Mixing expansive greenery, slick cities and buckets of fresh air, Switzerland is a stylish tourist destination offering countless outdoor adventures and contemporary urban breaks.
Top ski resorts in Switzerland include Zermatt, Verbier and celebrity-studded St Moritz, while white-capped mountain peaks set against blue skies make a wonderful backdrop for summertime hiking. The ancient capital Berne provides superb opportunities for sightseeing, shopping and traditional folk entertainment, while Zürich leads the way in arts, design and nightlife; from opera and world-class theatre to stylish bars and nightclubs.
Small, mountainous and wealthy, Switzerland is renowned for its enviable quality of life in a country that ticks along like clockwork. Its products are coveted the world over, from delicious cheese and chocolate to luxurious watches whose timekeeping is as sharp as a Swiss Army Knife; another popular export from this sophisticated Alpine nation.
Culture and History:
Switzerland has a long tradition of neutrality in its international relations, and has kept out of foreign conflict, including both World Wars, since its neutral stance was declared in 1815.
Founded as the Swiss Confederation (of three cantons) in 1291, the country gained independence from the Roman Empire in the late-15th century and was replaced by a sovereign government in the late-19th century, a unique system which allows its citizens to vote regularly.
In the 21st century Switzerland is one of the world’s major financial hubs, with a flourishing banking industry. Despite being surrounded by EU member states, Switzerland itself is not a member, following a negative vote in a referendum in 2001. Nine years earlier, membership of the European Economic Area was also rejected by referendum. Switzerland did, however, join the United Nations in 2002, and relations with the EU are now based on a wide range of bilateral agreements. As a result of a popular vote, Switzerland joined the Schengen treaty and Dublin Convention in 2005, bringing the country into Europe's passport-free zone and increasing co-operation on crime and asylum issues. A further referendum the same year opened the job market to workers from the 10 newest EU member countries.
Seats in the Swiss Parliament, based in Bern, are allocated by proportional representation and by canton size. The largest party is currently the SVP (Swiss People's Party).The role of Federal President is rotated on a yearly basis; the incumbent leader is Micheline Calmy-Rey who relinquishes her role in January 2012.
It is customary to give flowers to the hostess when invited for a meal, but never give chrysanthemums or white asters as they are considered funeral flowers. Informal wear is widely acceptable. First-class restaurants, hotel dining rooms and important social occasions may warrant jackets and ties. Black tie is usually specified when required.
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