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The mountains and lakes of Switzerland are a natural playground. There are dozens of ski resorts throughout the Alps, the Pre-Alps and the Jura. Zermatt and Verbier have the best combination of slopes, scenery and nightlife. Hiking is the number-one activity in the country, with 50,000km of designated footpaths and regular refreshment stops en route. There are well-established mountaineering schools in Pontresina and Meiringen, though Zermatt is perhaps the most famous destination for experienced mountaineers. Ski mountaineering is popular along the Haute Route in Valais. Many of the resorts also offer paragliding and hang-gliding and hire out the gear. Water-skiing, sailing and windsurfing are common on most lakes. Rafting is possible on many alpine rivers, including the Rhine and the Saane. Canoeing is mainly centred on the Muota in Schwyz canton and on the Doubs River in the Jura.


February is carnival time, or Fasnacht, in many towns, but Basel really funks it up with elaborate parades beginning at a bleary 4 am. In the lower Valais, from March to October, cows battle it out in the Combat de Reines (cow fighting) to see which beast is most suited to lead the herd up to the summer pastures. The world-renowned Montreux Jazz Festival takes place in July. National Day (August 1) is celebrated with fireworks throughout the country, and Swiss wrestling in the Emmenthal area east of Bern. On the fourth Monday in November, Bern hosts its famous onion market (Zibelmarit), where traders take over the whole town centre and many a tear is shed.

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