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Country Profile: Switzerland

Switzerland has been on travelers’ maps since the early 19th century, when the well-to-do self-prescribed the country’s clean, invigorating Alpine air for whatever ailed them. The beauty is intense and never-ending here, among the most staggering in the world. Dramatic massifs tower over verdant valleys and sleepy mountain villages. Wide pastures are draped with wildflower pastels. And the hushed peal of cowbells is carried on Alpine breezes.

On the world stage, Switzerland is a famously neutral country, having sidestepped international war since 1815. One can imagine that the nation is just too beautiful to concern itself with taking sides. Instead, peace is on Switzerland’s agenda, as evidenced by its hosting of the United Nations and the Red Cross, among other international organizations. What’s more, it embraces the multiple cultures that spill over its borders–French, German and Italian. As such, a strictly Swiss culture is hard to identify; rather, being Swiss means sharing common histories and traditions with neighboring countries. And that’s just fine with those who call Switzerland home: in fact, the United Nation’s 2015 World Happiness Report found that they are the happiest people on Earth.

Little wonder that the Swiss are smiling. Epic beauty surrounds them at every turn, as a hike though the French-influenced canton of Valais reveals. This scenic region, home to the famous Matterhorn, isn’t even Switzerland’s most iconic mountainous area, the trails around the Mont Blanc massiff, the Alp’s highest peak, make for the most rewarding walking tours in Switzerland, traversing coniferous forests, Alpine fields and generations-old farms–all with those sweeping views of Mont Blanc and endless jagged peaks draped with snow.

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Country Highlights
  • Follow walking paths through a breathtaking landscape of snow-capped peaks and flower-filled valleys.
  • Rest your head each night at inviting, family-run inns surrounded by nature’s majesty.
  • Dine on typical cuisine of the Valais canton, complemented by the region’s cherished Fendant wine.
  • Marvel at the secluded valley of Trient, the spire of its village church standing tall amidst sloping mountainsides.
  • Sample the famous, decadent Swiss chocolate.

Why Walk With Us

  • Trust our expertise with 36+ years in active travel.
  • 24/7 support from a local representative.
  • Generous inclusions: all breakfasts, many meals, and luggage transfers.
  • Your departure is always guaranteed.
  • We take care of our solo travelers.
  • Past guests and referrals always save.
  • Bring six friends on a guided tour and enjoy special savings, support, and a gift.

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Country Facts

About Switzerland:

Switzerland lies at a major European crossroads, linking western and central Europe and Mediterranean and Germanic Europe. Contrary to popular notions, only 60% of the country consists of the Swiss Alps, across the southern half. About 10% is covered by the Jura Mountains in the west, leaving 30% of the land to the Swiss Plateau, home to the majority of the population. The Alps provide the headwaters of the Rhine, Inn, Ticino and Rhône rivers, thus contributing to the critical network of transportation, agriculture and ecological zones of an entire continent.

Switzerland is a federal parliamentary republic comprising 26 cantons, each of which once operated as its own sovereign state. The nation has not designated an official capital, but Bern is the political center, referred to by the Swiss as the Bundesstadt, or “federal city.”

The official languages of Switzerland are French (in western Switzerland), German (in north, central, and eastern Switzerland), Italian (in southern Switzerland), and Romansch (a derivative of Latin spoken in southeastern Switzerland).

While knowledge of the local language is not necessary, you may want to learn some fun and useful phrases to use during your walking tour. The effort seldom goes unappreciated and by trying some greetings and salutations with a smile, your interactions are likely to grow into rewarding exchanges. See BBC Languages for helpful hints on speaking French, German, and Italian. Country Walkers also recommends a phrase book or two in our Reading Guide that you’ll receive after you reserve.

The Swiss have a reputation for their punctuality. Justified or not, it likely rests in the watch-making industry that has flourished here for centuries. Its origins lie in Jean Calvin’s 16th-century puritan reforms that banned jewelry; so jewelers turned to the craft of watch-making, which spread from Geneva to other towns in the Jura Mountains. Known for its many luxury watch brands, most “firsts” in the watch-making trade took place in Switzerland, including pendant winding (19th century), wrist watches (after World War I), and quartz watches (1967).

Life in Switzerland

Shopping and banking hours: Shops and stores are generally open Monday to Saturday between 8:30 a.m. and 12:00 p.m., and from 2:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.; in larger cities they don’t close for lunch. Banks are open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday.

Meal times: Breakfast is served at hotels from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. In restaurants, lunch is served (almost exclusively) from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m., and dinner is from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Tipping: Gratuities in restaurants and bars are included (15 percent) in the total bill; for exceptional service, you may round up the total or leave two to five Swiss francs. Taxi drivers can also receive two to five Swiss francs or a rounded-up total. For luggage assistance, a tip of one to two Swiss francs per bag is appropriate.

Switzerland public holidays: Swiss public holidays, festivals, or calendars of events may affect your travel planning. For details, visit the Swiss tourist board’s website, navigating to “General Information” and “Public Holidays.”

Although a small country, Switzerland’s cuisine is varied according to each region’s particular geography and history. Dairy products—cheese in particular—are the common thread, with each region and village producing its own cheese variety; fondue and raclette with potatoes are examples of cheese-based meals. Cheese is almost exclusively made of cow’s milk (99%, 1% production from sheep and goat’s milk) and comes in over 450 varieties. The most common are the recognizable “hole-ridden” hard cheeses of Emmental and Gruyère; Raclette falls in the semi-hard category.

Locally pastured beef and lamb are common on menus, often as roasts with savory sauces accompanied by potatoes, fresh vegetables, and salad. Many regions have fresh sausages, as well as dry-cured sausages and hams. It is also the land of muesli cereal, creamy yogurts, and a variety of baked goods, from fresh breads and croissants to many types of cookies and cakes (often hazelnut-based).

Switzerland, despite its mountainous landscape, also produces wine in its southern and western regions, with a history dating back to Roman and perhaps even pre-Roman times. Wine production is just over 50 percent red, predominantly of Pinot Noir grapes, and just under 50 percent white, with many grape varieties, the most common being Müller Thurgau, Chardonnay, Sylvaner, and Pinot Gris.

The climate in Switzerland varies according to region and elevation. Late spring can be pleasant and sunny with temperatures up to the 70s, occasional showers, and some snow on the ground at high elevations. Summer days can be hot (high 80s), with local rain or thunder showers. In early autumn, the weather is often dry and sunny, although early snowfalls at higher elevations are not uncommon. Evenings are typically cooler in all seasons at mountainous elevations.

For up-to-date forecasts, see qwikcast.com. For historical average temperatures and rainfall, see weatherbase.com.

U.S. citizens: Passports are required and must be valid for at least three months beyond the dates of travel. Visas are not required for stays of up to 90 days. For more information, see travel.state.gov.

Switzerland uses the Swiss franc (CHF). The current exchange rate is 1 USD = 1 CHF. Exchange rates can vary greatly month to month, so we recommend you visit oanda.com for the latest.

Many businesses in Europe will no longer accept credit cards without PIN numbers (chip and pin cards). Contact your bank or your credit-card company for details on fees and card use when travelling, and to inform them of your travel destination and dates so they do not freeze your accounts when they see charges appear from a foreign country.

We recommend having a variety of payment options readily available to help you start your trip: ATM card(s), credit card(s), some U.S. dollars to exchange, and some euros in small denominations.

No immunizations are required to enter Switzerland. Requirements and recommendations change frequently, so always check directly with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC: cdc.gov/travel; 800-232-4636), a travel clinic, and/or your personal physician for the most current information. Plan ahead for immunizations, as some require administration several months prior to departure.

Electricity: Alternating current of 230V and 50Hz is used in Switzerland. Plugs have either two round pins and a hole, or just two round pins. For a full listing of electrical outlets worldwide, see electricaloutlet.org. If you are bringing your own hair dryer or other electrical device, you will need a travel converter, available at most hardware, travel, or consumer electronic stores. For laptops or an electronic device with a dual voltage switch, you will only need the adapter plug, not the converter.

Phone: Switzerland’s country code is “+41.” Cell phone coverage throughout Switzerland is extensive, but we cannot guarantee adequate signals on all American phone models or while on walking trails or in remote areas. For more information regarding international phone use, please refer to this blog post.

Internet: Internet access is generally very good in towns and villages; however, all of the hotels used on our tours do not necessarily provide it, or they provide it at an additional cost. Details regarding Wi-Fi availability in each hotel are available in the Itinerary Overview that you’ll receive once you’ve reserved.

Switzerland is in the Central European Time Zone, Eastern Standard Time plus 6 hours. For more information on worldwide time zones, see: worldtimezone.com.

A wealth of travel information is available at myswitzerland.com.

Airports

Direct flights from the U.S. are available to Zurich, Geneva and Basel.

International Airports in Switzerland

  • Basel EuroAirport Basel–Mulhouse–Freiburg
  • Bern-Belp Airport
  • Geneva International Airport
  • St. Gallen-Altenrhein Airport
  • Zurich Airport

Trains

Swiss Federal Railways: Switzerland’s national train company is sbb.ch. You may book your train travel directly with them. Or, if you plan to travel for longer periods, consider Rail Europe, a U.S.-based company that provides schedules, reservations, and ticketing for all European train networks. Their multi-day, -week or -month passes in one country or combinations of countries may be a more economical and convenient choice. For more information, go to raileurope.com or call 800.622.8600.

Other local transportation

Once in Switzerland, short internal flights can get you to other cities. However, reaching any destination is often easier on its excellent—and both stunningly beautiful and punctual—rail network or extensive regional bus lines. Zurich (zurich-airport.com) and Geneva (gva.ch) airports have direct rail service.

Taxis are available at all major airports, train stations, and in smaller towns, and can be reserved in advance (your hotel can usually provide assistance). Most major car rental agencies are available at Swiss airports and train stations.

For more information go to myswitzerland.com, and click on “Transport.” Or instead visit swisstravelsystem.com, another official site providing ticketing, pass, and schedule information for all interconnected public transport including rail, bus, and ferries, as well as legendary rail lines such as the 7-hour-long Glacier Express from Zermatt to St. Moritz.

For additional hints and guidance about travel to Switzerland, visit the Switzerland tourist board’s website at myswitzerland.com.

Photos

Swiss Chocolate

Switzerland Chocolate

With the highest per capita of chocolate consumption worldwide, the Swiss enjoy their quality confection as much as the rest of the world. But what exactly makes Swiss chocolate so … Swiss?

Once an exotic drink enjoyed only by the aristocracy of Spain and France, the chocolate beverage lost its popularity to coffee and tea in the 19th century. In its place, solid chocolate gained ground, particularly in Italy, where traveling chocolatiers peddled the sweet treat at fairs. In 1819, François-Luis Cailler educated himself in the art of chocolate making during a trip to Italy and brought his talent back to Switzerland, opening the first factory. The new indulgence caught on, satisfying sweet teeth everywhere and opening doors for other Swiss-born entrepreneurs, including Henri Nestlé and Theodor Tobler.

These men and other confectioners were driven by their pursuit of quality. In their day, the raw ingredients that comprised their product–cocoa beans and sugar – were largely imported from the Americas, and at no small price. Surely, investing so much money upfront encouraged them to create the best chocolate they could, tweaking recipes until they got them just right. Daniel Peter added milk to his concoction, inventing milk chocolate in 1875. Rodolphe Lindt developed a process called “conching” in the 1880s, which led to the invention of “melting chocolate.”

Today, Swiss chocolate is still made with great care and precision. While high end chocolates from such makers as Teuscher and Sprüngliare worth splurging for, even supermarket-brand chocolate (such as Frey, sold in Migros chains) is delicious.

Switzerland - 1 Tour Available

Guided Walking Guided Walking Tour of Mount Blanc Circuit
Europe

France, Italy & Switzerland: The Mont Blanc Circuit

Activity level: Challenging Terrain

7-9.5 Miles Daily

Flight + Tour

12 days, 11 nights

From $5,898 USD

per person

Tour Only

9 days, 8 nights

From $4,398 USD

per person

Tour Highlights:
  • Ride the La Flégère cable car into the Chamonix Valley and enjoy its panoramic views of grassy hillsides, virgin forest, and the curving Arve River.
  • After an energetic day on the trail, savor the best of rich Savoyard cuisine: creamy fondue, raclette with potatoes, savory stews, and delicious tarts.
  • Enjoy the mountaineering culture of the Alps in the quaint town of Courmayeur, as you visit local shops or sip a panaché (beer and lemonade) at a sidewalk café.

Have Questions?

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Departure Dates
Flight + Tour Combo

2016

  • Aug 7

2017

  • Jun 18
  • Jun 25
  • Jul 30
  • Aug 27
Tour Only

2016

  • Aug 9

2017

  • Jun 20
  • Jun 27
  • Aug 1
  • Aug 29
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