The Alps in Europe run from the foothills of the Mediterranean in France northward through France and Italy. When they reach Switzerland they start to curve to the East through Liechtenstein, Austria and Germany. The Swiss Alps share borders with France, Italy, Lieschtenstein and Austria.
The Swiss Alps, also called the Central Alps, represent only 14% of the total area of the European Alps. However, within Switzerland, the Alps constitute 65% of its country land mass. Therefore, Switzerland is a very mountainous country and this has greatly impacted the development of every aspect of life for the Swiss.
The Eastern third of the country of Switzerland is divided by the Alps. There are two major areas in Switzerland that are on the other sides of the Alps from Zurich, Berne, Lausanne and Geneva . One is on the Southern side of the Alps which is the Swiss Italian lakes region of Ticino with the cities of Lugano and Locarno. The other is in the Eastern part of the Alps which is the Engadine Canton and Romansch- speaking region (Romansch being an ancient Roman language) where you find the cities of St. Moritz, Davos, and Chur.
In Northern regions of Switzerland Swiss-German is spoken and is the most prominent dialect in the country although standard German is the official language of this area. In the Lake Geneva region and some areas of the Canton of Valais, French is spoken. All are official languages of Switzerland.The Swiss Alps are known in German as; Schweizer Alpen, in French as; Alpes suisses, in Italian as: Alpi svizzere, and in Romansh as: Alps svizras.
It is the Swiss Alps that have created these linguistic pockets of languages and very different cultures of people that are all part of the same confederation of Switzerland. Furthermore, with so many valleys and peaks there are numerous dialects of each major language. This cultural richness is fascinating that you will encounter while traveling throughout the different areas of the Swiss Alps.
Although, it is probably an overused cliché, the word breathtaking in regards to describing the Swiss Alps is used for specific reasons. It is literal; not just a metaphor. Firstly, there is the loss of breath from the awe that you experience the first time you see so many rugged snow peaked mountains (oftentimes glacier-covered and exceeding 15'000 feet) hugging each other for distances that seem to go on forever. Secondly, you may literally lose your breath in disbelief when you're at the foot of a Swiss Alpine range looking upwards to these monuments to nature and may ask your guide or expert companion, "are we going up there"? Thirdly, after you begin hiking up, even slowly, you will probably be impacted by the different elevations which will also take your breath away. But the air is so clean and pure that it has been sought after by visitors early on in history. In other words, the Alps will take your breath away but it will also give it back in enriching ways physically and inspirationally.
Once you discover that it is, in fact, very possible, and very safe to explore the Alps when you are well-equipped and well-informed, you will be ready for the experience of a lifetime. You will find yourself well taken care of by the Swiss who have already thoroughly thought about your needs and your security. If they say, it's good to go, it's good. But if they say, not today, believe them.
A veritable paradise for alpinists, serious hikers, day hikers, and casual walkers, the Swiss have organized a system of very well-maintained trails which are clearly marked for difficulty, distance and time to destination. On some parts of trails or on more challenging trails, the Swiss have even built bridges, cables, and steel stairs to assist walking in those areas that might otherwise be too difficult.
There are a multitude of sports and activities to enjoy in the Swiss Alps from hang-gliding, para-sailing, hot air ballooning, base jumping, to helicopter riding which you may consider less dangerous, which it is, but certainly not lacking in adrenaline inducing moments. You will also be able to enjoy your favorite other sports such as golf and tennis.
Swiss Alpine snow sports are world renowned with such famous resorts as St. Moritz, Davos, Klosters, Zermatt, Verbier, Crans-Montana, Saas Fee and many many more for you to discover on downhill skis, touring skis, cross-country skis, snowboards, or snow shoes. In the high Alpine altitudes you can even ski the glaciers in the summer and golf (indoors) in the winter.
If you tend to get a little short on breath, or are just not in the mood to hike upwards or downwards or ski in any direction, you can take one of the many inventive modes of Swiss transportation available to get you to the top of the world. And if you had in mind sitting up there on a terrace overlooking the sublime views sipping a little Swiss wine with your cheese fondue followed by a crisp sweet meringue topped with double Gruyère cream, that's alright too.
The Alps are venerated by the Swiss because they are a source of survival as well as a challenge. Throughout history, the Swiss people developed trails, firstly for the mules to transport goods and passengers and then roads strategically placed as to not spoil the incredible beauty of their land. In any case, man-made roads cannot be built just anywhere in the Alps, so a system of gondolas, cable cars, cogwheel trains and even some elevators have been ingeniously created to get up to the highest of elevations.
One excellent aspect of enjoying the Swiss Alps is that, if you prefer to stay in a major Swiss city, you have easy access by public transportation to most Alpine higher altitude destinations within a very short period of travel time.
-Sonja Holverson, Nileguide Local Expert
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