For members


EXPLAINED: 8 rules nature lovers should follow in the Swiss countryside

Many people living in Switzerland enjoy taking a trip to the countryside in the warmer months - but not everyone leaves forests how they found them and some even damage nature. Here’s everything you should pay attention to when exploring Switzerland's natural wonders.

EXPLAINED: 8 rules nature lovers should follow in the Swiss countryside
Don't disturb the cows. The outdoor rules you need to follow in Switzerland. Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

Pay attention to signs

Whether you’re going for a casual stroll or a more challenging hike, in Switzerland you should always pay close attention to and follow the hiking trail signs as they indicate what (difficulty level) awaits you on your chosen path and help keep you safe.

Adventurers should also make sure to keep out of so-called quiet zones, or wildlife sanctuaries, which function as designated retreat areas for wild animals to avoid them being disturbed by humans. It is also vital to keep your dogs on a leash near the quiet zones as well as during hunting season. The latter takes place at different times depending on the canton.

Shhhhh….be quiet

It may not come as a surprise that the Swiss love their quiet time – and so do their animals. It is therefore recommended to be mindful of wildlife when out on hikes or busy enjoying a barbeque.

It’s generally recommended to refrain from blasting loud music, shouting or conversing in a loud manner so as not to disturb the animals and other hikers who may have ventured into the forest seeking peace and solitude.

Stay on your path

Both hikers and bikers should stay on their designated paths for several reasons. While it can be dangerous to choose an off-the-beaten track and Switzerland’s diverse nature should not be underestimated – there are signs for a reason – it can also be harmful to vegetation and the animals residing forests whose habitat we should protect.

Don’t disturb the cows

As wholesome as these herbivores may look – and you will meet many as you journey through Switzerland – you should always keep your distance from cows and walk around them calmly even if they are used to people. This is essential as any sudden moves on your part could make you come off as a threat to them.

Though these large animals do not usually attack unprovoked, they may choose to do so (at a speed of 40 kilometres per hour) if they think you’re eyeing up their offspring for a portion of the popular Zurich dish Zürcher Geschnetzeltes that’s made with veal. 

Bag your trash

While you are more than welcome to enjoy a sandwich or even grill a whole pack of Cervelat in designated forest spots, trash, meaning all material that does not belong in a forest, should always be disposed of elsewhere – or else the forest owners will have to do this in your stead.

If you happen to leave a large chunk of trash behind, however, the forest owner will contact the police and you may be liable to pay a fine – if the cows don’t get you first.

READ ALSO: Cervelat: What is the Swiss sausage that creates a ‘sense of identity’?

Don’t start a fire

If you’ve ventured into your local forest for a get together with friends and family, be sure to remember that fires in the forest must always be kindled with the necessary caution, even if there is only a low or moderate risk of a forest fire.

In Switzerland, you may only burn completely dried, natural forest wood if only little smoke is produced. You may under no circumstances burn old and residual wood as well as any material (waste) you may be eager to get rid of in a haste.

On that note…don’t smoke

In Switzerland, you may only smoke in so-called settlement areas which are areas designated for respite and barbeques. However, if you step outside of those areas remember that it is illegal to smoke in Swiss forests and you will be fined, or worse, could cause a fire.

No motor vehicles

According to Switzerland’s Forest Act – yes, that’s a thing – driving motor vehicles in its forests, whether the latter belong to the municipality or a (wealthy) private individual, is not permitted unless you’re on official forestry business.

Still, a canton may grant you an exception, for instance for motocross courses and the like, though this is rare.

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For members


From condoms to vaccines: The most controversial rulings by Switzerland’s highest court

The Swiss Federal Court, the highest judicial authority in the country, has ruled on some highly contentious issues over the years.

From condoms to vaccines: The most controversial rulings by Switzerland’s highest court

Before we get to actual cases, it is important to understand how Switzerland’s justice system is set up.

There are different court levels.

When people file their cases with the legal system, their first contact are district courts, which group together judiciary authorities by local areas.

Many Swiss towns are too small to have their own courts, so a district court is just that — a court that covers several neighbouring communities.

If, say, you become involved in a civil lawsuit, a divorce case, or any kind of litigation or dispute, the case will be first be heard at the district court.

Most often, its rulings are final.

However, if you are not happy with the verdict of your district court, you can appeal it within 30 days, at which point your case will go to the higher judicial level, that is, the cantonal court.

Each canton has its own high court — Switzerland’s second most important judicial entity hierarchically.

Besides criminal cases, cantonal high courts hear civil claims, and there are also courts on cantonal level for administrative cases.

The next is the Federal court, the highest judicial authority in Switzerland.

Headquartered in Lausanne, it is the final instance on all appeals against decisions of the highest cantonal courts, as well as the three other federal courts, which deal with criminal, administrative and patent cases, respectively.

This chart shows how the judicial system is organised in Switzerland. 

READ ALSO: What you should know about Switzerland’s courts

This means that by the time a case (that is to say, the appeal) comes before federal judges, it has already been ruled on by lower courts.

This is what happened in these three recent controversial cases as well.

The condom

You might think that taxpayer-funded federal court should not spend its valuable time (and public money) on a case involving a condom, but it has done so nevertheless.

As Swiss media reported, on September 14th, the highest court ruled on a case that has been heard in the lower courts in Zurich since 2017.

It involved a young man (19 at the time), who took off his condom during sex with an 18-year-old woman, without, however, informing her or asking for her consent to do so.

This practice is called ‘“stealthing’ in English.

The woman filed a complaint in a district court of Bülach (Zurich) and, after a series of rulings and appeals through higher courts (see above), ended up before the federal tribunal.

The case took so long because it had many twists and turns.

Stealthing is not punishable by Swiss law, which is why both the district and cantonal court acquitted the young man

The Federal Court  also acquitted him, but reassessed the case from the perspective of sexual harassment. That ruling had stuck, and the young man must now pay a 2,500-franc fine, in addition to 7,200 francs in court costs.

Forced vaccine

In the most recent case, which The Local reported last week, the Federal Court sided with the man who wanted his ex-wife to be forced to vaccinate their two children against measles.

The mother, an anti-vaxxer, had refused to do so, and the long-winded battle between the parents, which made its way through the lower courts, eventually landed in the federal tribunal.

As it had done in several previous similar cases when parents didn’t see eye to eye about vaccinating their children, the court followed the  public health guidelines, which are clearly in favour of childhood immunisations.

Therefore, judges sided with the father, giving the mother an order to immunise her children against measles.

Parents can be made to vaccinate their children court ruled. Photo by charlesdeluvio on Unsplash

Assisted suicide

In another recent case, from June, the court acquitted a Swiss doctor, Erika Preisig, who was charged with homicide for helping a mentally ill patient die in a Basel assisted suicide clinic. 

Previously, predominantly people suffering from physical ailments could benefit from voluntary suicide, which is legal but well-regulated in Switzerland.
However, Preisig was charged because she had violated the previous Federal Court ruling, from 2006, which required a psychiatric evaluation on the patient before helping them die.

In June, the court overturned its old decision, finding that although Preisig had not obtained a psychiatric report, she had studied the medical records, had intensive discussions with the patient, questioned relatives, and obtained a second opinion. The mentally ill person was understood to have made a well-considered decision and was capable of judgement. 

The Federal Court had therefore confirmed that Preisig could assume, even without a psychiatric expert opinion, that the patient had a permanent wish to die, as she suffered from an incurable, permanent, severe mental impairment.

READ ALSO: What to know about Switzerland’s latest court judgement on assisted suicide


While obtaining Swiss citizenship is a long and complicated process, and rejections at communal level are often made arbitrarily, the Federal Court had sided with applicants on several occasions.
For instance, in 2018, the court ordered the commune of Trimmis in canton Graubünden to grant Swiss citizenship to an Iranian refugee who had lived in the community for 30 years. 

It reversed a ruling made previously by the lower court, which sided with local authorities who denied the man the right to become Swiss.