A land that conjures up images of breathtaking mountains, beautiful lakes, Alpine villages, chocolates, cowbells and fields of edelweiss is a land with the power to seduce…

Landlocked by France, Germany, Liechtenstein, Austria and Italy, Switzerland takes up an area of 41,295 square kilometres and is home to 6.9 million people. More than 60 percent of the country is mountainous and a quarter of it is covered in forests. The snow-capped Alps, Europe’s highest mountains, occupy the central and southern regions of the country. Some of the Alpine meadows are breathtaking and are inhabited by famous and distinctive Alpine animals such as the ibex (a mountain goat with huge curved horns) and the chamois (a horned antelope). There is perennial snow cover at altitudes of above 3000m. Winter sports resorts begin operating in late November and close around April. Switzerland is a federal republic and consists of 23 partly autonomous cantons. Politically neutral since 1815, it is an important international meeting place and houses one of the headquarters of the United Nations.

Its people enjoy the highest standard of living in Europe. Switzerland has long attracted many foreign artists and writers including Voltaire, Byron, Shelley, James Joyce and Charlie Chaplin. The 18th century writings of Rousseau in Geneva played a key role in the development of democracy while Carl Jung’s research in Zurich was instrumental in the development of modern psychoanalysis. Switzerland’s cities are well worth a visit. Zurich, the most populous city, is famous for its financial institutions and for its art galleries – both coexisting happily side by side. Lake Zurich offers endless opportunities for swimming, sunbathing and picnicking. Nestling on the shores of Lake Geneva, the city of Geneva is home to more than 200 international organisations. The city’s fine location and the wealth of boating and walking opportunities provided by Lake Geneva make it an attractive and relaxing place. Lucerne is often considered to be the true “Swiss” capital. This charming and attractive town straddles the Reuss River on the western edge of Lake Lucerne and makes an excellent base for excursions.

The capital – Basel

Originally settled by the Romans, Basel has always been a vibrant centre of commerce, culture and carnival. This city on the Rhine’s proximity to France and Germany has enabled it to draw on the best aspects of both. The river divides the city into Kleinbasel on the North bank and Grossbasel on the south. Head to the North Bank for the cathedral and the old town and to the South bank for subcultural adventure. The University is the oldest in Switzerland and still donates an atmosphere of youthful imagination and innovation to the city.

The old town combines medieval, gothic and renaissance buildings, and the cathedral features a combination of Gothic and Romanesque styles. The fountains of Basel are another glory of the city – from the high Gothic fountain in Fischmarkt to the post-modern loopiness of Jean Tinguely’s fountain on Theaterplatz. The Museum of Fine Arts is superb, with many Picassos and Rodin’s The Burghers of Calais. According to some, the Paper Mill in Basel is the best museum in Europe. Judge for yourself! Otherwise, make your way to the Roman ruins at Kaiseraugst, only 15 minutes away by bus and check out the open-air theatre, temples and Roman Museum.

Basel has the usual vegetable and flea markets as well as an Autumn Fair that starts on the Saturday preceding the 30 October and the famous Christmas market. Basel is a city with a great sense of occasion and several times a year the city gives itself wholeheartedly to carnival. Vogel Gryff marks the end of winter in Kleinbasel. The three-day Fasnacht carnival is held every year on the Monday following Ash Wednesday and starts at 4 am on the dot with the Morgestraich, when the city is plunged into total darkness and a procession of elaborately costumed marchers holding lanterns begins. The cuisine of Basel is excellent, offering both value and variety. After sampling some food, why not head to see one of the many theatre groups or take in a concert by one of the two symphony orchestras in the city. There are many beer halls where local brew can be sampled in an authentic atmosphere and many fine restaurants and cafés.