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With four official languages – Swiss German, French, Italian, and Romansch – a variety of cuisines, cultures and customs to match, and two massive mountain ranges with 100 snow-capped peaks that come in at around 4000 metres, there is so much more to this historically neutral country than most people think before they visit.
Switzerland consists of 26 cantons (similar to states) bordering Germany to the north, Italy to the southeast, France to the west, and Austria (and tiny Liechtenstein) to the east. The major cities of this country with a population of around 7.9 million are spread out around the country, with each having a very distinct feel and flavour. The most populous city, Zürich, is in the north while Geneva borders France in the south – and the cities could not be more different – while Basel, which borders both France and Germany has its own, very distinct vibe yet again.
While languages and cultures may vary throughout Switzerland, historically aided by the arduousness of having to traverse huge mountain ranges to visit other regions, a passion for the mountains is something that nearly all Swiss possess. Whether you're taking lunch at 3000 metres with pasta and red wine or beer and sausages, the country’s collective love of winter sports awakes from slumber in late November and is in full swing until late March.
One of the most prosperous countries in the world, Switzerland is synonymous with luxurious ski resorts, such as the glitzy St Moritz, the pedestrian-friendly and chic Zermatt in the shadow of the Matterhorn, and cosy, understated Klosters, popular with royalty. Fine hotels, fabulous après-ski scenes and fantastic food that is often enhanced by a sprinkling of fresh winter truffles, is what makes these resorts deservedly famous – as well as a snow-sure winter season.
If a visit to the mountains dissolves the clichés of Heidi and lederhosen (no longer all that common), a visit to Zürich challenges the notion of the historic city being a boring banking town. Located on the northern shores of Lake Zürich, the compact city has dozens of superb museums and galleries, scores of outstanding restaurants, and countless buzzy cafés and bars. However, some clichés do ring true for Switzerland. Yes, the country produces half the world's expenditure on watches (although the cuckoo clock originates in the Germany's Black Forest); fondue is popular (and rightly so in winter) and so are chocolates (ditto); there are alphorn players and St. Bernard dogs (neither wearing lederhosen); and, yes, there are cows with huge bells.
Places of interest in Switzerland
Few countries in the world have a mountain that's so linked to its identity as The Matterhorn is with Switzerland....
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