Switzerland, a mountainous and landlocked country located in Western and Central Europe.
It is surrounded by 5 countries: Austria and Liechtenstein to the east, France to the west, Italy to the south and Germany to the north. Switzerland has a maximum north-south length of 220 kilometres (140 mi) and an east-west length of about 350 kilometres (220 mi).
Switzerland is well known for the Alps in the south and south east. North of the Alps, the Swiss Plateau runs along the east-west axis of the country. Most of the population of Switzerland lives on the rolling hills and plains of the plateau. The smaller Jura Mountains are located on the north west side of the plateau. Much of the northern border with Germany follows the Rhine River, though the Rhine enters Switzerland near Schaffhausen. The eastern border with Germany and a portion of Austria is drawn through Lake Constance (German: Bodensee). A portion of the southwest border with France is drawn through Lake Geneva.
Switzerland is divided into 26 sovereign cantons. The cantons along the Swiss Plateau tend to be the most populous, industrial and religiously Protestant. The cantons in the Alps tend to be less populous, Catholic, and have an agrarian or tourism-based economy.
Switzerland is also divided by language. There are four official languages; German 63.7% of population, French 20.4% of population, Italian 6.5% of population and Romansh 0.5% of population. From Bern east (except Ticino) the population generally speaks German. West of Bern, the population generally speaks French. In the southern Canton of Ticino, most people speak Italian. Romansh, a group of dialects descended from Vulgar Latin, is spoken in several regions in the canton of Graubünden.
Switzerland is divided in three main geographic regions; the Swiss Alps, the Central Plateau and the Jura. They correspond each to clearly different geological realities. However, two small regions are not part of those three. The first, north of the Rhine in the Basel area, is situated beyond the Jura. The second, on the south in the Mendrisio area, is located in the Po Valley. But these two territories are not extended in comparison to the total area of the country.
The Swiss Alps occupy the southern part of Switzerland. They were formed by the thrust of the African plate, which also caused the formation of the Jura in the north-east and the plateau between the two massifs. In terms of area the Alps constitute about 60% of the country, the plateau 30% and the Jura 10%.
The rugged terrain of the Jura and the Alps are very sparsely populated, except for some large valleys such as the Valais. Most of the population lives on the plateau where the country’s major cities such as Geneva, Zurich and Bern are located.
Switzerland has 6% of all freshwater reserves in Europe. The country shares five river basins and some of the largest lakes in western Europe with its neighbours. It is the source of several major European rivers that ultimately flow into the North Sea (Rhine), into the Mediterranean Sea (Rhône), into the Black Sea (Inn, through the Danube) and into the Adriatic Sea (Ticino, through the Po and Rom through the Adige).
Most of the great Swiss rivers, being in their origin mere mountain torrents, tend to overflow their banks, and hence much has been done to prevent this by embanking them, and regaining arable land from them. So the Rhine (between Bad Ragaz and Lake Constance), the Rhône, the Aar, the Reuss; and in particular the great work on the Linth (1807-1816) carried out by Hans Conrad Escher, who earned by his success the surname of “Von der Linth”, and on the Zihl near the lakes of Neuchâtel and Biel, while the diversion of the Kander from its junction with the Aar to a channel by which it flows into Lake Thun was effected as early as 1714.
In Switzerland, where the height above sea-level ranges from 193 to 4,634 metres (633 to 15,203 ft), many climates are naturally found, from the regions of olives, vines, oaks and beeches, pines and firs, to those of the high mountain pastures, rhododendrons, and of eternal snow.
In most inhabited regions of Switzerland, at lower altitudes, the weather is generally moderate. On the plateau, freezing temperatures generally occur during December-early March with an average temperature of 9 °C (48.2 °F) for elevations between 500–600 metres (1,640–1,969 ft). On the Plateau the average precipitation is 1,000 millimetres (39 in) with a range of about 800–1,300 millimetres (31.5–51.2 in). The higher elevations of the Jura and the Alps naturally cause lower temperatures and in the high Alps glaciers exist. The Jura and foothills (both north and south of the Alps) typically have more precipitation, with an average of 1,200–1,600 millimetres (47.2–63.0 in), while the high Alps may have over 2,500 millimetres (98.4 in). Ticino, on the south side of the Alps, has sub-tropical vegetation and is usually 2–4 °C (3.6–7.2 °F) warmer, and wetter than the Swiss Plateau.
In the Köppen climate classification, the Swiss Plateau is classed as Maritime Temperate or Oceanic climate (Cfb) and the Alps are considered Tundra climates or (ET). A maritime temperate area will have changeable, often overcast weather. Summers are cool due to cloud cover and winters are milder than expected due to latitude. The Jura will be slightly cooler due to higher altitude. Within the Alps, temperatures and snow fall correlate to altitude