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Introducing Switzerland

If you could travel through only one European country, which might you choose? Italy? France? Germany? How about a taste of three in one? That can only mean Switzerland!

Known as a summer and winter sports paradise (just look at those glistening white 4000m-plus Alpine peaks and glittering lakes), Switzerland is where people first skied for fun. Illustrious names evoke all the romance and glamorous drama of the mountain high life: Zermatt, St Moritz, Interlaken, Gstaad, the Jungfrau, Verbier and more. Cities like Geneva (the most cosmopolitan), Zürich (the most outrageous), Basel and Lausanne heave with heady artistic activity and sometimes incendiary nightlife.

Beyond the après-ski chic, edelweiss and Heidi lies a complex country of cohabiting cultures. It not only has four languages (Swiss German, French, Italian and Romansch), but the cultural variety to match. You could be chomping on sausages over beer in an oom-pah-pah Stübli one day and pasta over a glass of merlot in a granite grotto the next. And if over-indulgence becomes a problem try one of the country's thermal baths, from Yverdon-les-Bains to Scuol.

The grandeur of the finest churches, such as the cathedrals in Lausanne and Bern, contrasts with sparkling but lesser-known treasures like the frescoes of Müstair or the abbey complex of St Gallen (both World Heritage sites).

The list of enchanting towns is endless: from Lucerne with its covered bridge to Neuchâtel and its fountains; from Gruyères with its cheese, and Grimentz with its traditional timber houses to the sgraffito-blazoned buildings of Engadine towns like Scuol and Zuoz.

Whether visiting the remotest Ticino villages or sampling the finest of Valais wines, you'll find Switzerland a chocolate box bursting with unexpected flavours.

Getting there & away

When visiting Switzerland from outside Europe, it's worth investigating whether it's cheaper to fly to a European 'gateway' city and travel on from there. London and Frankfurt are the most obvious candidates.

Flights, tours and rail tickets can be booked online at


• Travel documents

• Land

• Entering the destination

• Air

Travel documents


Visas are not required if you hold a passport for the UK, Ireland, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa, whether visiting as a tourist or on business. Citizens of the EU, Norwegians and Icelanders may also enter Switzerland without a visa. A maximum three-month stay applies, although passports are rarely stamped. Citizens of several African, Asian and Arab countries, plus Eastern European and Balkan states, require visas. A current squabble with Libya means visas for citizens of that country are not being issued by Switzerland. For up-to-date details on visa requirements, go to the Swiss Federal Office for Migration ( and click 'Services'.

In Switzerland, carry your passport at all times and guard it carefully. Swiss citizens are required always to carry personal identification, so you will also need to be able to identify yourself at any time.


Ensure your passport is valid until well after you plan to end your trip - six months is a safe minimum. Swiss citizens are required to always carry personal identification, so carry your passport at all times and guard it carefully. Citizens of many European countries don't need a passport to travel to Switzerland; a national identity card may suffice. Check with your travel agent or the Swiss embassy before departure.


Check for cheap fares in major newspapers and try the following online booking sites (or their local versions):

Eurolines (, via local operator Alsa+Eggman (0900 573 747 per min Sfr1.50, Geneva022 716 91 10, Zürich043 366 64 30;, operates services on about 35 routes to/from Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Germany, Montenegro, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Spain.

Car & motorcycle

There are fast, well-maintained motorways (freeways) to Switzerland through all surrounding countries. The German motorways (Autobahnen) have no tolls, whereas the Austrian, Czech, French (autoroute) and Italian (autostrada) and Slovak motorways do.

The Alps present a natural barrier to entering Switzerland, so main roads generally head through tunnels. Smaller roads are scenically more interesting, but special care is needed when negotiating mountain passes. Some, like the N5 (E21) route from Champagnole (in France) to Geneva, aren't recommended if you have no previous experience driving in the mountains.

Paperwork & preparations

An EU driving licence is acceptable throughout Europe for up to a year. Third-party motor insurance is a minimum requirement: get proof of this in the form of a Green Card, issued by your insurers. Also ask for a 'European Accident Statement' form. Taking out a European breakdown assistance policy is a good investment.

A warning triangle, to be displayed in the event of a breakdown, is compulsory almost everywhere in Europe, including Switzerland. Recommended accessories include a first-aid kit (compulsory in Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and Greece), a spare bulb kit and a fire extinguisher. In the UK, contact the RAC (0906-470 1740, per min 60p; or the AA (0870-550 0600; for travel information.


Taking the train is more expensive and time-consuming than flying within Europe. However, some travellers enjoy the experience, and it can seem somehow appropriate to arrive in environmentally friendly Switzerland via a relatively green mode of transport. Contact, or your local European rail operator.

From the UK, the quickest train route is via Eurostar ( to Paris and then onwards by French TGV (train à grande vitesse). A fare to Geneva generally costs between UK£150 and UK£200 for adults between 26 and 59 years, with slight discounts for those under 26 or over 60. Allow approximately nine hours for this trip, or 10 to Zürich.

There are several trains a day from Paris to Geneva and Lausanne, taking 3½ to four hours. The trip from Paris to Bern takes 4½ hours by TGV.

Zürich is the country's busiest international terminus. Four daily trains (four hours) connect with Münich. Two daytime trains (nine hours) and one night train leave for Vienna, from where there are extensive onward connections to/from cities in eastern Europe.

Most connections from Germany pass through Zürich or Basel. Nearly all connections from Italy pass through Milan before branching off to Zürich, Lucerne, Bern or Lausanne.

Entering the destination

Entering the country

Formalities are kept to a minimum when entering Switzerland by air, rail or road, although passports will be checked.



More than 100 scheduled airlines fly to/from Switzerland, the most important of which are listed here. Lufthansa part-owns Swiss International Air Lines and their two timetables have been integrated.

Air France (022 827 87 87;

American Airlines (044 654 52 56;

British Airways (; Zürich (0848 845 845); Geneva (0848 801 010)

Continental Airlines (0800 776 464;

Darwin Airline (0800 177 177;

Lufthansa Airlines (0845 773 7747;

Qantas Airways (0845 774 7767;

Swiss International Air Lines(0848 852 000;

South African Airways (0870 747 1111;

United Airlines (0845 844 4777;

Low-cost airlines

This market changes often, so keep an eye out for new entrants and be aware that current players might abandon certain routes.

Air Berlin (0848 737 800;

easyJet (0848 888 222;

flybe(+ 44 0 1392 268 500;

Germanwings (

Helvetic(043 557 90 99;

SkyEurope(043 557 90 99;


The two main Swiss airports are Zürich Airport (043 816 22 11;, Geneva International Airport (022 717 71 11;, and increasingly EuroAirport (061 325 31 11;, serving Basel (as well as Mulhouse, France and Freiburg, Germany).

Bern-Belp(031 960 21 21; and Lugano Airport( are secondary airports, but growing.

Bear in mind that Friedrichshafen ( in Germany and Aeroportidi Milano Linate & Malpensa ( in Italy, are airports close to the Swiss border.


South Africa is the best place on the continent to buy tickets to Switzerland. Swiss International Air Lines (0860 040 506; has direct flights daily from Johannesburg to Zürich (from 4500 rand in low season).


With tourism from India the fastest growing sector of the Swiss tourism market, Swiss International Air Lines (Delhi 91-011 2341; 5th fl, World Trade Tower, Barakhamba Lane; Mumbai 022-2287 01 22; 1st fl, Hoechst House, 193 Nariman Point) has plenty of offices in the country. It operates nonstop flights to Zürich from Mumbai, with connecting flights to/from Geneva.

Expect to pay about 38,000 rupees in the low season, or try STIC Travels (11-233 57 468; for cheaper tickets.

Direct flights also go to Zürich from Bangkok, Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo.

Australia & New Zealand

The Sydney-based Swiss Travel Centre (02 9250 9320; has specially negotiated airfares to Switzerland.

Swiss International Air Lines (1300-724 666, 02-8251 3950; c/o Walshes World Agencies, Level 3, 117 York St, Sydney 2000) has linked services with Air New Zealand, British Airways, Qantas and Singapore Airlines. Expect to pay up to AUD$3200 or NZ$2700 in the low season.

ThaiAirways (02-9844 0999;; 75-79 Pitt St, Sydney 2001) has the most convenient services, flying from Sydney to Bangkok with timed connections to Geneva.


Travel CUTS (1-866-246 9762; is Canada's national student travel agency.

Swiss International Air Lines (1 877 359 7947; has direct flights daily from Montreal to Zürich (from C$600 return in the low season) and other code-share services via New York.

Continental Europe

The number of low-cost flights has mushroomed in recent years. If you book very early - and are lucky - you might find flights for as little as €22 each way (plus taxes).

Air Berlin ( flies to Zürich from dozens of destinations in Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal. Beware that you need to book very early with this particular low-cost carrier to get the best deal.

easyJet (; France08-25 08 25 08; Netherlands023-568 4880; Spain90-229 9992) has flights to Geneva and Basel from about two dozen destinations. See the website for details.

Germanwings ( operates from Cologne-Bonn, Germany to Zürich.

Helvetic ( flies to Zürich from Italy, Portugal, Spain, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

SkyEurope ( flies from Basel and Zürich to Austria (Vienna) and Slovakia (Bratislava and Kosice).

Aside from STA Travel (, agencies in major European cities include the following:

NBBS Reiswinkels (0900 10 20 300; in Dutch; Linnaeusstraat 28, Amsterdam)

Passaggi (00800 191 020 04; in Italian; Galleria Stazione Termini, 00 185 Rome)

Voyages Wasteels (0825 887 070; in French; 11 rue Dupuytren, 756006 Paris)


London is a major centre for discounted air tickets. Including taxes, you should be able to find a scheduled return flight for between UK£120 and UK£200.

The two main scheduled carriers are British Airways (0845-773 3377; and Swiss International Air Lines (0845-601 0956;, which both have services leaving from Heathrow and London City airports.

Ticino carrier Darwin Airline (+41 (0) 800 177 177 international toll free; flies from London City Airport (to Bern and Lugano only).

Several low-cost carriers travel between the UK and Switzerland, including easyJet (0870-600 0000; and Helvetic (020 7026 3464; Note that if you travel Air Berlin (0870 738 8880; or Germanwings (0870 252 1250; your flight will be routed via Germany.

During the winter skiing season only, Bmibaby (0870 264 2229; flies to Geneva from Birmingham, Cardiff, Manchester and Nottingham to Geneva.

Budget travel agencies include Trailfinders (0845 058 5858; and Bridge the World (0870 444 7474;


In the USA, try consolidators (budget travel agencies), such as Air Brokers (1-888-883 3273;, Airline Consolidator (1-888-468 5385; and Airtech (212-219 7000;

Scheduled fares start at approximately US$450 for return flights to Switzerland. American Airlines (1 800 433 7300; and Swiss International Air Lines (1 877 359 7947; code-share on several nonstop flights per day to Zürich from New York (both JFK and Newark), Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and Washington, as well as direct flights to Geneva. Continental Airlines (1-800-231 0856; also has nonstop flights from Newark, while Delta (1-800-221 1212; flies nonstop from Atlanta.

Money & costs in Switzerland

Contents • Costs • Money

Okay, let's get this over and done with quickly: Switzerland is an expensive place. Even people from the UK and Scandinavia will notice this, although the difference between Switzerland and its European neighbours has narrowed over the years, especially since the introduction of the euro in 2002 in Switzerland's neighbouring countries sent prices in those countries soaring. Indeed, UK estate agents specialising in holiday properties in ski resorts have started promoting Switzerland, as nearest rival France becomes 'too expensive'! The floods of Swiss swarming over the French and Italian borders for cheaper goods are largely a thing of the past. One very good piece of news is that petrol in Switzerland is cheaper than in its neighbouring countries (Austria, France, Germany and Italy).

Travellers from North America or Australia will find all of Europe more expensive, and the pain in Switzerland only marginally worse.

Your biggest expenses while in Switzerland are likely to be long-distance public transport, accommodation and eating out. In the most modest hotels, expect to pay at least Sfr70/100 per single/double. A full meal with 500ml of house wine for two can easily cost Sfr50 to Sfr60 and up per person.

But there are ways to keep costs down. Travel passes almost invariably provide big savings on trains, boats and buses. It is essential to check these out and see which might suit you. Camping, sleeping in barns in summer and staying at youth hostels are cheap (ish) accommodation options. Preparing your own meals, not drinking alcohol and eating at the many supermarket and department-store restaurants will keep your food budget under control. Finally, a student card will entitle you to reduced admission fees for many attractions.

Your budget depends on how you live and travel. If you're moving around fast, going to lots of places, spending time in the big cities or major ski resorts, then your day-to-day living costs are going to be quite high; if you stay in one place and get to know your way around, they're likely to come down.

The minimum that budget travellers can expect to scrape by on is about Sfr80 to Sfr100 per day, and that's if they stick to camping/hostelling, self-service restaurants or self-catering, hitching (or have previously purchased a rail pass), hiking instead of taking cable cars, visiting only inexpensive sights and confining alcohol consumption to bottles purchased in supermarkets. Add at least Sfr30 a day if you want to stay in a budget pension instead, and a further Sfr30 for a wider choice of restaurants and sightseeing options. You still have to be careful with your money at this level; if you have a larger budget available, you will have no trouble spending it! Always allow extra cash for emergencies.

Admission prices on most museums and galleries range from Sfr5 to Sfr10, with a handful more expensive still. An expense that can blow any budget is trips on cable cars; these are rarely covered by travel passes (at best you can expect a 25% to 50% reduction). A short to medium ascent can cost Sfr10 to Sfr25. Return trips up and down Mt Titlis and Schilthorn exceed Sfr70.

Tipping is not normally necessary, as hotels, restaurants, bars and even some taxis are legally required to include a 15% service charge in bills. However, if you've been very happy with a meal or service you could round up the bill (locals often do); hotel and railway porters will expect a franc or two per bag. Bargaining is virtually nonexistent, though you could certainly try asking for a discount on your hotel room in the low season.

Swiss francs are divided into 100 centimes (Rappen in German-speaking Switzerland). There are notes for 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 francs, and coins for five, 10, 20 and 50 centimes, as well as for one, two and five francs.


Automated teller machines (ATMs) - called Bancomats in banks and Postomats in post offices - are common, and are accessible 24 hours a day. They can be used with most international bank or credit cards to withdraw Swiss francs, and they have English instructions. Your bank or credit-card company will usually charge a 1% to 2.5% fee, and there may also be a small charge at the ATM end.


Many businesses throughout Switzerland, including most hotels, some restaurants and souvenir shops, will accept payment in euros. However, any change will be given in Swiss francs, at the rate of exchange calculated on the day.

Credit cards

The use of credit cards is less widespread than in the UK or USA and not all shops, hotels or restaurants will accept them. When they do, EuroCard/MasterCard and Visa are the most popular.

International transfers

Western Union (0800 007 107) has a receiving agent in most towns. Charges, paid by the sender, are on a sliding scale, depending on the amount sent.


You can change money at banks, as well as at airports and nearly every train station daily until late into the evening. Whereas banks tend to charge about 5% commission, some money-exchange bureaus don't charge commission at all. Exchange rates are slightly better for travellers cheques than for cash, but there's not much difference.

Travellers cheques

All major travellers cheques are accepted, especially American Express, Visa or Thomas Cook. You can call American Express (0800 550 100) on its toll-free number if you lose your Amex travellers cheques.

Taxes & refunds

VAT (MWST in German, TVA in French) is levied on goods and services at a rate of 7.6%, except on hotel bills, when it's only 3.6%. Nonresidents can claim the tax back on purchases over Sfr400. (This doesn't apply to services or hotel/restaurant bills.) Before making a purchase, ensure that the shop has the required paperwork for you to make a claim. Refunds are given at main border crossings and at Geneva and Zürich airports, or you can claim later by post.


Business hours

Most shops are open from 8am to 6.30pm Monday to Friday, sometimes with a one- to two-hour break for lunch at noon in smaller towns. In larger cities, there's often a late shopping day until 9pm, typically on Thursday or Friday. Closing times on Saturday are usually 4pm or 5pm. In some places souvenir shops can open on Sunday, although it is unusual for other shops to be open on that day - exceptions are Zürich's Shop Ville and supermarkets at some train stations.

Offices are typically open from about 8am to noon and 2pm to 5pm Monday to Friday. Banks are open from 8.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday, with late opening usually one day a week.

Switzerland's History

As a historical reality, William Tell probably never existed. But as a national legend, the man who helped to drive out Switzerland's foreign rulers by shooting an apple off his son's head has perfectly embodied the country's rather singular approach to independence throughout the ages.


• Pre-confederation

• Swiss confederation

• Reformation

• Towards a modern constitution

• Early 20th century

• Post WWII


Modern Swiss history is regarded as starting in 1291, but people had already been living in the region for thousands of years. The first inhabitants were Celtic tribes, including the Helvetii of the Jura and the Mittelland plain and the Rhaetians near Graubünden. Their homelands were invaded firstly by the Romans, who had gained a foothold by 58 BC under Julius Caesar and established Aventicum (now Avenches) as their capital. Then, Germanic Alemanni tribes arrived to drive out the Romans by AD 400.

The Alemanni groups settled in eastern Switzerland and were later joined by another Germanic tribe, the Burgundians, in the western part of the country. The latter adopted Christianity and the Latin language, laying the seeds for the division between French- and German-speaking Switzerland. The Franks conquered both tribes in the 6th century, but the two areas were torn apart again when Charlemagne's empire was partitioned in 870.

Initially, when it was reunited under the pan-European Holy Roman Empire in 1032, Switzerland was left to its own devices. Local nobles wielded the most influence, especially the Zähringen family - who founded Fribourg, Bern and Murten, and built a castle at Thun - and the Savoy clan, who established a ring of castles around Lake Geneva, most notably Château de Chillon.

However, when the Habsburg ruler Rudolph I became Holy Roman Emperor in 1273, he sent in heavy-handed bailiffs to collect more taxes and tighten the administrative screws. Swiss resentment quickly grew.

Swiss confederation

It was after Rudolph's death in 1291 that local leaders made their first grab for independence. It's taught in Swiss schools, although some historians see the tale as slightly distorted, that the forest communities of Uri, Schwyz and Nidwalden met on the Rütli Meadow in Schwyz canton on 1 August that year to sign an alliance vowing not to recognise any external judge or law. In any case, a pact does exist, preserved in the town of Schwyz. It's seen as the founding act of the Swiss Confederation, whose Latin name, Confoederatio Helvetica, survives in the 'CH' abbreviation for Switzerland (used on car number plates and in Internet addresses, for example). The story of the patriotic William Tell, a central figure in the freedom struggle's mythology, also originates from this period.

In 1315, Duke Leopold dispatched a powerful Austrian army to douse this growing Swiss nationalism. Instead, however, the Swiss inflicted an epic defeat on his troops at Morgarten and prompted other communities to join the Swiss union. The next 200 years of Swiss history was a time of successive military wins, land grabs and new memberships. The following cantons came on board: Lucerne (1332), Zürich (1351), Glarus and Zug (1352), Bern (1353), Fribourg and Solothurn (1481), Basel and Schaffhausen (1501) and Appenzell (1513). In the middle of all this, the Swiss Confederation gained independence from Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I after a victory at Dornach in 1499.

Then, having made it as far as Milan, the rampaging Swiss suddenly lost to a combined French and Venetian force at Marignano in 1515. This stinging defeat prompted them to withdraw from the international scene and for the first time declare neutrality. For several centuries afterwards, the country's warrior spirit was channelled solely into mercenary activity - a tradition still echoed in the Swiss Guard that protects the pope.

The country's neutrality and diversity combined to give Switzerland some protection when the religious Thirty Years' War broke out in 1618, although parts of it still suffered. The Protestant Reformation and the subsequent Catholic Counter Reformation had caused deep divisions and upheaval throughout Europe. In Switzerland, too, preacher Huldrych Zwingli had started teaching the Protestant word in Zürich as early as 1519, as had Jean Calvin in Geneva. But Zentralschweiz (central Switzerland) remained Catholic.

So, unable to agree even among themselves, the Swiss couldn't decide which side to take in the Thirty Years' War and fortuitously stuck to their neutrality.

However, religious disputes dragged on inside Switzerland. At first, the Catholic cantons were sucked into a dangerous alliance with France, before eventually agreeing to religious freedom. At the same time, the country was experiencing an economic boom through textile industries in the northeast.

The French invaded Switzerland in 1798 and established the brief Helvetic Republic. But they were no more welcome than the Austrians before them, and internal fighting prompted Napoleon (now in power in France) to restore the former Confederation of cantons in 1803 (the Act of Mediation), with France retaining overall jurisdiction. Further cantons joined the Confederation at this time: Aargau, St Gallen, Graubünden, Ticino, Thurgau and Vaud.

After Napoleon's defeat by the British and Prussians at Waterloo in 1815, the Congress of Vienna peace treaty for the first time formally guaranteed Switzerland's independence and neutrality, as well as adding the cantons of Valais, Geneva and Neuchâtel.

Towards a modern constitution

Civil war broke out in 1847, during which the Protestant army, led by General Dufour, quickly crushed the Sonderbund (or special league) of Catholic cantons, including Lucerne. In fact, the war lasted just 26 days, later leading German Chancellor Bismarck to dismissively declare it 'a hare shoot'. Victory by Dufour's forces was rapidly underlined with the creation of a new federal constitution in 1848 - largely still in place today - and the naming of Bern as the capital.

The constitution was a compromise between advocates of central control and conservative forces wanting to retain cantonal authority. The cantons eventually relinquished their right to print money, run postal services and levy customs duties, giving these to the federal government. However, they retained legislative and executive control over local matters. Furthermore, the new Federal Assembly was established in such a way as to give cantons a voice. The lower national chamber, or Nationalrat, has 200 members, allocated from the 26 cantons in proportion to population size. The upper states chamber, or Ständerat, comprises 46 members, two per canton.

Lacking in mineral resources, Switzerland developed cottage industries and skilled labourers began to form guilds. Railways and roads were built, opening up Alpine regions and encouraging tourism. Between 1850 and 1860, six new commercial banks were established. The International Red Cross was founded in Geneva in 1863 by Henri Dunant.

Opposition to political corruption sparked a movement for greater democracy. In 1874, the constitution was revised so that many federal laws had to be approved by national referendum - a phenomenon for which Switzerland remains famous today. A petition with 50,000 signatures can challenge a proposed law; 100,000 signatures can force a public vote on any new issue.

Early 20th century

Despite some citizens' pro-German sympathies, Switzerland's only involvement in WWI lay in organising Red Cross units. After the war, Switzerland joined the League of Nations, but on a strictly financial and economic basis, without military involvement.

Although Swiss industry had profited during the war, the working classes had suffered as prices soared and wages fell. Consequently, a general strike was called in November 1918. With the country at a halt, the Federal Council eventually accepted some of the strikers' demands; a 48-hour week was introduced and the social security system was extended, laying the groundwork for today's progressive social state.

Switzerland was left largely unscathed by WWII. Apart from some accidental bombings, the most momentous event of the war for the country came when Henri Guisan, general of the civilian army, invited all top military personnel to the Rütli Meadow (site of the 1291 Oath of Allegiance) to show the world how determined the Swiss were to defend their own soil.

Although Switzerland proved a safe haven for escaping Allied prisoners, the country's banks have since been criticised for being a major conduit for Nazi plunder during WWII.


Switzerland's post-war history has been dominated by economic, social and political stability. The Swiss were horrified when these started to unravel slightly at the end of the 20th century, but recently have become reconciled to being a little more ordinary.

Immediately after the war, that certainly wasn't the case. While the rest of Europe was still recovering, Switzerland was able to forge ahead from an already powerful commercial, financial and industrial base. Zürich developed as an international banking and insurance centre, while the World Health Organization and many other international bodies set up headquarters in Geneva. Its much-vaunted neutrality led it to decline to actually join either the UN or the EU, but the country became one of the world's richest and most respected.

Then, in the late 1990s, a series of scandals forced Switzerland to begin reforming its famously secretive banking industry. In 1995, after pressure from Jewish groups, Swiss banks announced that they had discovered millions of dollars lying in dormant pre-1945 accounts, belonging to Holocaust victims and survivors. Three years later, amid allegations that they had been sitting on the money without seriously trying to trace its owners, the two largest banks, UBS and Credit Suisse, agreed to pay $1.25 billion in compensation to Holocaust survivors and their families.

Banking confidentiality dates back to the Middle Ages here, and was enshrined in law in 1934, when numbered, rather than named, bank accounts were introduced. However, in 2004, the country made another concession to that veil of secrecy, when it agreed to tax accounts held in Switzerland by EU citizens.

The year 2001 was truly Switzerland's annus horribilus. The financial collapse of the national airline Swissair, a canyoning accident in the Bernese Oberland that killed 21 tourists, an unprecedented gun massacre in the Zug parliament and a fatal fire in the Gotthard Tunnel, all within 12 months, prompted intense soul-searching.

However, when devastating floods washed through the country in 2005, causing several deaths and an estimated Sfr2 billion damage, there were fewer anguished cries about what was going wrong with Switzerland and more pragmatic debate on what should be done.

While swinging to the conservative right in its parliamentary government in 2003, the country also recognises that it's facing universal challenges, and has reached out more to the world. In 2002 it finally became the 190th member of the UN. In 2005 it joined Europe's 'Schengen' passport-free travel zone and, in theory, opened its borders to workers from the 10 new EU members.

It still isn't a member of the EU itself and, although the French-speaking regions would like it, doesn't look like becoming one any time soon. However, in many ways Switzerland no longer views isolation as quite so splendid.

switzerland. news