstraich, to make way for the procession of large decorative lanterns.

The day continues much in the same vein, with music, processions, and plenty of noise. In addition, some cafés and restaurants provide a forum for the Schnitzelbank tradition: participants get up and spout satirical verses about a subject of their choice.
Like this tradition, many of the costumes worn at the carnival reflect current affairs and events.


The so-called "Fritschi-Fasnacht" in Lucerne has its origins in the Middle Ages and is based on the traditions of the "Fritschi" Guild. Carnival always begins with the arrival of the Fritschi Family on "schmutziger Donnerstag" ("dirty Thursday"). Dirty Thursday is celebrated only in Catholic cantons - as a concept, it is comparable to "Mardi Gras".



The Lötschental in Canton Valais is famous for the Tschäggätta tradition, which takes place in February. Young unmarried men and boys roam the streets of the villages of the valley, wearing demonic masks and tunics made of sheep or goat skins, and ringing bells.

The name refers to the black and white colour of these tunics: "tschäggätta" means "piebald" in the local dialect.

By tradition the Tschäggätta wear gloves smeared with soot, and take the occasional swipe at anyone they meet (particularly young women).

The masks are handcarved, and each one is different. They normally feature crooked teeth and bulging, uneven eyes. It is said that they reflect the untamed nature of the valley. They have also been interpreted as an expression of anarchy and rebellion in a peasant society that was largely dominated by the church.

The tradition stems from the time the valley was cut off from the outside world in winter. Unlike other mask-related customs in Switzerland, the Tschäggätta were never formally organised in any way. Processions have only been held on specific dates since the late 1960s, when custom looked in danger of dying out as young men left the valley in search of work.



Eggs and rabbits have long been associated with Easter, in Switzerland as elsewhere. And here, like in other countries where Easter has become increasingly commercialised, the origins of this spring festival tend to fade into the background as Good Friday and Easter Monday become a welcome extension to the weekend and a chance to go on a short break.

Eggs and bunnies

Chocolate bunnies, coloured eggs and special Easter cakes (Osterfladen) in shop windows serve to remind children weeks before the event that Easter is the time to indulge in these goodies. Easter Sunday often starts off with an Easter-egg hunt, with children combing the house or garden, eager to fill their baskets with what the Easter bunny has left. In this respect, Switzerland is no different from many other European countries or the United States.

An unusual egg custom takes place in Zurich on Easter Monday: called "Zwanzgerle", children challenge adults to break their decorated eggs with a twenty cent coin. If the adult fails to do so, the child keeps the coin, but if the adult is successful, they get their coin back and the egg as well. This is generally a money-spinner for the children, but occasionally eggs change hands.

Religious festivals

In Mendrisio in the southern Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, the locals stage a performance of the Biblical Passion Play, complete with Roman soldiers and horseback trumpeters, on the last Thursday of Lent. This is followed on Good Friday with a much more sombre procession during which two sculptures, one of the dead Christ and one of his mother Mary, are carried through the streets.

On Good Friday in Romont in French-speaking Canton Fribourg, 'weeping women' carry scarlet cushions through the streets bearing the symbols of Christ's passion. These include the nails used in the crucifixion and the crown of thorns that was placed on his head, and also the handkerchief which St Veronica used to wipe Christ's brow as he carried the cross and which was miraculously imprinted with the image of his face. The streets of the town echo with chants and prayers taken up by believers.

Some villages in Canton Valais observe the old Easter tradition of distributing bread, cheese and wine.


In Nyon, near Geneva, the town's fountains are decorated with flowers, ribbons and eggs - in line with an old German tradition of celebrating the melting of the snows and the return of water to the fountains. A similar custom also exists in Bischofszell, in Canton Thurgau.



Spring officially gets underway in Zurich with the traditional Sechseläuten festival, which is normally held on the third Sunday and Monday in April. The celebrations include colourful processions and culminate in the burning of an effigy known as the Böögg.

The festival goes back to 1818, when one of the city's traditional guilds held a night time parade complete with musicians and horseback-riders. The idea caught on, other guilds followed suit and in 1839 the first coordinated Sechseläuten parade of all the guilds took place.

The name Sechseläuten, meaning "chiming six o'clock," goes back much further in history than the parades: it derives from the fact that in winter the working day was limited by the lack of light, but once spring had come work could be carried on until 6 p.m.

The festivities open on the Sunday with a parade of children, mostly dressed in historical costumes. Unlike the adult parade, children from other communes, cantons or even countries are allowed to take part.

This is followed the next day by the parade of the guilds. In mediaeval times the guilds were organisations grouping members of one craft or profession, but today very few of their members are still engaged in the work represented by their guild. However, they must all belong to old Zürich families and have a close connection with the city. Each year the guilds also invite a guest canton and a limited number of other guests of honour to join them in the parade.

The culmination of Monday's festivities is the burning of the winter effigy, the Böögg. The Böögg, looking like a snowman and stuffed with firecrackers, stands on a huge woodpile which is lit when the cathedral bells ring out 6 o'clock. As the pyre burns, members of the guild gallop round it on horses. The moment when the Böögg's head explodes marks the official end of winter. And the faster this happens, the longer and hotter the summer is meant to be.



The end of summer is marked in many alpine areas with the descent of the cows from their summer pastures in the mountains. Often the cows have flowers entwined in their horns. In some places the festivities are combined with street fairs. This normally takes place in the middle or end of September.


At the end of the summer alpine season the cheese produced by the cows is divided up between the owners in a ceremony known in Bernese Swiss German as the Chästeilet.

The best known version of this ceremony is held in the Justistal above Lake Thun in Canton Bern on the Friday after Bettag (the Day of Prayer, held on the 3rd Sunday in September). It attracts not only the owners, who arrive in decorated trailers, but also numerous visitors, who have the chance to buy alpine cheese - even whole wheels, if they want to.

Cattle markets

Cattle shows and cattle markets are also a feature of the weeks following the descent of the cattle from summer pasture. Many of the farmers and some of the visitors wear traditional costume.



Autumn is the season of harvest, which means not only giving thanks to God, but also taking produce to market and stocking up for winter, with all the razzmatazz that such gatherings entail. Furthermore, St Martin's Day - November 11th - was the traditional date for paying rents, a custom which was often marked with a feast. These elements have come together in many of the festivals celebrated in different parts of Switzerland at this time.


Villages in canton Fribourg celebrate the autumn with a feast known as the Bénichon, which has become chiefly famous for the eating which goes on, although there are also dances, parades and plenty of music.

Chestnut fairs

The chestnut harvest is celebrated in some towns and villages mainly in Cantons Ticino and Valais, where in former times chestnuts were a staple part of the diet of the poor.

In general this takes the form of stalls displaying products made of chestnuts and in some places roast chestnuts are distributed.


Harvest thanksgivings are also held in other places. The festival in Stans, the chief town of canton Nidwalden, is called the Aelperchilbi, and is organised by the Aelper fraternity, originally a body of farmers who pastured their flocks in the mountains in the summer, but few of whose members now work on the land. Celebrations start in the church, piled high with fruit, vegetables and huge mountain cheeses, and continue through the day. After the service everyone is offered an apéritif on the town square. Wild men and women, the butzi, dressed in skins and moss and armed with small trees attached to long poles, chase the children, and throw them sweets. Later comes the parade of floats where themes of local life are displayed.

The festival in Stans takes place on the third Sunday in October, and similar festivals are held in other places in central Switzerland.


A unique St Martin's Day custom is held in the small town of Sursee in Canton Lucerne. This is the Gansabhauet, or Beheading the Goose.

A dead goose is strung up over a stage, and competitors are invited to try to behead it. The catch is not only that the sword they use is blunt, but that the competitors are blindfolded and wear a huge sun mask. A red tunic is also part of the costume.

Each candidate is allowed only one swipe; it usually takes up to 10 competitors before one of them manages to decapitate the bird - which he (or possibly she) gets to keep.

Bern's Onion Market

One of the highlights of Bern's year falls on the fourth Monday in November: the onion market, where elaborately decorated onions are on sale. Visitors throw confetti around, and children hit people with squeaky plastic hammers.



The wine harvest is the excuse for a three-day festival in Neuchâtel at the end of September, whose highpoint is a parade of intricate flower-covered floats. This is the biggest annual wine festival in Switzerland, but other wine growing centres also hold celebrations.

For those who have the patience to wait, Vevey, on Lake Geneva, holds a wine festival once every 25 years, with processions which include ox-drawn carts and other animals, and where Bacchus, the god of wine, puts in a personal appearance. Needless to say, there is a lot of eating - and drinking. But there is quite a long time to wait before it comes round again: the last was in 1999.



Relatively few customs can be linked to particular historic events, but Geneva's best known holiday, the Escalade, commemorates the city's defeat of the Roman Catholic troops of the Duke of Savoy in 1602.

Tradition has it that quick-witted Mère Royaume hurled a bowl of boiling soup onto the enemy soldiers as they attempted to scale the walls. Today's heroic Genevans repeat her feat by making chocolate tureens filled with marzipan vegetables, which they are supposed to smash open with the words: "May the enemies of the republic be destroyed in the same way."

Children dress up and go round the cafés and restaurants singing the patois ballad "Cé qu'é lainô" in order to earn some pocket money. The Escalade is celebrated at the weekend closest to the night of December 11-12th.

Another custom marking a historic event is Geneva's fast day held on the Thursday after the first Sunday in September. Originally a day of prayer after the St Bartholomew's Day massacre of fellow-Protestants in France in 1572, it is now associated with eating plum tarts. People were supposed to abstain from meat on a day of penitence, and plums happened to be in season.

Commemorating key battles

The key battles which gradually established the independence of the members of the early Swiss confederation are also commemorated. All of these battles inflicted severe defeats on Habsburg forces.

Representatives of Cantons Schwyz and Zug celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Morgarten (1315), on 15th November with a procession and a speech.

The Battle of Sempach, fought near the town of the same name in Canton Lucerne, in 1386 is remembered at the beginning of July. A procession of troops in historical costume and carrying weapons of the period marches from the town to the battlefield.

The anniversary of the Battle of Näfels (1388) is a holiday in Canton Glarus. It is celebrated on the first Thursday of April under the name of the Näfelser Fahrt. Religious figures (both Roman Catholic and Protestant), bands and modern troops march in procession to the battle monument, stopping along the way for different ceremonies. In one of these the names of those who fell in the battle are solemnly read out.

The "Millet Gruel Trip"

Every ten years since 1976 the "millet gruel trip" from Zurich to Strasbourg has been re-enacted. This commemorates Zurich's attempt in 1576 to persuade Strasbourg that an alliance between the two cities would make sense. They used an unusual method to prove that the two cities were only one day apart: a pot of hot gruel was loaded onto a ship in Zurich in the morning, and sailed down the Limmat and the Rhine, arriving in Strasbourg in the evening with the gruel still hot enough to burn the lips – or so the story says.

Today the journey takes longer because of the dams and weirs that have been built across the rivers in the past four centuries.

The re-enactment is organised by the guild of boatmen and other private organisations in Zurich.

Unspunnen Festival

The Unspunnen festival recalls an event held in 1805 designed to promote local Alpine customs and to reconcile the people of the Bernese Oberland with the rulers of the city of Bern. During the time of the Helvetic Republic (1798 – 1803), the Oberland had been a separate canton, and its people were disgruntled at being brought back under Bernese rule.

It took its name from the Unspunnen castle near Interlaken, where the first and all subsequent Unspunnen festivals have been held.

The event was a great popular success: the Bernese rulers invited aristocratic guests from all over Europe, and ordinary people trooped there in their thousands to watch such sports as Swiss wrestling and stone throwing, and to listen to yodelling and alphorn blowing.

A second festival was held in 1808, but the third came only in 1905. Since the second half of the 20th century it has been held roughly every twelve years, although the 2005 anniversary event was postponed for a year because of severe flooding in many areas of Switzerland. Over the years it has changed in nature. Today traditional costume forms an important part of the festivities. But the highlights are still wrestling and the throwing of the Unspunnen stone, a block of granite weighing 83.5 kilogram (184.1 lb).



August 1st is to the Swiss what July 4th is to Americans, or July 14th to the French. Swiss national day is only just over a century old, and it was only in 1993 that the hardworking Swiss agreed that they could all take the day off, but the event it commemorates took place 700 years ago, and at the heart of the celebrations is a custom which doubtless goes back into the mists of time.

The day was chosen because August 1st 1291 was the date on which three Alpine cantons swore the oath of confederation, an act which later came to be regarded as the foundation of Switzerland. The representatives of Schwyz, Unterwalden and Uri met on the Rütli field, high above Lake Lucerne, to swear a bond of brotherhood, and agree to act jointly if their freedoms were threatened by outside aggressors. So it's not surprising that the official part of the August 1st celebrations take place on the Rütli even today, with a public gathering addressed by the Federal president. Indeed, it's a day for speeches, with politicians at all levels, from Federal councillors to the heads of communes, addressing meetings all over Switzerland.

Fireworks and feasting

For most people, August 1st means bonfires and fireworks and barbecues in the garden or brunch on the farm.

Long before the government decided in 1891 to declare the day Switzerland's national day, people had celebrated summer by lighting bonfires. Indeed, the custom of lighting a fire on June 24th, St John's Day, is known all over Europe. But for the Swiss, bonfires had an extra significance. For centuries they had built beacons on mountain tops which they lit when danger approached. One legend told of both Lake Geneva and Lake Biel relates how hordes of invading barbarians intent on conquering the ancient Swiss tribes turned back when they saw the lights reflected in the lake waters, thinking they had come to the edge of the earth and were about to ride off into the sky. Whether in remembrance of this event, or just because it is fun, every Swiss commune now lights its own bonfire and sets off fireworks, and children parade through the streets with paper lanterns - often decorated with the Swiss cross or the symbols of the cantons - and people light candles in their windows. And since no celebration is complete without a feast, many people mark this festival of fire by cooking sausages over a barbecue and enjoying them with friends.

But in recent years an alternative feast has been gaining in popularity: brunch on the farm. The idea was launched in 1993, as an initiative by the Swiss Farmers' Association. Visitors are served fresh farm produce and get to see something of farmers' lives. In 2005 about 430 farms took part, serving brunch to about 200,000 people.

Switzerland's architecture has been remarkably well preserved. The country offers superb examples of Roman ruins as well as of medieval churches, monasteries, and castles.

The architecture of Switzerland has always been greatly influenced by the aesthetic development of its neighbors. As a result, it does not have a distinctive "national" style -- except in its rural buildings, and perhaps its wood-sided chalets, which have been copied in mountain settings throughout the world.

Much of the country's earliest architecture was built by the Romans. The ruins at Avenches (Helvetia's chief town), with its once-formidable 6.4km (4-mile) circuit of walls and 10,000-seat theater, date from the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D.

Many buildings were created during the Carolingian period, including the Augustinian abbey of St. Maurice in the Valais. Considered the most ancient monastic house in Switzerland, it dates from the early 6th century. The Benedictine abbey on the island of Reichenau was launched around 725, and from the early medieval period until the 11th century it was the major cultural and educational center in the country.

Two of Switzerland's finest examples of Romanesque architecture are the Benedictine Abbey of All Saints, at Schaffhausen (1087-1150), and the Church of St. Pierre de Clages (11th-12th c.). The style of these buildings was followed by the Romanesque-Gothic transitional style of the 12th and 13th centuries, as exemplified by the Cathedral of Chur or by the imposing, five-aisle Minster of Basel.

In the 15th century, Switzerland adopted the Gothic style, as seen in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame at Lausanne and the Cathedral of St. Pierre in Geneva. In 1421 the Minster of Bern was constructed in the late Gothic style, with a three-aisled, pillared basilica; no transepts were added.

With the coming of the Renaissance, there was an increased emphasis on secular buildings. The best town for viewing the architecture of this period is Murten (Morat), with its circuit of walls, fountains, and towers. During the baroque era, no mammoth public buildings were erected. Instead, domestic buildings were adorned with the ornate curves developed in Austria, Italy, and Germany. Many of the elegant town houses that give Bern its distinctive appearance were constructed during this era.

In the 19th century, impressive mansions were built in the neoclassical style. They were mostly those of prosperous merchants eager to evince their wealth.

In the 20th century, Switzerland produced a major architect, Le Corbusier (1887-1965), whose influence extended around the world. Known for his functional approach to architecture and city planning, Le Corbusier believed in adapting a building to the climate and to the convenience of both its construction and its intended use. The majority of his most significant works were erected abroad, in Berlin, Paris, Bordeaux, and Marseille, among other cities.

The principle of functionalism is evident in Switzerland's rural houses. Each region evolved its own style as it sought to build houses especially suited for retaining heat in the inhospitable, high-altitude Swiss climate. For example, in Appenzell, where it rains a lot, farm buildings were grouped into a single complex. And in the Emmental district, a large roof reached down to the first floor on all sides of the building.


A number of prominent buildings in Switzerland have been designed by foreign architects.

They include the Paul Klee Zentrum in Bern (opened 2005), by the Italian Renzo Piano, who also designed the museum for the Beyeler Foundation near Basel (opened 1997), and the Lucerne Culture and Convention Centre (opened 1998), by Frenchman Jean Nouvel.

Nouvel also built the Monolith for Switzerland's National Exhibition in 2002, a cube of rusting metal which transformed the lakescape of Murten.

Despite hopes that it might be retained in the lake or moved elsewhere, it was finally decided to demolish it and send it for scrap.



Switzerland was the birthplace of one of the most influential architects of the 20th century: Le Corbusier (1887-1965) - born Charles-Edouard Jeanneret - who adopted French nationality in 1930. His diverse output ranged from town planning to furniture design. In 1922, Le Corbusier proposed principles for architecture: rationality, economy, and functionalism.

Lugano-based Mario Botta and the Basel-based partnership Herzog and de Meuron are arguably the best-known Swiss architects practising today.

Botta's buildings include several museums in Switzerland and abroad, churches, banks, and even the bus terminal in Lugano. His museums include the Tinguely Museum in Basel, the Dürrenmatt Centre in Neuchâtel and also the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco. He has taught in a number of universities and been honoured by many more.

Herzog and de Meuron were responsible for two prize-winning projects in London: the redevelopment of the Bankside power station into the Tate Modern, and the design of the Laban Dance Centre. The Tate Modern has been so successful that it is to be expanded: Herzog and de Meuron are also responsible for the planned extension, due to be completed in 2012. They also designed the Schaulager in Basel, which combines the function of warehouse and museum. Their current work includes the main stadium for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Innovative Swiss-designed structures can be seen in many countries. The sleek Charles River Bridge in the US city of Boston is the work of a Swiss, Christian Menn. And the Basel-based architects Diener + Diener expanded the Swiss embassy in Berlin by merging a new structure with the part of the building dating from the 19th century. Other much-praised Swiss buildings include the Thermal Baths in Vals designed by Peter Zumthor, and the Kirchner Museum in Davos by architects Annette Gigon and Mike Guyer.


The Swiss are very proud of their educational system. In a country with no natural resources, an educated and skilled workforce is seen as an important pillar of the economy. However, Switzerland has no federal education authority or national curriculum, which can make moving between different cantons with children a frustrating experience, not only with regard to the language of instruction.

Depending on the canton, the main language spoken in the classroom is German (in its Swiss varieties), French or Italian. Traditionally, the second language would be one of the remaining two official languages of Switzerland. In recent years, however, there has been a trend towards teaching English as the first foreign language at school, followed by a second national language.



While the different cantonal education departments enjoy complete autonomy when it comes to policies and funding, the basic school system and the various types of schools are more or less the same across the country. Elementary education starts with nursery school or kindergarten for children aged between 3 and 5. Kids who have reached the age of 6 start with free and compulsory primary education.

After 6 years of primary education, pupils proceed to stage I of secondary education. There are different types of schools for stage I, so from year 7 to 10, children follow either the vocational or the more academic path until they have completed compulsory education. Stage II of secondary education again offers different schools for different purposes. It lasts 3 to 4 years, leading either to subject-specific qualifications needed for certain professions or to the Swiss high-school diploma, which entitles its holder to attend university. Expat parents who would like to enroll their children in a Swiss school should contact the education department of their canton to find out more specific details.



Most Swiss children go to state (public) schools. However, there are also more than 20 bi- or multilingual international schools in Switzerland, some of them private, some under federal control. Most of them offer the International Baccalaureate plus several other programs leading to country-specific university qualifications.

The website International Schools in Switzerland has a list (including contact details and a short profile) of some international schools across the country. There are others, for example the International School of Central Switzerland, which can be easily found on the internet.

Admission policies depend on the individual school, but previous school performance records and health checks are required by most admission boards. Tuition fees can be as much as SFR 30,000 per year for children in higher grades.



When it comes to education, science and technology, Switzerland has long enjoyed international renown. To make sure that the country maintains its competitive edge, generous federal and private funds are made available to research projects and programmes. Indeed, two-thirds of the research conducted in Switzerland is privately funded, with most financial backing provided by the chemical, pharmaceuticals, electronics and metal industries.



Basic research is primarily carried out by universities and the Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETHZ) and the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale Lausanne (EPFL). Universities of Applied Sciences (UAS) concentrate on applied research and development, with a view to forging closer links between industry and the world of academe.

Swiss researchers are involved in many programmes both in Europe and the rest of the world. Switzerland is also an active player in a large number of research programmes. Working on behalf of the federal government, both the State Secretariat for Education and Research (SER) and the Federal Office for Professional Education and Technology (OPET) facilitate the smooth transfer of knowledge within international research networks.

The Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences are an association of the Swiss Academy of Natural Sciences (SCNAT), the Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences (SAHS), the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences (SAMS), and the Swiss Academy of Technical Sciences (SATS). These four academies pool their respective strengths and coordinate their efforts to ensure the best possible outcomes. The centre of excellence for technology assessment (TA-SWISS) and the “Science et Cité” Foundation are also part of this association. As well as bringing science and the public close together, the academies oversee medium- and longer-term projects, such as the Historical Dictionary of Switzerland.

International and private institutions are also heavily involved in research. For example, there is the European laboratory of the American high-tech company IBM in Rüschlikon, near Zurich. At the other end of Switzerland, on the outskirts of Geneva, is the headquarters of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN).



The federal government deploys a variety of instruments to support research, innovation and knowledge transfer. It is also responsible for drafting, implementing and executing legislation on the matter.

Swiss National Science Foundation

The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) is the most important instrument that the federal government has at its disposal for the promotion of research and the development of a new generation of scientists. The foundation which was set up in 1952 supports scientific research in Swiss universities and independent research institutions. The main thrust of the foundation's activities are the financial backing of high-quality individual projects in the sphere of general basic research, and the nurturing of young scientific talent. The SNSF is also responsible for the National Research Programmes (NRP) and the National Centres of Competence in Research (NCCR).
Commission for Innovation and Technology

The federal Commission for Innovation and Technology (CTI) has been supporting the transfer of knowledge and technology between businesses and universities for over 60 years. As well as promoting the development and application of new technologies, the CTI brings dynamic companies and researchers at universities together by supporting their cooperation in applied R&D.



Scientists at the Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have developed a new generation of microchips, enabling computers to perform faster and more efficiently, and run many more programmes and processes simultaneously.

The chip is composed of three or more processors that are stacked and connected vertically. This means higher speeds, increased multitasking, greater memory and calculating capacity, as well as better functionality and wireless connectivity.
What is pioneering about this 3D microchip?

Until now microchips could only be assembled horizontally, communicating via connections along their edges. Today, they can be stacked on top of one another and connected by several hundred very thin copper pillars.

With a diameter no bigger than a human hair, these pioneering 3D microchips could have multiple applications in a wide range of fields, including telecommunications and medical devices. Considerable research and development work remains to be done, which means that the commercial roll-out of this groundbreaking technology is still some way off.
How does it work? Prof. Yusuf Leblebici, director of the Microelectronic Systems Laboratory (LSM) at the Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), explains how this amazing piece of technology actually works (click on video link below):

EPFL-News: A process to make reliable 3D chips developed at EPFL


1853 Founding of the Ecole spéciale de Lausanne, a private engineering school
1869 Affiliation with the Académie de Lausanne
1890 Académie de Lausanne becomes the École polytechnique de l'Université de Lausanne (EPUL)
1969 Federal Government takes over the EPUL and creates the Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)

Today the EPFL coordinates six National Centres of Competence in Research (NCCRs): LIVES (Overcoming Vulnerability: Life Course Perspectives), MICS (Mobile Information and Communication Systems), Molecular Oncology, Quantum Photonics, Robotics, and SYNAPSY (Synaptic Bases of Mental Diseases).

EPFL in 2011:
8,442 students
4,437 full-time-equivalent members of staff, including 286.9 professors
50 patents
13 start-ups in 2011 alone
Second-best European University in the Engineering, Technology and Computer Sciences Category of the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU).


In 1947 a kitchen gadget was launched which would transform the lives of cooks, both amateur and professional, across the world, and would dominate the market for many years to come. It was the REX economy vegetable peeler (Mod. In. 11002), produced by the small Swiss company ZENA. The peeler is still sold today and its design has remained virtually unchanged over the years. Thanks to its unmistakable yet minimalist form and its unbeatable ergonomic shape, this humble vegetable peeler now ranks as a Swiss design classic. It makes light work of peeling vegetables and fruit, and can even be used to grate chocolate and cheese. Practically every kitchen in the country has one of these quintessentially Swiss gadgets.

It was Alfred Neweczerzal from Davos who was behind the launch of the world’s first economy peeler in 1947. Little did he know at the time that his invention would become a design classic:

* Lightweight and practical aluminium tool
* Award-winning form
* Suitable for left- and right-handers
* A small side knife for removing potato eyes

A design classic

Today, the REX peeler enjoys cult status and is often cited in the same breath as works by iconic Swiss designers like Mario Botta, Le Corbusier and Max Bill. ZENA’s economy peeler is the embodiment of Swiss functional design. It has been exhibited in the world’s most renowned museums and features frequently in art and design literature. It even has its own Swiss commemorative stamp.

Special-edition stamps honouring icons of Swiss design:


REX is synonymous with Swissness as it is still manufactured in Switzerland and meets every "Swiss Made" standard. ZENA, the company behind the REX peeler, is based in Affoltern am Albis, a town outside Zurich. It manufactures more than two million peelers a year, of which 60% are exported abroad.

Switzerland is a tourist destination of unique variety. It comprises the central part of the Alps and has extraordinary landscape. Majestic snow-capped peaks reaching more than 4,000 metres above sea level, picturesque valleys, virgin woods, alpine meadows, clear lakes and many other wonders of nature provide perfect conditions for all types of holidays. The climate is extremely varied – from the abundant snowfalls in all seasons in the highest parts of the mountains to the warm Mediterranean climate in the southern valleys. In Switzerland, everyone can arrange an active holiday that will exceed their expectations.



Skiing is the most important sector of Swiss tourism. Millions of tourists from all over the world crowd the world-known winter resorts. Places like Davos, St Moritz and Zermatt are among the best ski centres in the world. Excellent snow conditions, extensive slopes, breathtaking scenery and above all, the Swiss quality of service are only a small part of the reasons that make Switzerland one of the best destinations for a winter holiday in the world. Even if you don’t care for skiing, the resorts are worth visiting, as there is a tremendous variety of other winter activities which will make your holiday unforgettable. The ski season in most resorts lasts from the beginning of December through the middle of April, and on some glaciers, decent skiing is possible even in the summer. You can trust any of the tour operators or organise your holiday by yourself – no matter which way you choose, it will be pure pleasure.



Switzerland is a real hiking haven. The varied landscape guarantees that everyone will find the right hiking trail, depending on his abilities and wishes. An extensive network of over 180 maintained and marked (in three languages) trails comprises the whole country from the Rhine valley to the highest peak Matterhorn. This is an exceptional possibility for nature lovers to explore the incomparable beauty of the Swiss countryside on foot.

The most popular and attractive trails are around Lake Geneva and in the Zurich region, as well as in the higher parts of the Alps for more advanced hikers. Another alternative is the Nordic walking, which can be organised by numerous local tour operators or by tourists themselves.



Switzerland is a cycling country. Here this is more than just an activity, it is a healthy way to enjoy the magic of nature and the hospitality of local people. The country boasts 3,300 kilometres of perfect cycling routes of all levels of difficulty. The project “Veloland Schweiz”, which was launched in 1998, provides a network of nine national cycling routes. In addition, there are countless regional and local routes. Switzerland is ideal for a cycling holiday for people of all ages and abilities – from professional athletes to families with children. Those who prefer to organise their routes alone will be delighted to find that there is no chance of getting lost – the red-marked cycling alleys are in abundance everywhere. Switzerland has a lot to offer to mountain bikers as well. More than 130 exciting mountain bike tours are available in all regions of the country. No matter whether you prefer short steep climbs or a long-distance tour lasting several days, you will find everything needed at the official Swiss tourism website where you can book your desired trip with all the details.



The landscape of Switzerland is second to none when it comes to rock climbing. It is a nerve-racking experience for seekers of emotions.

Numerous clubs offer full service for climbers, including experienced guides and instructors as well as state-of-the-art equipment. Vie ferrate, a new way of climbing, has conquered the country recently.

These are climbing routes which are also accessible for "non-climbers", thanks to the firmly-installed wire ropes and artificial hand and footholds. There are already 20 such routes in Switzerland.



This is an attractive activity for those who want to feel real freedom. Floating in a balloon over the beautiful landscape is an experience one could never forget.

However, the flights are strongly dependent on weather conditions, so the best time for ballooning is in the summer. In Switzerland, there are 550 hot air and 50 gas balloons with roughly as many pilots.

At www.ballonfahrer.ch everyone can find detailed information about take-off locations, prices and clubs, and you can even book a balloon flight online.



Switzerland is the ideal destination for your golfing holiday. Everything can be reached quickly and easily, and the marvelous landscape and untarnished nature creates a feeling that defies description and the perfect golfing facilities are scattered throughout the country.

All of this allows keen golfers to enjoy the pleasures of a golfing holiday to the max.

There are also combined packages for further convenience of tourists, such as “Golf & Wellness” and “Golf & Gourmet”. Comprehensive information about all golf courses in the country can be found at www.swissgolfnetwork.ch.



It is also possible to spend your holiday in the big city in an active way. Lots of indoor and outdoor swimming pools are available in all cities. For a more authentic and refreshing holiday, you can try the fabulous Swiss lakes near Geneva, Zurich, Locarno and many other settlements. Numerous spa and wellness centres offer total relaxation. Tennis is a widely practised sport in Switzerland, and as a result, there is hardly a town or a resort without at least one first-class tennis court.




You'll need to be prepared for a range of temperatures, as the mountains create a variety of local and regional microclimates. That said, most of the country has a central European climate, with daytime temperatures around 18° to 28°C in summer and -2° to 7°C in winter. The coldest area is the Jura, in particular the Brevine Valley. By contrast, Ticino in the south has a hot Mediterranean climate.

Summer tends to bring a lot of sun, but also the most rain, and there were terrible floods in 1999 and 2005. Look out for the Föhn, a hot, dry wind that sweeps down into the valleys and can be oppressively uncomfortable (though some find its warming effect refreshing). It can strike at any time of the year, but especially in spring and autumn.


When you visit Switzerland you will, at least in part, be dictated by where you want to go and what you intend to do, but there are good reasons for exploring at least parts of the country at any time of year.

Summer lasts roughly from June to September and offers the most pleasant climate for outdoor pursuits (apart from exclusively winter sports). In fact, many adventure sports, such as canyoning, are only offered during this time. The peak period is July and August, when prices are high, accommodation often fully booked and the sights packed. You'll find better deals, and fewer people, in the shoulder seasons either side of summer: in April, May and October. With the exception of the busy Easter break, spring is a beautiful time of year to explore the blooming countryside. In Ticino, flowers are in bloom as early as March. Hikers wanting to walk at high altitudes, however, should be equipped for snow and ice until well into June (and, in some tricky spots, all year).

The winter season in Alpine resorts kicks off in mid-December and moves into full swing around Christmas, closing down again when the snows begin to melt around mid-April. Between the summer and winter seasons, Alpine resorts all but close down (except where year-round glacier skiing is on offer). At the very best, they go into snooze mode and can even be a little depressing.

At any time, as you travel around the country you'll hit many different climatic conditions. The continental climate in the Alps tends to show the greatest extremes between summer and winter. Mid-August to late October generally has fairly settled weather, and is a good period for hiking trips.






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