🌎 Geography of Western Switzerland in 2020
🌎 Geography of French-speaking Switzerland in 2020
The following article provides an overview of the geography of French-speaking or Western Switzerland. The latter is defined by the Swiss territory in which French is the official language. The official languages in Switzerland are the following:
German is clearly dominant with about ¾ of the population of Switzerland, while French accounts for 20%.
A video on the geography of Switzerland.
French became an official language of the Confederation at the beginning of the 19th century when Napoleon took control of the country. For historical information, we recommend a visit to the article on the history of Western Switzerland.
Switzerland is divided into a total of 26 cantons and half-cantons. Six cantons are part of the French-speaking part of Switzerland.
Entirely French-speaking cantons :
- Jura (the municipality of Ederswiler is predominantly German-speaking but French is the official language)
Mainly French-speaking cantons:
Minority French-speaking canton:
Area and population
The following section presents the surface area and population of the territory of French-speaking Switzerland by canton. Where the cantons are partly French-speaking, the part in French-speaking Switzerland is indicated in relation to the total for the canton.
The total surface area of French-speaking Switzerland is 9250 km² for a total of just over 2 million inhabitants. The cantons of Vaud and Geneva account for more than half of the inhabitants, while the cantons of Vaud and Valais account for 2/3 of the territory.
Canton: Area – Inhabitants
- Vaud: 3212 km² – 760’000
- Valais: 2592 km2 (Romandy) / 5224 km2 (Total) – 242’000 (Romandy) / 333’000 (Total)
- Fribourg: 1’183 km2 (Romandy) / 1671 km2 (Total) – 213’000 (Romandy) / 305’000 (Total)
- Jura: 838 km² – 72’000
- Neuchâtel: 802 km² – 178’000
- Berne: 540 km² (Romandy) / 5959 km² (Total) – 105’000 (Romandy) /1’031’000 (Total)
- Geneva 282 km² – 480’000
- Total Switzerland : 9520 km² (Romandy) / 41285 km² (Total) – 2’061’000 (Romandy) / 8’484’000 (Total)
The section on the hydrology of French-speaking Switzerland is divided into 3 parts :
French-speaking Switzerland has one major river and a few other rivers.
River – Length – Canton(s) – “Flows into”
- Rhône : 266 km (total 1690km) – VS/VD/GE – Mediterranean Sea
- Sarine : 126 km – FR – Aare
- Doubs : 84 – NE – Saône (France)
- Broye : 72 – FR/VD – Lake of Neuchâtel
- Orbe : 49 – VD – Thièle (Orbe + Talent)
- Talent : 39 – VD – Thièle (Orbe + Talent)
- Glane : 36 – FR – Sarine
- Venoge : 36 – VD – Lake of Geneva
- Areuse : 31 – NE – Lake of Neuchâtel
There are two watersheds in French-speaking Switzerland. The basins of the Mediterranean Sea and the North Sea.
Watershed – River – Affluent area – “Flows into”.
- Mediterranean basin – Rhône – VS / Lake Geneva basin VD / Vaud coast VD / GE – Mediterranean sea
- Mediterranean basin – Doubs – Majority of Jura / West of Neuchâtel – Saône → Rhône → Mediterranean sea
- North Sea basin – Aare – North of the canton of VD / NE / FR / Bern – Rhine → North Sea
La Torpille lists below the main lakes in French-speaking Switzerland. Lake Geneva is the largest lake in Western Switzerland, it is for 1/3 in France. The other lakes are entirely in Switzerland, the lakes of Biel and Murten are mainly in German-speaking Switzerland and the lakes of Gruyère, Joux and Neuchâtel are entirely in French-speaking Switzerland. Lac de la Gruyère is an artificial lake formed by the Rossens dam built in the middle of the 20th century.
Lake – cantons – surface area
- Lake Léman – VS/VD/GE – 343 km² (Switzerland) / 580 km² (Total)
- Lake Neuchâtel – NE/VD/FR/BE – 215 km²
- Lake Biel – BE/NE – 39 km²
- Lake Murten – NE/VD – 22 km²
- Lake of Gruyère – FR – 10 km²
- Lake of Joux – VD – 8 km²
The main religion in Western Switzerland is of course Christianity. It is composed in Switzerland by Catholicism and Protestantism since the middle of the 16th century with the Reformation movement. Since a few decades with the immigration, a third religion is significant with Islam.
Religion Catholics – Protestants – Muslims – No religion
- Jura 68% – 9% – 5% – 25%
- Geneva: 33% – 9% – 6% – 40%
- Neuchâtel: 21% – 21% – 4% – 44%
- Valais: 71% – 6% – 3% – 13%
- Vaud: 30% – 23% – 5% – 31%
- Fribourg: 61% – 12% – 4% – 17%
- TOTAL Switzerland: 36% – 25% – 5% – 25%
It can be seen from these figures that the cantons of Neuchâtel and Geneva, where the Protestant Reformation was most deeply rooted, have by far the most people who declare themselves to be without religion.
The contrary is true for the very Catholic cantons of Fribourg and Valais, which have very few people without religion.
A video offering statistics on religions in Switzerland.
The cities of Geneva and Lausanne are the most densely populated in French-speaking Switzerland. They are also by far the best known abroad.
- Geneva is known for its international institutions such as the UN or the ICRC, it is the only city in French-speaking Switzerland to have an international airport with Cointrin.
- Lausanne is mainly known for housing the IOC headquarters on the shores of Lake Geneva.
The four largest cities in western Switzerland:
- Geneva 200’000 inhabitants
- Lausanne 138’000 inhabitants
- Fribourg 38’000 inhabitants
- La Chaux-de-Fonds 38’000 inhabitants
For more details, you can go to the page dedicated to the largest cities in French-speaking Switzerland.
The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of French-speaking Switzerland is 166 billion Swiss francs in 2017 compared to 678 billion for Switzerland as a whole.
The vast majority of the wealth production in Western Switzerland is located on the Lake Geneva Lake between Geneva and Lausanne
La Torpille indicates in this section, the most beautiful attraction to do by canton.
- Canton of Neuchâtel: Creux du Van
The rocky cirque is located in a natural park where you can take a nice walk around the Creux du Van.
All the attractions in the canton of Neuchatel
- Canton of Geneva: Jet d’eau of Geneva
The Geneva bay can be the subject of a nice walk during the day or in the evening. A small tourist train runs along the left side of the bay.
All the attractions in the canton of Geneva
- Canton of Vaud: Chillon Castle
A magnificent fortified castle surrounded by water on the shores of Lake Geneva. A signposted route allows you to visit it.
All the attractions in the canton of Vaud
- Canton of Valais: Grande Dixence Dam
The largest gravity dam in the world with almost 300 metres of height. The guided tour allows you to go inside the structure.
All the attractions in the canton of Valais
- Canton of Fribourg: Moléson
It is the emblematic mountain of Gruyère that can be reached by cable car and funicular.
All the attractions in the canton of Fribourg
French-speaking Switzerland is made up of three main geological structures:
- The Jura composed mainly of limestone (Vaud, Neuchâtel, Bern, Jura)
- The Plateau mainly composed of molasses (Geneva, Vaud, Fribourg)
- The Alps composed of gneiss and granite (Fribourg, Vaud, Valais)
The plateau refers to the hilly area between the Jura and Alpine mountain ranges. The canton of Vaud is the only one to have territory in the 3 parts mentioned above.
A map of the peaks of more than 2000 (blue), 3000 (orange) and 4000 (red) meters in Switzerland.
La Torpille lists below the highest mountains by canton.
There are six peaks of more than 4’000 meters in French-speaking Switzerland, all located in Valais. Among them, only the Dent d’Hérens serves as a border with another country (Italy), the others are entirely in Switzerland.
- Dent Blanche 4357 m
- Massif du Grand Combin, peak 4314 m
- Zinalrothorn 4221 m
- Massif du Grand Combin, Combin de Valsorey 4184 m
- Dent d’Hérens 4171 m
- Massif du Grand Combin, Combin de Tsessette 4141 m
The Dent Blanche (in the middle in the background) from the path along the Bisse de Savièse. The valley perpendicular to the Rhone valley is the Val d’Hérens.
View from the top of Savoleyre between la Tzoumaz and Verbier visible below. The four summits of the Grand Combin are clearly visible.
The highest summit in Valais and Switzerland is the Dufour Peak in the Monte Rosa massif at 4634 m. Entirely in Switzerland and close to Italy, it is the third highest peak in the Alps behind Mont-Blanc (4809 m) and Mont-Blanc de Courmayeur (4748 m).
The summit of the Diablerets Massif is the highest point in the canton of Vaud at 3209m.
Vanil Noir at 2389 metres in the Gruyère district is the highest peak in the canton of Fribourg. The canton’s most emblematic peak is the Moléson at 2002 m, which can be reached with a funicular and a cable car.
There are no mountain in the canton of Geneva, the highest point of this canton is located in the hamlet of Monniaz at 516 metres in the commune of Jussy at the eastern end of the canton.
An emblematic mountain of Geneva is the Salève. Located in France, it offers a beautiful view of the city. The departure of the cable car to reach it is located a few dozen meters from the town of Veyrier in Switzerland.
The highest point in the canton of Neuchâtel is the Chasseral in the Jura at 1552m.
The highest point in the canton of Jura is located below Mont-Raimeux at 1302 metres.