The Swiss landscape was shaped by glaciers, which hollowed out the valleys and led to the creation of a multitude of magnificent lakes, a large part of Switzerland’s beautiful scenery.
The Swiss plateau, set between the Jura and Alps mountain chains and extending from Lake Geneva in the southwest to Lake Constance in the northeast, represents about 30 percent of the country’s surface area. The lion’s share of Swiss industry and agricultural production is concentrated here, and half of the Swiss population lives in the plateau’s cities: Geneva, Lausanne, Basel, Bern, Olten, Aarau, Zurich, and Baden.
Within its borders, Switzerland has nearly every kind of landscape, vegetation, and climatic condition known in Europe. Only a few dozen miles, as the crow flies, separate the lowest point in Switzerland, the palm-lined shore of Lake Maggiore, from the highest, the eternally icy Dufourspitze.
Of course, the Alps are the main tourist attraction of Switzerland. Thousands of peaks, 100 of them above 3,600m (12,000 ft.) form rugged, sometimes-savage landscapes, capped by 1,500 fast-melting glaciers. They’re broken by the great valleys of the Rhône in the canton of the Valais and the Rhine in the canton of Graubünden, as well as by many lateral valleys. To the north, the chain ends in the Bernese Alps (Finsteraarhorn); to the south in the Valais Alps (the Monte Rosa range); and to the east at Piz Bernina.
Zurich -- Close to the northern border of Switzerland, Zurich is not only the country’s largest city, but also one of the world’s most scenic capitals, famous for its lakeside promenades set against a backdrop of towering mountains. Watery quays run alongside the Alstadt, or Old Town, presided over by the city’s two most historic churches, Fraumünster and Grossmünster. For a view of the Alps, visitors head for Uetliberg. Two of Europe’s great museums call Zurich home: the Rietberg with its magnificent non-European art collection, and the Kunsthaus with its array of modern art.
The Bernese Oberland -- Switzerland’s best-known alpine region is named after its largest city, Bern, the Swiss capital. Known for the beauty of its mountains, it includes many famous resorts, the largest of which is Interlaken, popular mainly in the summer. At higher altitudes, where the snowfall is more consistent, are such prime ski resorts as Gstaad, Grindelwald, Mürren, and Wengen.
Northeastern Switzerland -- Relatively neglected by tourists, this region is separated from southern Germany and Austria by the waters of the Rhine and Lake Constance. Its highlights include St. Gallen, historically famous for its lace-making and the economic center of the region, and the Rhine Falls, near Neuhausen.
Basel & the “Röstigraben” -- In northwestern Switzerland, Basel, the capital of the region, is an ancient university town and trading center on the Rhine, bordering Alsace in France and the gentle peaks of the Jura range. It’s surrounded by charming medieval villages with a mix of French and German influences.
The Valais -- This rugged valley of the upper Rhône offers such geographic attractions as the Matterhorn and the Great St. Bernard Pass. Equally divided between French- and German-speaking residents, it’s rich in alpine folklore. Its most frequented ski resorts are Verbier and Zermatt.
Lausanne & the Shores of Lake Geneva -- Called Lac Léman by French-speaking Swiss, Lake Geneva is the largest freshwater body in central Europe, covering some 583 sq. km (225 sq. miles). It’s partially fed by the alpine waters of the Rhône and is emptied by a continuation of the same river, which eventually pours into the Mediterranean. Lausanne, the cultural center of the area, is the second-largest city on Lake Geneva and the fifth largest in Switzerland.
Geneva -- Switzerland’s second-largest city, is distinctly different from the rest of the country, and much more international in character. It’s built on the Rhône, at the lower end of Lake Geneva, and is bordered on three sides by French territory. This center of global private banking and commodities trading—and the site of many international organizations, such as the United Nation’s European headquarters, the World Health Organization, and the World Trade Organizations, as well as the cradle of the International Red Cross movement—is celebrated for its prosperity, elegance, and sophistication.
Lucerne & Central Switzerland -- Switzerland’s heartland comprises six different cantons: Lucerne, Nidwalden, Obwalden, Uri, Zug, and Schwyz, from which the country’s name is derived. The region’s only major city is Lucerne, a medieval town made famous as a resort in the 19th century, now a firm favorite among international visitors. It sits at the northern edge of the lake that bears its name.
Graubünden & the Engadine -- This high alpine region is the largest and most easterly of the cantons of Switzerland. It’s also one of the least populated, taking in about 363 sq. km (140 sq. miles) of glaciers and legions of jagged, wind-swept peaks. Its capital is Chur, the self-proclaimed oldest town in Switzerland and a junction en route to the winter resorts of Arosa, Klosters, and Davos. One of Graubünden’s most scenic areas is the Romansh-speaking Engadine Valley, which stretches from Maloja up to the Austrian border. The chief attraction there is the glamorous winter resort of St. Moritz.
Ticino -- A pizza-shaped wedge of dolce vita in Switzerland, this sunny, exclusively Italian-speaking canton is the retirement dream of many a Swiss German from the north. It includes the lakeside resorts of Lugano, Locarno, and Ascona, as well as the wilder interior valleys of Verzasca, Maggia, and Onsernone.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.