There are 26 Switzerland cantons in total. A canton is simply a member state of the federal state of Switzerland. Cantons are divided up into municipalities. The Switzerland cantons are somewhat different than sovereign states in that they have ceded a degree of power to the federal government. The cantons are partially self governing, and to a large extent, maintain their autonomy, albeit in a harmonious relationship with the federal government.
Each of the cantons of Switzerland gives a fascinating glimpse into the region’s multifaceted cultural history and heritage. Because Switzerland is bordered by Italy, France, Germany, Austria, and Liechtenstein, the people of Switzerland represent varying ethnicities and each region and canton has adopted its own unique culture, rooted in unique traditions. Each canton has its own official language. It is German in most, but official languages in Switzerland also include Italian, French, and Romansh. The recognized, official language of some of the Switzerland cantons is a combination of two of these, and in the case of Graubunden, there are three: German, Italian, and Romansh.
Graubunden is geographically one of the largest cantons of Switzerland, and shares borders with Italy, Austria, and Liechtenstein. It is also the easternmost of the Swiss cantons. The German word “Graubunden” translates as “Grey Leagues,” which is a reference to the history of the canton and the local affiliations it formed to ward off invaders and ambitious aggressors from other lands in the fourteenth century. Disparate groups that defended their land joined their forces and became known as the “Grey Leagues.” They later aligned themselves with the Swiss Confederacy and the name took hold. Many of the cantons’ names provide a peek inside the history of how they came to be, and the regional struggles that formed their borders, customs, and alliances. Tourism in Graubunden is mostly centered in the mountains in towns such as Davos and St. Moritz, where tourists enjoy skiing and hiking in the Swiss Alps. At least one-fifth of Graubunden is dense forestland and the entire canton is a mostly mountainous region. Tourists can enjoy a variety of lodging in Graubunden in the Alps, as well as an array of Italian, German, French, and Swiss cuisine.
Founded in 1979, Jura is the newest of the cantons of Switzerland. Jura is in the northwest part of Switzerland, bordered by France, and almost entirely French speaking. The breathtaking Jura Mountains and Jura Plateau (which is mostly limestone) are popular attractions for people passing through this northern part of Switzerland and into France. Old Villages like Porrentruy in Jura give a glimpse into rural France and country village living.
Valais is one of the Switzerland cantons located in the southwestern part of the country. It is located near the Rhone Valley and Lake Geneva and is perhaps most recognized for the Matterhorn, a famous mountain peak nearly 15,000 feet high in the Pennine Alps, on the border of Switzerland and Italy. Valais is bordered by Italy to the south, and France to the southwest. The official languages of Valais are German and French, but because of its proximity to Italy, there is a decided influx of Italian culture in particular municipalities of this Swiss canton.
Canton Neuchatel is in Romandy, which is a part of western Switzerland. The canton is bordered by Canton Bern to the northeast and France to the northwest. Neuchatel is a gorgeous area located in the central part of the Jura Mountains. Lake Neuchatel is a beautiful body of water where tourists enjoy various sports, relaxation, and unparalleled views of the lake and the Swiss Alps. The canton is covered with vineyards, couched in the mountains, and reveals amazing works of architecture like the Chateau de Neuchatel, which is now the seat of the cantonal government.
Many visitors to this part of Europe visit Switzerland cantons such as Bern, Lucerne, and most notably, Zurich, home to many of the world’s large financial institutions. Travelers to this region, however, will discover the rich cultural heritage of Switzerland by visiting some of the lesser-known cantons like Valais and Neuchatel. Each canton is rich in history and offers a distinctive experience.