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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!