Switzerland, officially known as the Swiss Confederation, is a federal republic consisting of 26 independent cantons with Bern as its capital and the seat of the federal authorities. It is strategically located at the heart of Europe and borders with Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Italy and France. The country offers some of the most unique and spectacular scenery and awe-inspiring natural views in the world, from the high peaks of the Alps to charming villages, pristine lakes and breath-taking scenic trails. Switzerland is a landlocked, mountainous country, geographically divided between the Alps, the Swiss Plateau and the Jura, with an area of 41,285 km2. While the Alps occupy most of the territory, the Swiss population of approximately 8 million people is concentrated mostly in the largest cities on the Plateau, which include the two global and economic centres of Zurich and Geneva and other main cities such as Lucerne, Basel, and Lausanne. Life expectancy (81 for men and 85.2 for women in 2014) is currently one of the highest in the world. Per capita nominal GDP in 2015 was 82,178 US$, the second highest in the world, according to the IMF.
Overall, Switzerland enjoys a continental climate typical of the regions of central Europe but there are different regional microclimates due to the presence of the Alpine mountain range. Average temperatures range from 18 to 28 ° C during the summer (June to September) and between - 2 and 7 ° C in winter (November to March). Summers are usually very sunny but can also be rainy (especially in the north). The areas of the Great Lakes offer a mild climate, especially during the summer season. Lake Maggiore and Lake Lugano, in the Southern canton of Ticino, are even home to several species of palm trees.
The Swiss Confederation was founded on 1 August 1291, which is celebrated annually as Swiss National Day. It is therefore one of the oldest countries in the world. The country is home to numerous international organizations, including the UN and the Red Cross. Switzerland, although predominantly German-speaking, has three other national languages: French, Italian (spoken mostly in the Southern canton of Ticino), and Romansh (spoken by around 1% of the population in the canton of Grisons). Although they do not share a common ethnicity or language, the Swiss have a strong sense of identity and community, based on a common historical background and shared values such as federalism and direct democracy.
Switzerland has developed an excellent transport infrastructure. The main international airports are located in Zurich and Geneva and are linked to the city centre with buses and trains. Secondary airports are located in Bern, Lugano, and Basel-Mulhouse. Because of its position, Zurich airport also offers excellent connections to all the main European hubs (for example, Milan in Northern Italy, Frankfurt and Munich in Germany, Amsterdam in The Netherlands, and Paris in France). The railway network (and the whole system of public transports, which also includes the famous yellow postal buses) is one of the most efficient and punctual in the world and connects smaller towns to all the main urban centres in the country.
Education in Switzerland varies according to the cantonal systems. There are private and public schools, including many well-known and renowned international boarding schools, but most students attend public institutions. Compulsory education starts at the age of 3-4 in kindergarten, followed by elementary school and secondary school for a total of 11 years. At the end of compulsory education, most students choose to go on to upper secondary education, which lasts three to four years, and attend the gymnasium or a vocational school. Swiss students are well versed in foreign languages. Traditionally, the first foreign language taught in schools has always been one of the other national languages; however, recently English has been chosen as a first foreign language in some cantons, sparking controversy at the federal level.