Little Switzerland (landscape)

Little Switzerland (landscape)

A little Switzerland or Schweiz is a landscape, often of wooded hills. This Romantic aesthetic term is not a geographic category, but was widely used in the 19th century to connote dramatic natural scenic features that would be of interest to tourists. Since it was ambiguous from the very beginning, it was flexibly used in travel writing to imply that a landscape had some features, though on a much smaller scale, which might remind a visitor of Switzerland.

Rock outcrops

The original generic term was applied to dozens of locations in Europe, the bulk of them German speaking, as well as to other parts of the world, to direct attention to rock outcrops that stand out, usually amid steep forest. The original, 18th-century comparison was usually with the fissured crags of the Jura Mountains on the Franco-Swiss border which hardly rise higher than 1700 metres.

Histories of the Sächsische Schweiz in Saxony, Germany assert that the landscape description schweiz arose there at the end of the 18th century. Schweiz is the German-language name of Switzerland. The term was used both alone and with the prefix "little", for example in the title of an 1820 German book-length poem, "Die kleine Schweiz" by Jakob Reiselsberger [Reiselsberger, Jakob; Die kleine Schweiz oder Einladung zur Reise nach Streitberg, Muggendorf, Weischenfeld [et] c. und deren Umgebungen; Leitfaden für hieher Reisende, Höhlen-Besucher, Natur- und Alterthums-Freunde, und schön unterhaltendes Taschenbuch für jedermann; [S.l.] 1820] , which praised the rocky scenery of a part of Franconia in Germany known thereafter as the Fränkische Schweiz.

The term was already colloquial by this time in English: in 1823 a correspondent asserted in "The Gentleman's Magazine" that a steep area by the road outside Petersfield in southern England was a little Switzerland. ["The Gentleman's Magazine", London; December 1823, page 506] . The aesthetic term, to describe picturesque exposed rock and steepness rather than altitude, was also in common use in other European languages, including the French term "Suisse". Rocks and wild landscapes were a favoured theme in Romantic painting.

The many English places praised in 19th century promotional literature as "little Switzerland" include Church Stretton, Whitfield and the coastal area around the North Devon twin towns of Lynton and Lynmouth. Chalet-style buildings were sometimes erected to emphasize little Switzerland pretensions, for example at Matlock Bath.


From the beginning, the term was often understood as a comparison to the snow-capped Alps rather than to the Jura. The following passage, describing Wales, appears in an 1831 English-language edition of Malte-Brun's "Universal Geography", which had originally been written in French 1803-1807:

Describing the Atlantic island of St Helena in "A New Voyage Round the World" 1823-1826, Otto von Kotzebue and Johann Friedrich Eschscholtz were translated into English as writing:

In the United States, the raw White Mountains of New Hampshire, which were soon to be one of the definitive subjects of American Romantic painting, were termed a little Switzerland by travel writer Henry Tudor as early as 1832 [Tudor, Henry; Narrative of a Tour in North America; London, James Duncan, 1834, page 390] .


In the later 19th century, authors and tourism promoters would praise picture-postcard summer scenery of woods and low hills reflected in blue lakes as a little Switzerland or schweiz. Whereas the earlier use had implied a landscape of dangers, this was a term for beauty.

This usage, reflected today in the official geographical terms for the Holsteinische Schweiz and Mecklenburgische Schweiz in Germany, where there are neither mountains nor outcrops, is difficult to account for, but may refer to prestigious Swiss lakeside tourist destinations such as Zurich, Lucerne or Interlaken or to Lakes Geneva and Constance.

Official names

The term has often appeared anachronistic since travel to Switzerland became affordable. By the 21st century, it was common for observers to express puzzlement that the "little Switzerland" label applied at all to regions such as the Suisse Normande, or to the Holsteinische Schweiz where the flat hilltops are no more than 150 metres above the lake surfaces.

In 1992, the Swiss Tourism Federation counted [] more than 190 places round the world that had at least for some period been named after Switzerland, either because of a fancied scenic resemblance, in jest or referring to a banking haven, political neutrality or habitation by Swiss emigrants. No fewer than 67 places in neighbouring Germany were said by the Federation to have adopted little Switzerland names.

While the byname has fallen out of fashion in some places, it persists as the official geographical name for several administrative regions and national parks including (with dates of legal designation):
* České Švýcarsko (nature park, Czech Republic, legislation with effect 2000 [] )
* Fränkische Schweiz (tourism region, Germany, designated 1968 [] )
* Holsteinische Schweiz (nature park, Germany, formed by association 1986)
* Märkische Schweiz (nature park, Germany, by decree 1990 [] )
* Mecklenburgische Schweiz (nature park, Germany, designated 1997 [] )
* Sächsische Schweiz (nature park, Germany, designated 1990 [] , local government area, incorporated 1994 [] )

Business promotion regions using the name without legally defined boundaries include:
* Suisse Normande (upland region of Calvados, France)
* Little Switzerland (Luxembourg) (dolomite formations near Echternach, Luxembourg [] )

Notable privately developed properties known by the name include:
* Little Switzerland, North Carolina (resort development on hilltop in North Carolina, USA, from 1909 [] )
* Little Switzerland (Wisconsin) (a ski resort from 1941 onwards)


In English, "Little Switzerland" is usually said without any definite article or additional adjective, but often with a genitive modifier if there are several little Switzerlands within one nation, e.g. North Carolina's Little Switzerland. In European languages where Switzerland proper takes a definite article, little Switzerlands do likewise. Their English names usually echo the vernacular, are capitalized, often modify to the English alphabet and sometimes take an English definite article, e.g. the Saechsische Schweiz (die Sächsische Schweiz) and the Suisse Normande (la Suisse normande). Literal translations such as "Bohemian Switzerland" without the adjective "little" are frequently offered by non-English writers, but are deprecated because the meaning is usually unclear to native English speakers.


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