Liechtenstein

Nod off and you might miss Liechtenstein - it's more akin to a big ski run than a regular European country. You could even be forgiven for thinking that it was part of Switzerland: its currency is Swiss, all travel documents valid for Switzerland are also valid for Liechtenstein, and the only border formalities are on the Austrian side.

You can look for differences between Liechtenstein and Switzerland but you're kidding yourself if you think you've found many. Liechtenstein issues its own stamps (which draw some of the more philatelically minded); and unlike Switzerland it joined the United Nations in 1990, and the European Economic Area (EEA) in 1995. Apart from that, it's pretty much business as usual in the Alps - skiing, fine wines and clean mountain air.

Facts for the Traveler

Visas: Citizens of Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, the UK and the USA do not require visas for visits of up to three months.
Health risks: Altitude sickness, hypothermia & sunburn
Time: GMT/UTC + 2 hours
Electricity: 220 volts, 50 Hz
Weights & measures: Metric

When to Go

You can visit Liechtenstein any time of the year. Summer lasts roughly from June to September and offers the most pleasant climate for outdoor pursuits. Unfortunately, you won’t be the only tourist during this period, so prices can be high. You’ll find much better deals during the shoulder seasons of April-May or late-September-October.
If you’re keen on winter sports, resorts in the Alps begin operating in late November, move into full swing around Christmas, and close down when the snow begins to melt in April.

Events

Look out for processions and fireworks on 15 August, Liechtenstein’s national holiday.

Attractions

Vaduz
Little more than a village, Vaduz contains most of the points of interest in Liechtenstein. Two adjoining streets, St?dtle and ?ulestrasse, enclose the centre of town, and everything of any importance is within this small area. The State Art Collection (Staatliche Kunstsammlung) has good temporary exhibitions and includes parts of the art collection that the princes of Liechtenstein have acquired over the centuries. The Postage Stamp Museum contains more than 300 frames of stamps issued since 1912. For ski buffs there’s even a Ski Museum, open only in the afternoons.

Although the castle is not open to the public, it is worth climbing up the hill for a closer look. There’s a good view of Vaduz and the mountains, as well as a network of marked walking trails along the ridge. The National Museum (Landesmuseum) has coins, weapons, folklore exhibits and an informative slide show of the history of Liechtenstein.
There is a hostel in town as well as a few mid-priced hotels. Restaurants are expensive in Vaduz but there are some good choices - keep an eye out for lunchtime specials.

Malbun
Liechtenstein’s premier ski resort nestles amid the mountains in the country’s south-east. As well as two ski schools, it has good runs for novices and more difficult ones for the experienced. The main road from Vaduz terminates at Malbun, and there are daily buses from the capital.

Triesenberg
Triesenberg is on a terrace above Vaduz, and it commands excellent views over the Rhine Valley. As well as a lovely onion-domed church, it has a museum devoted to the Walser community, which journeyed here from Switzerland in the 13th century. The Walser dialect is still spoken in the region.

History

The Austrian Liechtenstein family acquired the fiefs of Vaduz and Schellenberg in 1699 and 1713 respectively, and they became an independent principality under the Holy Roman Empire in 1719 under the name Liechtenstein. The French under Napoleon came unasked and stayed for a few years, but Liechtenstein regained its independence in 1815 within the new German Confederation. In 1868, after the Confederation dissolved, Liechtenstein disbanded its army (of 80 men!) and declared its permanent neutrality, which was respected during both world wars.

In 1919 Liechtenstein entrusted its external relations to neutral Switzerland. After WWII, Liechtenstein became increasingly important as a financial centre, and the country became more prosperous. Its 1998 unemployment rate of 1.4% (311 people) is indicative of the economy’s health. In 1989, Prince Hans Adam II succeeded his father to the throne, and in 1996, Russia returned the Liechtenstein family’s archives, ending a long-running dispute between the two countries

Culture

Liechtenstein does not have a strong tradition in the arts. The language is German, although it has its own quirks and variants. The architecture varies according to region, but houses generally have ridged roofs with wide, overhanging eaves, and balconies and verandahs enlivened by colourful displays of flowers.

Liechtenstein’s food borrows from its larger neighbours, and it is generally good quality but expensive. Basic restaurants provide simple but well-cooked food, although budget travellers may want to live out of the supermarket fridge. Soups are popular and usually very filling, and cheeses form an important part of the diet, as do r?sti (fried shredded potatoes) and wurst (sausage).

Wine is considered an integral part of the meal. The local wines are good, but as they’re rarely exported you’ll probably have never heard of them.

Environment

Smaller than Belgium, smaller than most Caribbean Islands, smaller than almost anywhere, Liechtenstein is sandwiched between Switzerland to the west and Austria to the east. The 160 sq km (62.4 sq mi) principality has three distinct geographical areas; the Rhine Valley in the west, the edge of the Tirolean Alps in the south-east, and the northern lowlands. Around one fifth of the nation is still forested, and the rest is put to use grazing cattle and sheep or growing vegetables, grapes, wheat and potatoes.

Despite all the mountains, Liechtenstein enjoys a relatively mild climate, modified by a warm, southerly wind (known locally as the F?hn).