🌎 Geography of French-speaking Switzerland in 2020

Foreword


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
  • French
  • Italian
  • Romansh

German is clearly dominant with about ¾ of the population of Switzerland, while French accounts for 20%.

A language map of Switzerland.
A language map of Switzerland.

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.

Cantons


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 :

  • Vaud
  • Geneva
  • Neuchâtel
  • Jura (the municipality of Ederswiler is predominantly German-speaking but French is the official language)

Mainly French-speaking cantons:

  • Valais
  • Fribourg

Minority French-speaking canton:

  • Berne

A map of the cantons of Switzerland.
A map of the cantons of Switzerland

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.

Legend:
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)

Hydrologie


The section on the hydrology of French-speaking Switzerland is divided into 3 parts :

  • Lakes
  • Rivers
  • Watersheds

Rivers


French-speaking Switzerland has one major river and a few other rivers.

Legend:
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

Watersheds


There are two watersheds in French-speaking Switzerland. The basins of the Mediterranean Sea and the North Sea.

A sign indicating the watershed between the Rhone and the Rhine along the Rochers de Naye railway line.
A sign indicating the watershed between the Rhone and the Rhine along the Rochers de Naye railway line.

Legend:
Watershed – River – Affluent area – “Flows into”.

  1. Mediterranean basin – Rhône – VS / Lake Geneva basin VD / Vaud coast VD / GE – Mediterranean sea
  2. Mediterranean basin – Doubs – Majority of Jura / West of Neuchâtel – Saône → Rhône → Mediterranean sea
  3. North Sea basin – Aare – North of the canton of VD / NE / FR / Bern  – Rhine  → North Sea

The map of Switzerland’s watersheds.
Blue: Mediterranean Sea (Rhone), Orange: North Sea (Rhine), Yellow: Adriatic Sea (Po), Purple: Black Sea (Danube), Green: Adriatic Sea (Adige).

La carte des bassins hydrologiques de la Suisse.

Lakes


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.

Legend:
Lake – cantons – surface area

  1. Lake Léman – VS/VD/GE  – 343 km² (Switzerland) / 580 km² (Total)
  2. Lake Neuchâtel – NE/VD/FR/BE – 215 km²
  3. Lake Biel – BE/NE – 39 km²
  4. Lake Murten – NE/VD – 22 km²
  5. Lake of Gruyère – FR – 10 km²
  6. Lake of Joux – VD – 8 km²

The largest lakes in French-speaking Switzerland.
The largest lakes in French-speaking Switzerland.

From the Chaumont observation post you can see the 3 lakes of the Seeland: Lakes Neuchâtel, Biel and Murten.
From the Chaumont observation post you can see the 3 lakes of the Seeland: Lakes Neuchâtel, Biel and Murten.

Religion


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.

Legend:
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.

Cities


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:

  1. Geneva 200’000 inhabitants
  2. Lausanne 138’000 inhabitants
  3. Fribourg 38’000 inhabitants
  4. 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.

Wealth


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

Tourism


La Torpille indicates in this section, the most beautiful attraction to do by canton.

The rocky walls of the Creux du Van.The rocky walls of the Creux du Van.

The Jet d’eau of Geneva.
The Jet d'eau of Geneva.

Chillon Castle.Chillon Castle.

Grand Dixence Dam.Grand Dixence Dam.

The Moléson mountain.The Moléson mountain.

Geology


French-speaking Switzerland is made up of three main geological structures:

  1. The Jura composed mainly of limestone (Vaud, Neuchâtel, Bern, Jura)
  2. The Plateau mainly composed of molasses (Geneva, Vaud, Fribourg)
  3. 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.

The three geological parts of Switzerland with the Jura, the Plateau and the Alps.
The three geological parts of Switzerland with the Jura, the Plateau and the Alps.

A map of the peaks of more than 2000 (blue), 3000 (orange) and 4000 (red) meters in Switzerland.

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La Torpille lists below the highest mountains by canton.

Valais


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.

  1. Dent Blanche 4357 m
  2. Massif du Grand Combin, peak 4314 m
  3. Zinalrothorn 4221 m
  4. Massif du Grand Combin, Combin de Valsorey 4184 m
  5. Dent d’Hérens 4171 m
  6. Massif du Grand Combin, Combin de Tsessette 4141 m

Splendid view from the top of the Sunegga underground funicular in Zermatt. The Dent d’Hérens is hidden by a buttress of the Matterhorn.
Splendid view from the top of the Sunegga underground funicular in Zermatt. The Dent d'Hérens is hidden by a buttress of the Matterhorn.

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.
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.
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).

Extraordinary view of the Pointe Dufour from the Gornergrat observation post in Zermatt, which can be reached by the famous rack railway dating from 1898.
Extraordinary view of the Pointe Dufour from the Gornergrat observation post in Zermatt, which can be reached by the famous rack railway dating from 1898.

Vaud


The summit of the Diablerets Massif is the highest point in the canton of Vaud at 3209m.

The village and the Diablerets massif. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
The village and the Diablerets massif.

Fribourg


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.

Vanil Noir to the right of the Vanil de l’Ecri. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Vanil Noir to the right of the Vanil de l'Ecri.

Geneva


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.

The hamlet of Monniaz. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
The hamlet of Monniaz.

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 city of Geneva from the Salève.
The city of Geneva from the Salève.

Neuchâtel


The highest point in the canton of Neuchâtel is the Chasseral in the Jura at 1552m.

The naked summit of the Chasseral with the telecommunication tower and the restaurant. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
The naked summit of the Chasseral with the telecommunication tower and the restaurant.

Jura


The highest point in the canton of Jura is located below Mont-Raimeux at 1302 metres.

The Mont-Raimeux from Corcelles, the summit of this mountain is located entirely in the canton of Bern. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
The Mont-Raimeux from Corcelles, the summit of this mountain is located entirely in the canton of Bern.