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Lake in the Pfynwald, Canton Valais (in new window)

Lake in the Pfynwald, Canton Valais - about 25 km (15 miles) from the Weisshorn© tracklesss /

The snowy peak of the Weisshorn, one of the country's highest mountains (in new window)

The Weisshorn is one of the country's highest mountains, at 4505 m (14,780 ft). It was first climbed in 1861.© Grächen Tourism

Switzerland is a land of contrasts. Completely different landscapes and completely different climatic conditions can be found within the space of only a few dozen kilometers.

The lowest point is Ascona, in Canton Ticino, only 193 meters (643 feet) above sea level. Here, palm trees grow and the climate is Mediterranean.

The highest point is the Dufour Peak, in Canton Valais, at 4,634 meters (15,199 feet), with an arctic climate. As the crow flies, Ascona and Dufour Peak are 70 km (43 miles) apart.

Mountain and valley

Valais in the south is a mountainous canton, famous for the Matterhorn and Switzerland's longest glacier, the 23 km (14 miles) long Aletsch. Yet apricots, cherries, tomatoes and grapes grow in its valleys.

Damp and dry

Stalden in Valais has as little rain as the Russian steppes, 52 centimeters (20 inches) per year. Forty km (25 miles) away, the peaks around Monte Rosa receive some 400 centimeters (156 inches) of rainfall.

Small and complex

The southeast canton of Graubünden covers 7,100 km2 (2,741 square miles) and contains 150 valleys. Its rivers flow into three different seas: the North Sea, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. It has a population of only 188,000, yet between them they speak three of the national languages.

"No country in Europe is more interesting than Switzerland. To the admirer of nature it offers scenes of grandeur almost unrivalled; to the observer of national manners, a people of great simplicity and firmness of character; while to the statesman it displays in a striking light the salutary effects of religion, freedom, and security of property; nor can the poet or painter find scenes more calculated to exalt the imagination."

The General Gazetteer, Vol. III, 1823 W.Gracie , London

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