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Facts at a Glance
 Full country name: Swiss Confederation

Area: 41,295 sq km (16,105 sq mi)

Population: 7.3 million

Capital city: Bern (pop 130,000)

People: 74% German, 20% French, 4% Italian & 1% Romansch

Language: German, French, Italian & Romansch

Religion: 49% Roman Catholic & 48% Protestant

Government: Federal republic

President: Kaspar Villiger


Switzerland sits squarely in the stomach of western Europe, landlocked by France, Germany, Liechtenstein, Austria and Italy. The Alps occupy the central and southern regions of the country and the modest Jura Mountains straddle the border with France in the north-east. The Bernese Mittelland - an area of hills, rivers and winding valleys - lies between the two mountain systems and has spawned Switzerland's most populous cities. Over 60% of the country is mountainous and a quarter of it is covered in forests. Farming of cultivated land is intensive and cows graze in Alpine meadows as soon as the retreating snow line permits. The Dufour summit (4634m) of Monte Rosa is the highest peak, though the Matterhorn (4478m) is more well known.

Climatic variations mean that vegetation ranges from palm trees in Ticino to delicate alpine flora in the mountains. There are plenty of conifer forests in the mountains, but as altitude increases these are replaced by bushes, scrub and pretty alpine meadows. The most famous and distinctive alpine animals are the ibex (a mountain goat with huge curved horns) and the chamois (a horned antelope good at cleaning cars). Despite strong environmental legislation, birdlife is on the retreat in Switzerland - 81 species are currently threatened with extinction.

The mountains are mainly responsible for the variety of local and regional microclimates. Ticino in the south has a hot, Mediterranean climate, but most of the rest of the country has a central European climate, with temperatures typically between 20° and 25°C in summer (June to September) and between 2° and 6°C in winter (November to March). Travellers need to be prepared for a range of temperatures dependent on altitude. There is perennial snow cover at altitudes above 3000m. Summer is the most pleasant time for outdoor pursuits (with the exception of skiing). Strong winds from the south, known as the

Economic Profile
 GDP: US$192 billion

GDP per head: US$26,400

Annual growth: 2%

Inflation: 2%

Major industries: Banking, insurance, pharmaceuticals, chemicals & precision instruments, tourism

Major trading partners: EU (esp. Germany, France, Italy, UK), US, Japan

Member of EU: no

Facts for the Traveler
 Visas: Citizens of Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, the UK and the USA do not require a visa. A maximum stay of three months applies though passports are rarely stamped

Health risks: Altitude sickness, hypothermia & sunburn

Time: GMT/UTC plus one hour

Electricity: 220 volts, 50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric

Tourism: 11 million visitors annually

Money & Costs
 Currency:Swiss franc
Relative Costs:

  • Budget: US$5-10
  • Mid-range: US$10-20
  • Top end: US$25 and upwards

  • Lodging

  • Budget: US$10-40
  • Mid-range: US$40-70
  • Top end: US$70 and upwards
  • Costs are higher in Switzerland than anywhere else in Europe. If you're on a tight budget, you could get by on around US$30 a day after buying a rail pass if you stay in hostels and self-cater. If you stay in pensions, enjoy eating out and want to sample the nightlife, count on spending at least twice as much.

    All major travellers' cheques and credit cards are accepted. Commission is not charged for changing cash or cheques, but shop around for the best rates (hotels usually have the worst rates). Tipping is rarely necessary as hotels, restaurants and bars are required by law to include a 15% service charge. Even taxi fares normally have a service charge included.

    When to Go

    You can visit Switzerland any time throughout the year. Summer lasts roughly from June to September, and offers the most pleasant climate for outdoor pursuits. Unfortunately, you won't be the only tourist during this period, so prices can be high, accommodation hard to find and the mainstream sights crowded. You'll find much better deals and fewer crowds in the shoulder seasons of April-May and late-September-October.

    If you're keen on winter sports, resorts in the Alps begin operating in late-November, move into full swing around Christmas, and close down when the snow begins to melt in April.

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