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9 Surprising Facts About Switzerland To Impress Any Local

Whether you are researching for an upcoming trip to Switzerland or just looking for inspiration, learning some new facts about Switzerland is never a bad idea, right?

 However, let’s face it, the fact that Switzerland has the world’s most famous chocolate and cheese is A) not really a surprise (we also have the happiest cows, you are welcome) and B) not the sexiest thing ever.

But don’t worry, as a native Swiss guy. I am going to uncover nine unknown facts about Switzerland to help you impress your (Swiss) grand-auntie Marie or even your next Swiss date. 

Swiss railways are 90% hydro-powered

Man Walking on Train Station

You might have heard about the great punctuality, comfort, and reliability of the Swiss public transportation system. But did you also know that the Swiss railways are 90% hydro-powered? The Swiss Federal Railways covers the remaining 10% of it’s energy demands from solar power and nuclear energy.  

Hydroelectric power, which is generated by flowing water, has been a crucial source of energy for Switzerland since the late 19th century, with a dramatic spike in popularity in the last decade. The large number of lakes and rivers in the country provide the ideal basis for reliable and sustainable sources of electricity. 

By tapping into the electrification of the tracks early (the counties first electric tramway between Vevey and Chillon operated in 1888), Swiss railways have drastically reduced their reliance on fossil fuels. In fact, even back in 1928, more than 50% of all tracks had already been remodeled, and there are no more diesel-powered trains operating in Switzerland today. 

The high percentage of renewable, hydro-powered energy also makes traveling by train by far the most eco-friendly option. Let me prove this with an example. 

Let’s assume you just had a blast at the vibrant WOW museum in Zurich, but the next thing on your bucket list is the botanical garden in Geneva. The distance is 274 kilometers (170 miles), according to our good friends from Google Maps.

Google Maps Screenshot Zurich Wow Museum to Geneva

Let’s take a look at the statistics now. If you travel this distance by train, calculations show that you will emit roughly 0.25 kilograms of Carbon dioxide compared to 114.9 kg by air travel. 

Carbon emission comparison Zurich Geneva
Source: www.ecopassenger.org

Gotthard Base Tunnel is the world’s longest railway tunnel

Fact about Switzerland: Gotthard base tunnel is the worlds longest tunnel
Source: Pixabay.com

Speaking about the Swiss railway system, let’s turn to another masterpiece of engineering, the Gotthard Base Tunnel. Tucked away in the heart of the Swiss Alps is the Gotthard Tunnel, proudly holding the title of the world’s longest railway tunnel.

 Stretching an incredible 57 kilometers (35 miles), this underground marvel connects the towns of Erstfeld and Bodio and is the world’s longest railway tunnel to this day. 

To be fair, the construction of the Gotthard Tunnel was no small task. It took a whopping 17 years, thousands of workers, and immense technological advancements to complete. The tunnel officially opened to the public on June 1st, 2016, replacing the older Gotthard Rail Tunnel, which had been in operation since 1882.

The Gotthard Base Tunnel not only reduces the travel time between the German-speaking and the Italian-speaking parts of the country but is also very critical for freight transportation between Germany and Italy (and ultimately the entire of Europe). Up to 260 freight trains and 65 passenger trains pass the Gotthard Base Tunnel every day. 

Pro tip

Do you prioritize breathtaking views over speed? In this case, consider choosing an Interregio Treno Gottardo connection, as they still operate on the old panoramic route. Alternatively, you can also book a ticket on the Gotthard Panorama Express route from Lugano/Bellinzona to Lucerne (or vice versa). 

Less Than 20% of the Alps Are Actually Swiss

View of Swiss Alps with mountain lake

What is Switzerland famous for, aside from Chocolate, cheese, and watches? For the stunning mountains and the Alps, of course!  You might be surprised to learn that less than 20% of the entire Alps actually falls within Swiss borders.

Top 4 highest mountain peaks in Switzerland…

Dufourspitze

4634 m / 15,203 ft.

Dom

4545 m / 14,991 ft.

Liskamm

4527 m / 14,852 ft.

Weisshorn

4527 m / 14,852 ft.

The Alps, spanning over 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) across eight European countries, are a true marvel of nature. Switzerland, with its strategic location right in the heart of the Alps, certainly boasts its fair share of breathtaking peaks, but it’s only a small portion of the entire range.

In fact, the majority of the Alps are located in Italy and France. Italy claims about 39% of the total area, while France comes in at a close second with 28%. Switzerland, with its picturesque landscapes and world-renowned ski resorts, is home to a modest 20% of the Alps.

Despite this fact, the Swiss Alps are home to iconic, world-famous peaks such as the Matterhorn, Eiger, and Jungfrau, attracting adventurers and nature lovers from all over the globe.

48 mountain peaks in Switzerland are higher than 4.000 meters (13.132 feet)

View of Matterhorn in Summer

Another impressive fact that isn’t really well-known for some reason is the number of mountain peaks higher than 4.000 meters. Our small country is home to an impressive 48 mountain peaks that reach heights of over 4,000 meters (13,132 feet). If you compare that with the 38 peaks in Italy and 28 peaks in France with the same altitude. 

These towering peaks also play a significant role in shaping Switzerland’s climate and landscape. The melting snow from these mountains feeds numerous lakes and rivers, providing fresh drinking water to Swiss towns and cities. This perfectly leads us to the next fact…

6% of Europe’s drinking water resources are located in Switzerland

Switzerland has an exeptional drinking water quality

With an impressive 6% of Europe’s drinking water resources located within its borders, Switzerland enjoys an abundant supply of high-quality water. 

Moreover, Swiss tap water is not only of exceptional quality but also absolutely safe to drink, one of the few things in Switzerland that’s actually free. So don’t hesitate to refill your water bottle for free in public bathrooms at public fountains, for example. 

Side note

If you order tap water at a restaurant, be prepared to pay a small flat fee for that, especially if you are not ordering any other drinks. Many restaurants also serve a glass of tap water on the side if you are ordering coffee.

5 James Bond movies were filmed in Switzerland

James Bond in Gold Finger
James Bond alias Sean Connery in “Goldfinger”

Did you know that Switzerland has been a favorite filming location for the iconic James Bond movies? That’s right, Agent 007 has made his way to the Swiss Alps not once, not twice, but five times! If you’re a fan of the suave secret agent, then you’ll definitely appreciate these stunning Swiss settings.

First up, we have “Goldfinger” (1964), where Bond finds himself in the beautiful mountain resort of Andermatt. In this film, Andermatt is transformed into the fictional Swiss village of “Goldfinger,” where Bond investigates the villain’s evil plot. You can even visit the actual Furka Pass, which is featured in the film’s exhilarating car chase scene.

Next, we have “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969), which takes place in the picturesque village of Mürren. Bond, played by George Lazenby, goes undercover as Sir Hilary Bray and uncovers a plot involving brainwashing and biological warfare. The scenes shot in Mürren showcase the charm and beauty of this Swiss alpine village.

Moving on to “The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977), we find Bond skiing in the stunning ski resort of St. Moritz. This thrilling movie features fantastic ski stunts and breathtaking scenery, making St. Moritz the perfect backdrop for Bond’s high-speed adventures.

In “For Your Eyes Only” (1981), Bond, played by Roger Moore, embarks on a mission that takes him to the famous Schilthorn summit in the Bernese Alps. The revolving restaurant atop the Schilthorn, known as Piz Gloria in the film, serves as Blofeld’s mountain headquarters. You can relive the Bond experience by visiting Piz Gloria and enjoying the panoramic views just like 007.

Side note

The James Bond Museum, on the peak of Schilthorn, still showcases the highlights of the movie and also gives a lot of “behind the scenes” insights into the making of the movie. The amount of resources and planning that was needed is truly remarkable. Entry to the multi-media show is free. All you need is a ticket for the gondola. 

Last but not least, we have “GoldenEye” (1995), where Pierce Brosnan takes on the role of Bond. This film showcases the breathtaking Verzasca Dam in Ticino, which is where an epic bungee jump scene takes place. The dam’s stunning architecture and natural surroundings make it a memorable location for Bond fans.

You are not allowed to name your child Mercedes, Chanel, or Judas 

Let’s move on to another rather interesting fact: If you plan to have kids. In Switzerland, the rules are more strict than in other countries when it comes to naming your child. There is a total of 35+ names that a court confirmed are off-limits, for example, Satan, Bierstübl (German accent for beer pub), Pfefferminze (peppermint), or Oma (granny). 

Besides all creativity, the main reason for these regulations is to ensure that children are not burdened with names that could potentially have negative consequences in the future.  

Now, you might be wondering why names such as Mercedes or Chanel are also prohibited. In Switzerland, there is a law that prohibits parents from giving their children names that are associated with trademarks, brands, or objects

Switzerland’s highest banknote is 1000 francs

1000 swiss francs note
1000 Swiss Francs note

Switzerland is expensive, no doubt about it, but did you know we have the highest banknote denomination in Europe – the 1000 franc note? It also is the banknote with the world’s second-highest value after the 10.000 dollar note from Singapur (which is no longer distributed but technically still valid.) At the time of writing, 1.000 Swiss francs are worth around 1.130 US dollars or 1.054 Euro. 

But how far will 1.000 Swiss francs actually take you? Well, you definitely can buy more than just a meal in a Michelin restaurant, but it definitely won’t buy you one of those fancy Rolex watches (sorry to disappoint you). Here are some ideas about what you can probably buy with it: 

Dalai Lama owns the world’s smallest winery located in Switzerland

The wineyard of the dalai lama is not a well know facts about switzerland
Wineyards of Saillon

Nestled in the picturesque village of Saillon, Switzerland, lies the world’s smallest winery, owned by none other than the Dalai Lama himself

Despite its minuscule size, this vineyard manages to produce a limited quantity of exceptionally fine wine. What makes it even more charming is that all the profits generated from the sale of this exquisite wine are dedicated to charitable causes. 

So, sip on some goodness from the world’s smallest vineyard and contribute to a noble cause – a win-win situation, quite literally! Cheers to that! 🍷🌿

But how come the Dalai Lama owns this winery? In 1980, a group of individuals known as the ‘Friends of Farinet’ planted the vineyard. Farinet, a well-known adventurer and notorious counterfeiter from the 19th century, sought refuge in Saillon and became a legend for his lively spirit and generosity towards the locals (thanks to the counterfeit money he made). He was often compared to a Swiss version of Robin Hood.

The Dalai Lama took over ownership of the land in 2000. Prior to him, the French priest Abbé Pierre, a supporter of the marginalized, was the owner of this small piece of land. It is unknown who will take over as the caretaker of Farinet’s vineyard after the Dalai Lama.  

Charlie Chaplin spent his last 25 years in Switzerland

Portrait of Charlie Chaplin who lived the last 25 years of his live in Switzerland
Image of Charlie Chaplin

You have probably heard comedian Charlie Chaplin, renowned for his iconic Tramp character. But he didn’t just make millions laugh; he also chose the tranquil beauty of Vevey, Switzerland, to spend his twilight years. He lived there for an impressive 25 years until his passing in 1977.

And, for my Generation Z readers, Chaplin wasn’t just a master of physical comedy; he was a trailblazer in the film industry, wearing multiple hats as an actor, filmmaker, and composer in the early 20th century

If you ever are in Vevey, you can still walk the halls of his mansion, now the Chaplin’s World museum, where you can step into his intimate space like his workroom and bedroom, getting a rare glimpse into the life of a man who brought joy to the world yet cherished the serenity and privacy of his Swiss haven. 

 

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