Our trip through Switzerland from Chamonix was punctuated by a brief visit into the microstate of Liechtenstein in our ever persistent goal of visiting as many countries as we possibly could. I probably never would have heard of Liechtenstein if my mother wouldn’t have visited close to ten years ago and the only thing I really knew about it was just how small it is, measuring in at a paltry 62 square miles which is roughly the size of Washington D.C.
Liechtenstein lies to the east and north of Switzerland and to the west and south of Austria and is the fourth smallest country in Europe behind Vatican City, Monaco, and San Marino and has an estimated population of only 37,000. Largely due to Liechtenstein’s size, the country is home to some pretty obscure and interesting facts that set it apart from its larger neighbors. The country is one of only two double land-locked countries in the entire world where not only is the country land-locked, but so is every country that shares a border with it, a distinction shared only with Uzbekistan in the Middle East.
My favorite fact about Liechtenstein is the story of the last military engagement the Liechtenstein military was ever involved in. None of the 80 soldiers that were sent got injured and they returned with 81 as an Italian “friend” tagging along with them on the way back. The military was disbanded soon afterward. Since then, the country has actually been accidentally bombed once and invaded twice by their neighbors and protectors Switzerland, all of them completely accidentally. In 2007, after Swiss soldiers accidentally crossed the border in Liechtenstein they apologized to the Liechtenstein government whose cool response was, “These things happen.”
This response from the government is just one of the many ways in which the good nature of the people of Liechtenstein can be quite obvious. The country is virtually crimeless with a crime rate so low that most Liechtensteiners don’t even lock their doors at night and the last time a murder was committed in the country was all the way back in 1997!
While in Liechtenstein we stayed in a region called Triesenberg which sits atop one of the several mountains which cover most of the land area of the country. We drove our rental car up the steep mountain-side towards Triesenburg, Frank the Fiat threatening to not make it all the way up. Luckily he did and we were able to check into our hotel located near the very top of the mountain, but not before patiently waiting as the hotel’s cows stared at us dumbly while we tried to pass them on the tiny road up to the guesthouse.
As the entire country consists pretty much only of mountains, the favorite sport of most Liechtensteiners is alpine skiing which is coincidentally the only Olympic sport someone from Liechtenstein has ever won. Liechtenstein is also the only country to have won medals at the Winter Olympic games, but not at the Summer edition of the competition. With 10 total medals, Liechtenstein has the most medals per capita of any country at almost one medal for every 3,600 inhabitants.
To get an idea of how high up we were, our hotel sat at 3600 ft above sea level scraping the bottom edge of the clouds that would later drop its load on as on our way out of the country and back into Switzerland. As one of the few guests at our hotel – summer is off-season – the family-owned guesthouse gave us the room with the best view of the amazing valley below and probably the best view from a hotel room that we have ever had.
The hotel is almost completely self-sufficient with its own pigsty, the odd chicken or two, and an abundance of the aforementioned cows equipped with cowbells that jingled throughout the day and into the night as they moved. Having already made the long trek up the mountain and not being sure our little Fiat would make it back up again, we stayed at the guesthouse for the day and sampled some of their fresh meat for dinner, which felt slightly wrong as we could hear the cow’s brothers and sisters jingling around outside as they munched on their never-ending supply of mountain grass (queue “Circle of Life” song from The Lion King). Lunch was washed down with some ice-cold beer from one of only two breweries in the entire country.
The next day we made our way back down the mountain in neutral to visit the capital city of Liechtenstein, Vaduz. Weighing in at an impressively unimpressive 5,425 residents, the capital city contains a small church, a few stores, and a couple of tourists shops, all overlooked by the legitimately impressive Vaduz Castle which we stopped by on the way down.
Schloss Vaduz, as the castle is called in Liechtenstein’s native language of German, is the private home of the Liechtenstein royal family who lives there year round. Construction on the castle began in the 12th century. Though unable to go inside the castle, it is not uncommon to see members of the royal family out and about in Vaduz, their cars easily identifiable by their license plates, the numbers of which are the year of the royal member’s birth, another quirky fact about the tiny country.
We took a quick stop in Vaduz, to take a quick look at what it had to offer, making sure to get a souvenir passport stamp as the country does not employ border control agents and that is the only way to get a Liechtenstein passport stamp. We also couldn’t leave without sampling the other brewery in Liechtenstein before we headed back into Switzerland.
Liechtenstein, besides being interesting for just being as small as it is, is a very beautiful and worthwhile place to visit, if only to say you have been to one of the smallest countries in the world! It’s also a nice country because it is one of the few that you can visit for one day and feel like you have experienced the country to its fullest!
We did so many amazing things in Switzerland both before and after Liechtenstein that you will not want to miss in my next post so stay tuned!