This mountainous, landlocked alpine country is surrounded by Austria, France, Italy, and Germany, and is one of the smallest countries in Europe, stretching only 220km (137 miles) north to south and 350km (217 miles) east to west.
Zurich and Geneva are its leading cities, and much of the northern border with Germany follows the course of the Rhine River. In the east, Lake Constance forms a border with both Germany and Austria. In the southwest, Switzerland shares a border with France that cuts across Lake Geneva.
The little country is divided in a trio of regions, including the Swiss Alps, the Swiss plateau, and the Jura. Most residents live on the plains and rolling hills of the plateau. The Alps are the biggest tourist attraction, reaching their highest peak at Dufourspitze at 4,634m (15,200 ft.), a formation which straddles the Italian-Swiss border. The highest mountain lying entirely within the boundaries of Switzerland is the Dom, rising to a summit of 4,545m (14,908 ft.). The Alps cover 65% of the surface of the country.
Skiing and other winter sports provide a large slice of the Swiss economy. The major resorts for this type of fun in the snow lie in the Valais, Bernese Oberland, and the Grisons. Many villages, such as Zermatt, are free of vehicular traffic, and most of these main regions can be reached within 3 hours of Switzerland's main cities.
The more populated Swiss plateau runs from Lake Geneva on the French border, cutting across central Switzerland to Lake Constance, which, as mentioned, is shared with Germany and Austria.
Most of the large lakes, including Lake Geneva, are located in the plateau. The only large lake that lies entirely within Switzerland is Lake Neuchâtel, at 218 sq. km (85 sq. miles). Three great rivers -- the Rhône, Rhine, and Aare, cross this great plateau, which occupies about one-third of the landmass of Switzerland.
Accounting for 12% of the landmass, the Jura is a limestone range running from Lake Geneva to the Rhine River. The name "Jurassic" comes from this region, because many fossils and dinosaur tracks have been found here.
In hydrography, Switzerland has 6% of all freshwater reserves in Europe, and is the source of several major rivers such as the Rhine and Aare that flow into the North Sea. The Rhône empties into the Mediterranean.
In general, about one-fourth of Switzerland is mountains, lakes, or rivers, with farming taking up around 35% of the land.
In all, 50,000 plant and animal species call Switzerland home. Once there were more. Because of city and agricultural growth in the plateau, and the elimination of many habitats, many species here are now endangered. To prevent further erosion, Switzerland is setting aside protected natural areas.