Switzerland is surrounded by France, Germany, Liechtenstein, Austria and Italy. Almost two-thirds of the land area are mountainous, with the European Alps taking up the southern and central parts of the country. Alpine meadows, thick forest and snow-capped peaks combine to make Switzerland one of the most picturesque of European countries. The Swiss Alps which includes the most impressive mountains in the country is a part of the European Alps, which extend for some 1000 kilometres (620 miles), through parts of southeastern France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Austria and Slovenia. Amongst the hundreds of peaks comprising this range, there are some 75 which top the 4000 metre (13000ft.) mark. Above 3000 metres (10000ft.), the mountains are permanently snow-capped and the region is heavily glaciated. In many alpine valleys, forests of pine reach above 2500 metres (8000ft.)and there are flower-filled alpine pastures above this height. No fewer than 51 of the Alpine ‘fourthousanders’ are located in the Swiss canton of Valais, which takes its name from the upper part of the Rhone Valley, which links the Rhone Glacier and Lake Geneva (Lac Leman). The Saas Fee or Saastal Valley, is ringed by 13 of these 4000 metre (13000ft.) peaks. Like its neighbour, the Mattertal or Zermatt Valley, from which it is separated by the Mischabel Range, Saastal is a tributary of the Rhone. Many of the peaks in this area present relatively easy mountaineering objectives. The biggest mountain lying entirely within Switzerland is the huge many-summitted massif of Monte Rosa at 4634 metres (15200ft.), which dominates the town of Zermatt.
The time in Switzerland is GMT + 1 hour and GMT + 2 hours in summer time.
Switzerland has four official languages, traditionally spoken in different regions of the country; German, French, Italian and Rumantsch. In addition, many people speak a reasonable standard of English. We recommend that you learn some simple French and German phrases and greetings. This is part of the fun of travelling and will be appreciated by the people that you meet.
The temperatures that we can expect to encounter during the day will be reasonably warm, ranging from 15°C/ 59°F to 25°C/ 77°F. It can be cool in the evenings at our highest overnight stopping places, falling close to freezing point at night. The weather is usually stable during July and August, but mountainous areas do generate their own weather systems and occasional rain and even stormy weather cannot be ruled out. You should be prepared for all eventualities!
The unit of currency in Switzerland is the Swiss franc. For up to date exchange rates visit: www.xe.com. You should take some Swiss francs with you on your holiday to Switzerland. These are readily available at most banks. If you run out of Swiss currency, dollars, sterling and euros (cash or travellers cheques) can easily be exchanged once you are in Switzerland. Credit cards can be used widely and you will also be able to obtain currency at cash machines (ATM's) at most Swiss banks in the usual way.
You will need a valid passport. Nationals of the EU, the USA, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia do not require visas to visit France, Italy or Switzerland as tourists for up to three months. Nationals of other countries not mentioned above should check the visa requirement with the relevant embassy in their own countries.
You should attend your own doctor and dentist for a check-up. No special vaccinations are required for Switzerland. UK residents should obtain a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before travelling. The EHIC is normally valid for three to five years and covers any medical treatment that becomes necessary during your trip, because of either illness or an accident. The card gives access to state-provided medical treatment only, and you'll be treated on the same basis as an 'insured' person living in the country you're visiting. Remember, this might not cover all the things you'd expect to get free of charge from the NHS in the UK. You may have to make a contribution to the cost of your care. You can obtain an EHIC from the Department of Health by phone, online, or at the post office.
Additional Sources of Information
Alps 4000: 75 Peaks in 52 Days – Martin Moran
Walking in the Alps. Cicerone Press. Kev Reynolds.
Walking in the Valais. Cicerone Press. Kev Reynolds.
The Mountains of Europe. Kev Reynolds.
The Swiss map series – Carte Nationale de la Suisse - at a scale of 1: 50,000 provides excellent coverage of the whole country.
Lonely Planet - www.lonelyplanet.com
Rough Guides - www.roughguides.com