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The basics


The Swiss franc (CHF) is the nation's currency. Divided into 100 centimes, rappen, centesimi or raps, depending on what part of the country you're in, coins include 1-, 2- and 5-franc pieces. The Swiss get around the multi-lingual nature of the country by using Latin for inscriptions on coins, but bank notes use all four languages - French, German, Italian and Romansh. Paper money comes in 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 1,000 denominations and features creative Swiss like Le Corbusier on the 10 franc and Alberto Giacometti on the 100.


English is not the official language of Switzerland, but it often comes in handy in a nation with four official languages. About 64 per cent of the Swiss speak German, about 23 percent speak French and about 8 percent speak Italian. Romansh, a Romance language spoken mostly in the canton of Grisons in the southeast, is used by only about 1 percent.

Geography & Culture

The Alps, the most striking geographic feature of landlocked Switzerland, shape its politics, culture and national character. The Matterhorn, shared with Italy, is the most famous but only the fourth highest in a country where some 100 peaks are nearly 13,125 feet (4,000 meters) or higher. Many mountains are well developed for recreation, summer and winter.

Swiss alpine passes have been routes across Europe since before Hannibal marched with his elephants. Many are seasonal. Three tunnels (St. Gotthard, San Berardino and Grosser St. Bernhard, ranging in length from 16 miles/27 km to 49 miles/79 km) are tourist attractions in themselves. At 94.3 miles (151.84 km), the new Gotthard Base Tunnel - in full service by early 2017 - is the world's longest and deepest tunnel for vehicles.

The largest lake is Lake Geneva in the southeast where French is the predominate language. While hard to pick, some of the most beautiful are Lake Lucerne, Lake Constance shared with Germany and Austria and Lake Lugano on the border with Italy.

Regions of Switzerland share the language and culinary traditions of the whatever nation is across the border - France to the west, Germany to the north, Austria and Liechtenstein to the east and Italy to the south. Many Swiss are multilingual.


Train travel is regular and reliable and linked with buses and boats in a country-wide network of nearly 17,000 miles (27,000 km). Visitors can take advantage of special all-in-one tickets for unlimited travel throughout the system, including the world famous Glacier Express and Bernina Express panoramic routes. The Eurail Global Pass and Eurail Select Pass also offer options for rail travel in Switzerland.

The country has a high quality and extensive road network, but before hitting the highway in your own car or a rental, read up on the Swiss driving rules and know how to drive in the mountains. Roadway regulations are strict and fines expensive. If you're fined while driving a rental car, the fine will go to the rental company but be passed on to you with administrative charges. The Swiss required that all cars and motor bikes drive with their headlights on all the time and that children age 12 or under must ride in a proper child's car seat or booster seat that can be rented with the car. Police have the right to stop anyone anytime for an alcohol test.

Individual bus tickets can be purchased at bus or train stations, but the Swiss Travel Pass is more practical, because it provides unlimited travel by bus, train, boat and city transport for up to 15 consecutive days, discounts on cable cars, cogwheel trains and funiculars and free entrance to museums. The Swiss Travel Pass Flex Combi is for unlimited travel on specific non-consecutive days.

The three largest airports in the country are the international airports at Zurich, Geneva and Basel-Mulhouse. Bern, the capital of the Swiss federation, and Lugano also have air service. Swiss Air, the nation's longtime flag carrier, went bankrupt in 2002, replaced by Swiss (Swiss International Air Lines), which has since become a subsidiary of the Lufthansa Group.