By Amy Eckert
Rugged lavender-gray peaks soar overhead, often crowned with snow. Wildflower-strewn meadows carpet the hills above crystal-clear mountain lakes and medieval castles perch dramatically above the Rhine Valley.
At just over 60 square miles — territory some five percent the size of Rhode Island — and sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria, Liechtenstein ranks as the world’s sixth smallest nation. But what the country lacks in size, it makes up for in natural beauty. Approximately 600,000 travelers visit Liechtenstein annually, but most of them simply pass through on their journeys from one Alpine nation to the next.
In 2019, as the country celebrates its 300th birthday, Liechtenstein hopes they’ll linger.
A PRINCELY HISTORY
Liechtenstein’s borders were established in 1719. Vaduz Castle, which predates its homeland by more than 500 years, has served as a visual and political focal point. The buff-colored fortress with its turret and impressive facades serves as the picturesque residence of Hereditary Prince Alois and rests on a cliff 400 feet above the capital city of Vaduz.
Visitors regularly stroll past Vaduz Castle to shoot Instagram-worthy photos of the princely residence backed by Liechtenstein’s Alpine landscape. With any luck, travelers will spot the hereditary prince, Alois, himself, given the royals’ habit of friendly familiarity with their subjects.
Each year on National Day, August 15, thousands gather on the castle lawn to take photos of Vaduz Castle, the royal family and Liechtensteiners in traditional costume before following a sidewalk downhill to Vaduz. Here, National Day continues late into the evening with live music stages, food stands and mugs of beer from local brewers Liechtensteiner Brauhaus and PrinzenBrau. The evening fireworks show over Vaduz Castle, always a National Day highlight, promises to be even bigger during this 300th anniversary year.
Several of Vaduz’s museums explore Liechtenstein’s history in detail and are hosting anniversary exhibitions in 2019: the Liechtenstein National Museum, part historical and part natural history museum; the Treasure Chamber, housing many of the royals’ most precious jewels; the Postal Museum, a favorite with stamp collectors; and the Museum of Fine Arts, highlighting many works that are part of the royal family’s personal art collection and valuable collections from other Liechtensteiners.
The Liechtenstein Trail, launched in May 2019, aims to unveil Liechtenstein’s 300-year history one invigorating step at a time. Stretching 46.6 miles, passing through all of the nation’s villages and towns (there are only 11 of them), the trail brings Liechtenstein’s history to life amid spectacular vistas.
Signposts highlight landmarks like the Balzers post office, where Liechtenstein’s independence contract was signed, and mounds of Roman ruins abandoned centuries ago. Crumbling castles like the 13th-century ruins at Schellenberg lie along the trail. And along the route tower the ever-present peaks of Liechtenstein’s Alps.
Visitors can further immerse themselves in the Alps by way of Malbun, a mountain village southeast of Vaduz. Best known as a family-oriented ski resort, Malbun becomes an entry point to the mountains in summer. Chalets with overflowing flower boxes house hotel beds decked with thick feather duvets. Family-owned restaurants serve plates of grilled sausages, schnitzel and Käsknöpfle, egg noodles smothered with Appenzeller cheese.
And in the center of Malbun, the Sareis chairlift whisks visitors to an elevation of 6,500 feet and the Sareisjoch mountain ridge. Shutterbugs sip coffee, soak up the summer sunshine and shoot photos of the incredible views. And hikers set out to explore Liechtenstein’s legendary hiking trails, where each bend reveals another peak and the sounds of cowbells are more commonplace in mountain pastures than birdsong.
A 250-mile network of trails leads out of Sareis, branching across Liechtenstein and into neighboring Austria and Switzerland. Clearly-marked paths like the Fürstin Gina Trail or the Panorama Trail beckon day trippers with hours-long treks beneath the rugged peaks.
Those same trails lead more deeply into the Alps for hikers longing for a multi-day experience. Routes skirt alongside and over the 7,700-foot Augstenberg and 8,400-foot Naafkopf peaks. From the mountain tops, all of Liechtenstein lays spread before you. And from here, Liechtenstein feels larger than life.
AAA preferred travel partners like Trafalgar and Insight Vacations offer varied itineraries with stops in Liechtenstein. Call 800-398-0379 for details.
Here are some ways to commemorate Liechtenstein’s 300th year!
“1719-Tercentenary of the Principality of Liechtenstein,” Liechtenstein National Museum, through January 2020. Trace the lives of Liechtenstein’s princes at this special museum exhibition.
LIstory App, available late May 2019. Discover Liechtenstein’s points of interest by means of augmented reality using this smartphone app.
National Day, August 15 . Liechtenstein’s annual birthday party, expected to be especially grand this year, includes live music, food and beer tents, a fireworks show and appearances by the royal family.
The Princely Collections, Museum of Fine Arts, September 2019-January 2020 . The House of Liechtenstein exhibits their personal collection in an artistic display spanning 500 years.
(Go Magazine May/June 1019)