“Why visit Liechtenstein?” I heard that question over a dozen times from friends when I told them of my plan to spend the weekend in this tiny country in the European Alps. My answer was always the same, “Why not?” While the Principality of Liechtenstein is the 6th smallest country in the world, I learned that great things can come in small packages!
I arrived in the capital of Liechtenstein, Vaduz (population 5,100), on a hot summer’s day (yes, it occasionally gets hot in the Alps). Vaduz makes a great weekend getaway from Munich, where I was on business. I’ll admit that adding a new passport stamp had a little something to do with visiting Liechtenstein. But visiting one of the world’s smallest countries (just 36,000 people in 62 square miles of land, much of that is steep mountain peaks) had a lot of appeal.
Vaduz, the tiny town on the Rhein River, has a relaxed atmosphere with many restaurants and high-end boutique shops. I learned quickly, visiting Liechtenstein isn’t about doing activities; visiting Liechtenstein is about being in the moment. The city is a mecca for gourmet foodies and the city has its own vineyard.
With the sun high in the sky, I watched small groups of Japanese tourists bring out their umbrellas, stroll along Stadtle Street and enjoy ice cream. I had taken refuge under the awning of a local restaurant, enjoying a beer and a light lunch before doing some hiking in the mountains above. Beer before hiking probably wasn’t the best strategy, but visiting Liechtenstein was about being in the moment and enjoy some time away from work.
The hike from the city of Vaduz up to the Kanzeli vantage point is steep, especially when you come from sea level – and you’ve just had a large beer. However, the view from Kanzeli down on Vaduz and across the valley to Switzerland is beautiful.
In continuing the hike up to Vaduz Castle, the trail levels out and leads to a system of over trails that covers over 250 miles within this tiny country! You could spend days hiking and still not see it all. My brief afternoon hike was just a small taste of the vast hiking trails within the country.
Having climbed this far, taking in Vaduz Castle is an anti-climactic sight. The massive castle you see from the Rhein Valley below is not visible from the mountain side. Instead, thick fortifications and a tower are all you see. The secret is that most of the castle is embedded in the steep cliffs of the mountain. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to visit the castle because it remains the private home of Reigning Prince Hans-Adam II and his son Hereditary Prince Alois.
There’s not much to actually do when visiting Liechtenstein. One activity is a tourist train, called Citytrain, which whisks visitors on a 35-minute visit of the entire capital (and I do mean entire). The whole thing was a bit too cheesy for my taste, but it took me to the Vaduzer vineyards and The Red House (Liechtenstein’s oldest house) – both of which I would have missed had I not taken the Citytrain.
Vaduz is an exceptionally cultured city. In the evening, locals dressed in their finest and packed themselves into a tent off one of the main squares for the 150th Anniversary of the Harmonie Musik Vaduz festival (Verbandsmusikfest). The evening highlight was a performance by the Christoph Walter Orchestra. The refined and attentive audience was treated to big band numbers and pop tunes. I attempted to secure a last minute ticket, but was kindly informed that the event had been sold out since last year! Judging by the license plates on the cars, it looked like a lot of people from Switzerland and Germany were visiting Liechtenstein for the night and had better luck in scoring tickets for the big festival. Since Vaduz has over a dozen music festivals all summer long, I might have better luck on a different week.
Vaduz experiences an influx of day-trippers visiting Liechtenstein – all looking to collect their passport stamps and claim another country. But in the early evening, the day-trippers leave and the pace of life slows to a crawl. Lights illuminate the Vaduz Castle above the city and Liechtenstein becomes magical!
Liechtenstein is Europe’s great little country and Vaduz is a hidden gem of the Alps. By visiting Liechtenstein, I discovered that great things can come in small sizes!