Switzerland as a whole is about the size of the US states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island taken together. There are three official languages here plus a forth one, Romansh, which is how some people from the mountains speak (about 1% of the population).
The country’s roots go back to 1291 when local notables formed an alliance bringing together Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden, the first three cantons. There was a strong business case for doing it – with the opening of the Gotthard Pass at stake was the control of the cross-Alpine trade.
It was also an act of independence against Habsburg rule, which couldn’t be tolerated, of course. The new bailiff Hermann Gessler was dispatched from Vienna to regain control with cruel oppression. One of his moves is a famous legend now – in the city of Altdorf he raised a pole in the central square with his hat on top demanding that whoever passes bows with respect. One William Tell didn’t, so he got arrested and was ordered to shoot an apple off his son’s head. Tell put one arrow in his quiver and another in his crossbow. Then he shot the apple clean off his son’s head.
“Why the second arrow?” asked Gessler.
“If the first arrow had struck the child, the second would be for you.”
A little later, with their defeat of a Habsburg army in 1315, Switzerland's existence inside the Holy Roman Empire took root.
And the process of bringing the confederation together was long. Geneva, for one, finally joined in 1815 as the 22nd canton and it made an interesting contribution. When the Calvinists banned jewelry from use there in 1541, goldsmiths and jewelers in Geneva brainstormed the invention of watches, since a functional timepiece was acceptable. It’s been one of the most successful industries of the country ever since – and the Swiss know how to add charm to the passing of time. It is clearly a place where people thrive, as we’re all organic creatures who need the right climate to develop and you can find it here. A recent Bloomberg story described a group of new, young Swiss millionaires who made it big betting on volatility of the pound during the messy Brexit divorce. Some of them are sporting private jets now.
Living here gives the feeling that making money is a natural progression.
For me the French speaking part of Switzerland, the west of the country, is the best-kept secret in Europe. You may sense that I am hooked.
So, fast-forward more than 700 years from the adventure of William Tell - I spent the last weekend at the Radisson Blu in Andermatt, a hotel advertised as “Scandinavian design in the heart of the Alps”.
For me the hotel looks like IKEA on steroids at this is good, Swiss touch only adds to the experience. Consider also that this is high up in the Alps, ears ringing and shortage of oxygen is obvious when you first get here on the twisty mountain road. Some experience, this.
Switzerland was granted neutrality at the congress of Vienna in 1815 and they steadfastly refused to give it up ever since. In the mid 19th century they established a constitution, borrowing rather extensively from the less then a century old US constitution. Officially Switzerland maintains a policy of “aggressive neutrality”, which means it will defend its own interest with vigor – and they’re in terrifyingly over-prepared position to fight.
Now, let’s relax a bit. I had an excellent foie gras for dinner with a glass of red wine.
With all the wineries I saw on the hills in the valleys, the Swiss only export about 2% of their wines out to the world; they keep the rest to themselves.
And the wine is good, I enjoy it, but it doesn’t end with wine here.
I was relaxing by the fireplace in the hotel lobby on Friday night when the waitress came up and asked if I would like a shot of the Studer Swiss Gold Vodka.“Thank you, but no. After vodka I see white Teddy Bears everywhere.”And she laughed and it was a nice end of the day.
Tom Kubiak is the author of The Traveler