Landlocked in between the countries of Switzerland and Austria, the German-speaking, miniscule principality of Liechtenstein is one of Europe’s little-known treasures. Largely alpine, it is a winter-sports destination of increasing popularity but most of its considerable wealth comes from banking and its standing as an international tax haven.
Just 25 km (15.5 miles) long from north to south, the tiny state’s biggest town is Schaan, but quaint little Vaduz is the capital and this is where all visitors head. It is a micro-city of immense charm, with a photogenic jumble of medieval, Gothic and Baroque architecture; the best way to get the lie of the land is to take the twee little sightseeing train that chugs gamely around the streets. Vaduz’s post office is an important – if somewhat unusual – stop off on the tourist itinerary, as the principality’s stamps are highly valued by collectors.
The fairy-tale Gothic palace of the ruling Liechtenstein dynasty sits high on a hill in the middle of Vaduz but it’s only open on August 15, when Liechtenstein’s National Day is celebrated with fireworks and an invitation to drinks with Prince Hans-Adam II. Above the town, hiking trails fan out into the vineyards and lush forests that cloak the alpine foothills. The rural village of Malbun lies close to the Austrian border and by winter is Liechtenstein’s leading ski resort; in summer it transforms into a mountainous paradise for walkers and cyclists in the surrounding wildlife reserve.
Zurich in Switzerland is the closest city and airport to Liechtenstein, at around 1.25 hours away by the A3 road. Visitors coming in from other European countries need to show passports, as the principality is not a member of the European Union.