The Country That Deserves More Than A Day Trip

Liechtenstein is the 6th smallest country in the world, located in the center of the Alps, between Switzerland and Austria. Whenever I mention Liechtenstein to someone, the common reactions I get are – Never heard of it, or I’ve been there on a day trip from Zurich. Honestly, I did not know much about this tiny country either, until I went there and discovered it for myself. I did not want to do a bus tour or a day trip, since that never gives you a broad insight into the country.

Downtown Vaduz

Getting There

I rented a car from Zurich and a little over an hour later, arrived in the capital of Vaduz. The drive was mostly through small farms and highway, approaching scenic mountains.

After having spent a couple of weeks in Switzerland, Vaduz didn’t look all that different. It is a Princely state though, and a very rich one too. From the city center you can see the castle perched on a hill, looking over the capital, where the royal family still resides. The Vaduz Castle looks like a 12th century medieval castle from the outside, but the inside is very opulent, fit for 21st century kings and queens. I was told the monarch occasionally opens their home to deserving citizens when they have lavish parties.

Romantic dinner at Restaurant Maree, located at Park Hotel Sonnenhof

Where to Stay

You can still get a glimpse of royalty, by booking a suite at the Park Hotel Sonnenhof, that has a direct view of the castle. A boutique family-run Relais & Chateau hotel, this is the best place to stay in Liechtenstein. Surrounded by vineyards and mountains, the hotel has 29 rooms, Turkish-inspired spa, Michelin star restaurant and a relaxing garden. You will also see pictures of celebrity guests who have stayed here, including head of states, Sting and Paulo Coelho!

Symphony of chanterelles, cream of roasted egg plant, dried tomatoes and fresh basil.

Where to Eat

Make sure to call ahead for dinner reservations (ask for a table on the terrace) at the hotel’s Restaurant Maree, as people drive from Switzerland, Austria and Germany (all 20 miles) to celebrate special occasions at what is considered the best restaurant in Liechtenstein. The restaurant has been awarded 1 Michelin star, 2 Toques and 17 points from Gault Millau – in other words, its really good! Chef Hubert (the hotel’s owner’s son) prepared a 6-course wine paired dinner for me, using a many local ingredients and the finest European wines. Highlights were chanterelle mushrooms in roasted eggplant dip, codfish with orange risotto, a light and refreshing raspberry sorbet and elderflower jello dessert, washed down with French moscato.

The cuisine in Liechtenstein is influenced by its very close neighbors and you will mostly find the same dishes as in the Swiss-German region. There are a few international restaurants in downtown Vaduz as well.

What to Drink

The Princely Winery Hofkellerei owned by the Prince of Liechtenstein is located in Vaduz. You can walk around the small vineyard (their larger one is in Austria) and spend a few hours tasting their wines in the Princely Domanie. There’s also a restaurant and a gift shop that sells wine, champagne and Princely chocolates.

Things To Do

If you went to Liechtenstein on a tour bus, you would probably be dropped in downtown Vaduz for half a day. It is a really small place with an interesting mix of architecture that doesn’t make it a pretty city. However, you can actually spend a couple of days here exploring the many museums that house the royal family’s private collections, stamp collections, as well as rotating art exhibitions. The Adventure Pass gives you access to over 30 museums and attractions around the country for only 30 Swiss Francs.

Trekking guide Berggotta Rosaria Heeb in Sareis.

For me, the best part of Liechtenstein was its hilly countryside. I drove to the villages of Malbun and Triesenberg, took a chair lift to Sareis, and walked with a local guide. There are many hiking, biking, and mountain climbing trails (download the trails app) where you can see interesting rock formations, wildflowers, and cows with bells walking around pastures. Take a break at one of the dairy farms to taste fresh yogurt, cheese and ice creams.

You can also hike with a Golden Eagle and his guide. Watch the majestic’s bird’s flying and hunting skills as Norman, the falconer (one of the only ones in the country) talking passionately about his relationship with his bird.

Norman and his Golden Eagle.

All the locals I met in Liechtenstein were very friendly and truly loved living there. The 30,000 citizens (citizenship is very difficult to get) feel happy and well taken care of by the government. When I asked them what they loved most about their country, they said – Being able to wake up to this beautiful scenery, breathe clean mountain air, be outdoors and not have to face any traffic!

How To Celebrate Christmas in Innsbruck

When you think of Christmas, you probably picture brilliantly white snow falling on fir trees; people wearing woolen mittens holding steaming cups of hot chocolate; and little kids screaming with excitement as they watch Santa bring a bag full of surprises. This is the very Christmasy feeling you get when you travel to Innsbruck, Austria – the capital of the Alps.

The small city located near the border of Germany and Italy transforms into a winter wonderland through the month of December. There are lots of events taking place so make sure to check the calendar and plan your trip accordingly. Starting mid November, there are advent and Christmas concerts, a Christmas flea market, brass music on the tower. The best part is, most of these are free and open to public.

Here are some ways you can get into the Christmas spirit in Innsbruck…

Shop at The Christmas Markets

This was my first time at a Christmas market in Europe and I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of families (mostly Italians) in town enjoying simple pleasures. While we in US focus mostly on shopping for presents at big name brands during the holiday season, the people at the Christmas market at Marktplatz were strolling through the decorated squares, sipping on gluhwein (mulled wine), eating cheesy raclette toast, roasted chestnuts and kiachl (fried donuts).

The market in Maria-Theresien-Strasse sold unique Christmas ornaments, little village scenes, handmade woolens, candles, statues, woodwork, candy, cards and so much more. I felt a gift bought here would be a lot more meaningful than from the mall!

Watch The Krampus Parade

Prior to visiting Innsbruck, I did not know much about the tradition of krampus – which apparently has been around for a couple of hundred years in western Europe. In olden times, the Catholic church used the mythological figure (half goat, half demon) to scare kids so they behave well. Men would dress up as krampus and beat up the naughty kids while Santa would bring gifts to the nice ones (naughty or nice, get it?).

Little did I know that I had been a bad girl this year because I was beaten up by many devils in the town of Igls this year! I arrived at the annual krampus parade as an innocent spectator taking videos of the masked devils riding their chariots lit with fire. But then some of these devils pulled adults and kids from the crowd and whipped them with their brooms and sticks. Yes it hurt, and by the time the fourth guy headed my way, I ran for the bus back to my hotel.

Though scary, it was an experience hanging out with locals who brought their little kids to watch the parade. Even the young ones went along with the whippings as it is just a part of tradition.

Stroll Through Swarovski Crystal Worlds

Located just outside the city is a magical Christmas themed garden with lighted figures. Also, the new poetic garden features a unique Crystal Cloud made from 800,000 hand-mounted and enchanted floating crystals – pictures don’t do justice to the glistening reflections!

Being a Swarovski fan, I also enjoyed visiting the museum that tells the story of the family (who was from Bohemia which is now in Czech Republic), and displays some of the most famous gowns and jewels that bestowed celebrities on red carpets. Also, there is the largest Swarovski store I have ever seen selling crystals ranging from $50-50,000. There’s no way you can walk out empty handed from here.

Brunch with a View

If you are dreaming of a white Christmas, you will definitely get it in Innsbruck. Just take the Nordketten cable car to Seegrube, where you will find some of the best ski slopes in the Alps. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the majestic Stubai glacier as I enjoyed my first snowfall of the season. Many locals hike up the mountain, grab a delicious lunch at Seegrube Restaurant, and then take the cable car back down.

Another popular option for Sunday brunch is Restaurant Bergisel SKY (make reservations in advance) overlooking the famous Olympic Bergisel Ski Jump. Perched above the city, the glass enclosed restaurant has some of the best views of Innsbruck and the surrounding mountains.

In the mood for Christmas already? Then head to Innsbruck, Austria and enjoy the special season! I would recommend staying at least two days to enjoy the festivities, and longer if you like winter sports like skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing, or winter hiking.