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Northwestern Switzerland, with its valleys, waterfalls, and old-world villages, is one of the most beautiful regions in the country. Most of the region has a medieval feel, reflected mainly in the ancient architecture.

The area lies at the juncture of Germany and France and encompasses the Jura mountain range, Basel, and the surrounding towns. During this part of your journey, you'll zigzag between two cultures. Most citizens of Basel, for instance, speak German, although many, living so close to France, also speak French and often English. To confuse the cultural brew, every weekday some 30,000 commuters from both France and Germany cross into Basel to work, returning to their homes in the evening.

Situated between the Rhine and the Rhône, the geological folds and faults of the Jura mountain range form the border between Switzerland and France and extend from Geneva, in the southwest, to Schaffhausen, along the northern border. Vastly different in height and character from the Alps, few peaks in the Jura exceed 1,650m (5,412 ft.).

The center of the Swiss watchmaking industry is here. Winter-sports resorts also thrive throughout the region, although most of them draw a local rather than an international clientele. You'll probably be based in Basel (or Basle), which straddles the Rhine, between Alsace in France and the Jura in Switzerland.