Les 26 cantons suisses
Switzerland offers a surprising variety of landscapes, from mountains to lakes, as well as different architectural styles and cultures, in a relatively small area. Let´s have a look at the administrative map to understand this diversity: the Swiss Confederation is a federal state composed of 26 sovereign cantons. While German – or “Schwizerdütsch” – is the most spoken language in “German-speaking Switzerland” and in the country as a whole, you will hear French in “French-speaking Switzerland”, Italian in Ticino and Romansh in Graubünden. These language boundaries have remained more or less unchanged for over 1000 years and pre-date the creation of Switzerland!
A nature destination par excellence, Switzerland is also worth a trip for its historical and cultural heritage, which goes beyond the famous chocolates, alpine cheeses, skiing and watchmaking! The capital, Berne, is an unspoilt medieval jewel. The Valais canton, with its strong winegrowing tradition, offers 5000 hectares of sun-drenched vineyards, while palm trees and colourful Italian-style villas stand next to snow-capped peaks on the shores of lake Maggiore.
Another advantage is that Switzerland is a great destination in both summer and winter!
Known as a cyclists-paradise, Switzerland can also easily be visited by train. Practical, ecological and well organised, the SBB rail network is extremely dense: almost 29,000 km of lines serve the entire country, including small hilltop villages and ski resorts. Boats or the famous post buses take over when the train has to stop. In Switzerland, the car is pretty useless!
Given their mountainous terrain, the Swiss had to developed a real “know-how” in railway infrastructure: viaducts, bridges, tunnels, etc. represent real technical feats, sometimes world records, such as the Gotthard base tunnel (57 km long) or “the highest station in Europe”, at the Jungfraujoch, which rises to an altitude of 3,454 m. In the past, these investments have enabled the regions to open up and to offer wonderful panoramic views. Try the picturesque trains such as the Glacier Express, the Bernina Express, the GoldenPass Line or the Gotthard Panorama Express!
Environmental protection is very important in Switzerland. There are nearly 20 so-called “parks of national importance”; these are special areas that the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment has placed under protection as “exceptional, natural habitats or landscapes of particular beauty.” Nature protection has been legally regulated in the Federal Law on the Protection of Nature and Cultural Heritage (NHG).
Switzerland is a highly forested country – namely, about one-third of its total area. It is particularly interesting to note that Switzerland not only has the kind of vegetation one would expect in an Alpine country (such as conifers like spruce, fir or larch), but also Mediterranean vegetation, for example in areas of southern Ticino. Although Switzerland, as has been shown, attaches great importance to the preservation of native vegetation, more than 750 plant species are currently considered to be threatened with extinction.
Only a few years ago, studies showed that probably between 100 and 110 different mammal species live in the wild in Switzerland. With a few exceptions – for example, the lynx has been specifically reintroduced to Switzerland and brown bears have come to Switzerland from Italy on their way north – there are hardly any predators left in Switzerland today. Worthy of mention are the numerous bird species that winter in Switzerland each year – including tufted ducks, goosanders and great crested grebes. Numerous owl species, including the eagle owl and the tawny owl, also give a characteristic shape to the fauna in Switzerland.
Unfortunately, climate change has not spared Switzerland either: the climate there has changed noticeably in recent decades, and warming has steadily increased every decade since the early 1970s. The average annual temperature has risen by no less than 2 °C since 1864, which is more than twice the global average. Emerging problems, such as increasing glacier retreat, have very real consequences for the Swiss, for example in groundwater supplies. Political measures are trying to prevent – or at least delay – a worsening of the situation.
Environmental protection in Switzerland is not only pursued politically – but also from the private side: numerous organizations take care of domestic nature conservation, such as Pro Natura, which contractually safeguards over 600 nature reserves in Switzerland with a total area of almost 600 km².
Pro Natura was founded in 1909 and today has over 140,000 members and about 25,000 patrons. As of 2022, the private, non-profit association pursues the following goals:
To achieve these goals quickly, Pro Natura relies on a variety of measures, including targeted influence in politics and aggressive marketing, to win over as many Swiss as possible to the issues of nature conservation.
We were particularly impressed by one of the many campaigns Pro Natura is currently working on, namely an initiative against the decline in insect populations. We know the problem from other countries in Europe, intensive agriculture – and especially the use of pesticides – is causing a decline in both the number and biomass of insects, which is considered very problematic in ecology. On the one hand, insects take care of important pollination, which is essential for many crops. On the other hand, insects serve as food for other animal species (amphibians, birds as well as bats), which are subsequently also endangered in their population.
Another initiative worth mentioning is SwitzerlandMobility, the national network for “non-motorized traffic” especially for leisure and tourism. The aim of SwitzerlandMobility is the coordination and promotion of “slow traffic”, mainly for individual tourism in Switzerland. Have a look at their website!
Switzerland is a particularly suitable vacation destination for a sustainable, ecological vacation. You can see on the one hand on our articles about the so called EuroVelo routes ( LINK https://www.myecostay.eu/en/content-blog-source-only/eurovelo-was-ist-das-eigentlich/ ) that in Switzerland you can easily get from A to B by bike and make bike tours very easily a part of your active vacation. On the other hand, we currently have two special organic accommodations in Switzerland that we briefly introduce to you below – as well as more accommodations coming soon to our website in the coming months:
Because the Rhine Cycle Route is a comparatively flat route, is very well signposted, and has regular rest stops, it is suitable for bike travelers of all fitness levels. This Central European EuroVelo route, number 15, is also a doable option for families. If you were to ride the entire route – which is a lengthy undertaking at over 1,500 km – your journey would take you through 4 countries (namely Switzerland, France, Germany and the Netherlands) and you would see 9 UNESCO sites along the way.