Uday K Chakraborty says it is not the obscure, lunch stop country it’s often made out to be.
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Liechtenstein is a land of medieval castles, lush meadows, vineyards and quaint villages clinging to the Alps. Although Liechtenstein borders Switzerland and Austria, this 62-square-mile principality of 38,000 residents still has the virtue of being off the beaten track of most travelers.
In the late 16the century, a wealthy Austrian Prince Liechtenstein, bought out two bankrupt counts with property in the Rhine Valley and created the principality in 1719. Today the country is ruled by His Serene Highness Prince Hans-Adam II. With a master degree in business and economics, he is one of the wealthiest men in Europe but dresses casually and drives around in his medium-priced car. He and the royal family live in the thirteenth-century castle perched about 300 feet above Vaduz, the country’s main city.
The prince presides over a land that has been continuously inhabited for more than 5,000 years. Today it is an industrialized nation producing an array of items from pharmaceuticals to false teeth. Liechtenstein’s people enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world, pay very low taxes, and take in per capita export revenue of USD 30,000 and with a per capita GDP over USD 165,000, second highest in the world after Monaco.
There are several ways to get to Liechtenstein: A convenient and enjoyable entry route is the hour-long train ride from Zurich on Zurich Milan line. The train glides through spectacularly beautiful Swiss countryside along the western shores of the Zurichsee and Wallen lakes to the medieval Swiss town of Sargans. A 15-minute ride by bus took us from one of the oldest democracies in the world to Vaduz, the capital of monarchial Liechtenstein, one of the last remnants of the Holy Roman Empire.
Most of the highlights in Vaduz are in the tiny main street area (he Staedtle). There are two main attractions in the same building as the tourist office: the Prince Art Gallery and the Liechtenstein Post Office Museum. The art gallery is packed with priceless object d’art, including one of the most impressive paintings of Flemish and Dutch masters. Many of the paintings are reproduced on Liechtenstein’s postage stamps, which can be seen and purchased in the Post Office Museum. The museum is known to philatelists the world over, as the stamps are among the most decorative and valuable in the world.
Right next door is the national museum housing local archeological and historical artifacts. Get your passport stamped with the impressive crown insignia at the museum’s boutique on the first floor. The boutiques, souvenir shops, and sidewalk cafes in this area are worth a browse.
The ruler’s castle is perched precariously on the edge of a cliff overlooking the main street of Vaduz. Although the castle itself is not open to the public, the terraces and rolling meadows around it are perfect picnic spots and the elevation provides panoramic view of Vaduz, the Rhine Valley and the surrounding Alps.
Liechtenstein is the only country solely located on the Alps. A popular attraction is the Naafkopf peak (2500 meters) which is more of a high-hill plateau. Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Austria meet at exactly the same point – and a huge wooden cross has been erected on the spot. In fact, there is another bonus. If the weather is clear, you can make out in the distance the silvery water of Lake Constance and Germany, meaning at this top you can actually see four countries at one time!
Very near to Naafkopf is the picturesque town of Steg. Quaint beyond all description, Steg is the starting point for various walking trails leading to the peaks of three mountains, known as the three sisters. They seem to be extending welcoming hands to hikers exploring a kind of never never land; during the ski period however, the small lodgings along the way are always booked solid.
Happily, the rest of the Liechtenstein is relatively unblemished by mass tourism. Although it takes about half an hour from one end of the country to another, visitors can turn off the main highway at almost anytime and go into one of the eleven perishes, or districts, each of which has its own character. Most of them provide picturesque hamlets, apart from old castles, churches, rolling meadows, scenically impressive lakes, nature walks and protected parks with rare floras and faunas.
Just brief description of a two of them we visited would give ample idea about the rest. The residents of Triesenburg, a tiny village, dress in colourful costumes and build their wooden homes in a decorative, regional style that’s been in vogue since 1300 AD. At its altitude of 3600 ft, Triesenburg seems nailed to the side of the Alps and commands an excellent view of the Rhine Valley below and Alpine pine forest behind the village.
Here you may see chamois and deer darting out of the woods or view cattle, sporting enormous bells, grazing in the lush meadows. Balzers is reputed to be the home of the fictional Heidi, where amidst scenic meadows and vineyards, medieval castles, old churches and chapels completes the quaint picture.