Few people know of it, fewer people can locate it on a map of Europe, and very few people have been there. But the Principality of Liechtenstein is indeed real. It is an independent country that borders on Switzerland and Austria. It is the sixth smallest country on earth. But it has the highest gross domestic product per person in the world and it has an unemployment rate of only 1.5%.
You can think of Liechtenstein as a tiny principality nestled in a cosy corner high up in the Alps- which is actually quite correct. It can also be said, quite accurately that Liechtenstein is also an enchanted land of stunning natural beauty complete with an authentic Gothic castle. The castle is the historic residence of the nation’s Princely Family. It is a mediaeval palace and stronghold that was expanded and modernized in the 16th, 17th, and early 20th centuries. It commands a spectacular view of the capital, Vaduz, and a large part of the principality. The principality is a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy. The head of state is His Serene Highness, Prince Hans-Adam II.
As you might presume, the language of the principality is a minor dialect of High German (or Swiss-German). It has a distinctive sound as well as a slightly altered vocabulary, which distinguishes it from the other High German dialects. The unit of currency is the Swiss Franc, and it is represented in foreign affairs as an independent state by Switzerland.
Liechtenstein may not have played an important role in European history and, barring the least expected uprising, the country probably will never be a major world power. But there is something very charming and attractive in that.
In fact, contrary to normally assumed political trends in Europe, the Princely Family retains an unusual amount of power for a western European monarchy in the 21st century. When Prince Hans-Adam asked the people for more constitutional power in 2003, he got it in a national vote. Crown Prince Alois, who now acts for his father, the monarch, in all matters concerning government, was easily able to win another referendum in 2011 that allowed the Princely family to retain their wide-ranging political power. It is indeed a quaint, old-fashioned, if eccentric country.
One of the greatest pleasures in Liechtenstein is to go hiking, mountain biking, or cycling along the numerous Alpine trails. In fact, there is a 250 mile (400 km) network of trails for single- and multi- day hikes, and three mountain huts for overnight stays. The panoramic views from the Alps are staggeringly magnificent, and hikers and cyclists are able to discover quaint villages with friendly locals and trek through lush green mountain forests. This is an ideal hiking and mountain biking heaven.
All stamp collectors know that Liechtenstein has a postage stamp culture. Throughout all of recent history, Liechtenstein has produced some of the most colourful, beautiful, and collectible postage stamps in the world. While the rest of Europe was fighting and destroying each other in World War II (during the 1940s), Liechtenstein was printing postage stamps that would be worth thousands of dollars a few decades later. There is an in-depth Postage Stamp Museum (free) in the centre of Vaduz that will occupy stamp enthusiast for days. For anyone else, it’s a nice way to spend a couple of hours. The Postage Stamp Museum is part of the Liechtenstein National Museum (8 Swiss Francs for students).
The Liechtenstein Museum of Fine Arts is worth a visit, but more interesting is the Schloss Vaduz, the previously mentioned castle, nicely perched high on a mountainous hill overlooking everything. You can’t go inside, but you can get close to the castle.
Meanwhile, back in town, any visitor can get a cheap memento from their trek to Liechtenstein by going into the town Post Office and getting an official/souvenir stamp in their passport for the price of just a few Swiss Francs.
More impressive than anything in town is the expansive countryside. There are mountains, hills, fields, and paths that are very enjoyable for any nature lover of any degree of adventurousness. These beautiful natural features also provide for world class skiing in the winter when white snow falls over the principality.
Getting into Liechtenstein is somewhat of a journey. The easiest way using public transportation is to take a train to the Swiss town of Sargans where you will then disembark. From the adjoining bus station you can take a specially labeled shuttle bus to Vaduz.
The train journey through Switzerland is incredibly beautiful as it passes through Alps and lakes and is itself a primary reason for the trip to Liechtenstein.
The Schaan-Vaduz hostel operated by Hostelling International is located about a half-hour’s walk north of the town centre of Vaduz, on the border of the towns of Vaduz and Schaan, at Under Rüttigass 6.
There are 18 hotels and several restaurants in Vaduz. There is a small market on the main street that can provide you with whatever you may need.
The Principality of Liechtenstein is a country with a traditionally conservative people. In general, Liechtenstein is orderly, very safe, and clean. If you enjoy outdoor sports, or wish to try, there are several activities in which you may take part. In warm weather there is spectacular trail trekking and biking that I highly recommend. In the winter, those that enjoy snow-related sports such as skiing will have the time of their lives.
For others, besides the museums, there is not much more to see or do except to enjoy the magnificent scenery- but isn’t that the primary reason for visiting the principality? One thing is for sure, most visitors will find Liechtenstein as a very different sort of travel destination.