Known as a summer and winter sports paradise, 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).
Switzerland has a population of about 7.78 million. Foreigners account for around 22% of the resident population. The average age is increasing, as people live longer and have fewer children. Lifestyles are changing as the Swiss adapt to new demands.
The geography of Switzerland is notable for its great diversity. Switzerland’s three main geographical regions are the Jura, Plateau and the Alps.
The geography of Switzerland means that the climate varies greatly from one region to another. Depending on the area and the time of year, Switzerland experiences conditions reminiscent both of Siberia and of the Mediterranean.
Even the major towns of their own distinctive character.Building land is in short supply, but planning regulations aim to preserve the appearance of towns and villages.
Switzerland and the Environment
Switzerland's topography means that the central plateau is densely populated. Industry, farming, transport and leisure activities compete for space with residential areas. All of these can be sources of pollution. The mountain environment is especially fragile. Climate change brings the threat of landslides and flooding, as well as threatening the important tourism industry.
Switzerland boasts a thriving arts scene, with its architects in particular achieving world-wide acclaim. The culture of Switzerland is characterised by diversity. The Swiss sometimes wonder what keeps Switzerland together.
The Swiss have a well-deserved reputation for being hard workers, but they enjoy their leisure as much as anyone else. Leisure activities range from taking part in gruelling sports to relaxing with family and friends. Many people also devote part of their leisure time to the public service.
Switzerland’s geographical position with its transit routes over the Alps made it a desirable possession for European great powers through the ages.
Switzerland developed slowly over many centuries, as more and more regions came together to form a loose confederation whose members gave each other mutual support. At times their different interests stretched the bonds between them almost to breaking point.
It was only in 1848 that Switzerland became a more centralised federal state. This favoured its economic development and ended any possibility that Switzerland might break up.
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