A closer look at scenic Liechtenstein
This fascinating and friendly country is small in size, but big on history
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/04/2018 (1567 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It is always exciting to discover a unique place unexpectedly. But the few days I spent in Liechtenstein underscored how important it is to keep an open mind when on the road.
Liechtenstein is a fascinating, friendly and scenic country, with a rich cultural heritage that you would never expect to find in so small a nation.
One thing I concluded fairly early in my stay was that I would like to be a prince when I grow up. However, my opportunity to become one in Liechtenstein, the only remaining monarchy where the title and powers are passed on to the first born male heir, became null and void when Prince Franz Joseph II recently passed on the title to son Hans-Adam II.
Liechtenstein is a principality, governed legally by the prince, but practically by an elected assembly — not unlike the United Kingdom. While the country has an elected legislature who does pass the day-to-day laws of the country, the prince can — if he wishes — veto any law he does not agree with.
The wealth of the family is considerable, including vast properties attained as far back as 1140. It was solidified when Liechtenstein officially became a principality early in the eighteenth century.
Holding properties and businesses throughout Europe, the family net worth is estimated to be in the billions.
A vote was taken in 2012 to abolish the monarchy. It was defeated overwhelmingly by a margin of over 75 per cent. That really seemed strange to me, but after learning the facts and upon further reflection, it is no surprise.
Not only does the prince not receive any remuneration from the country he leads, but in fact he is one of the strongest contributors to the vibrancy of the communities in the nation.
Many of the most interesting places I visited were owned by the Prince. It is much of his art collection that is displayed at the National Museum. It is at his vineyard where I took a winery tour and at his nearby restaurant, the Turkel, where I had one of the best meals of my entire journey. And it is the princely family who also owns the large international private banking firm, LGT.
“You can be for or against him, but we as a country profit a lot from the prince,” says Joel Grandchamp of Liechtenstein Marketing.
Liechtenstein, however, is about much more than just princely properties.
Surrounded by mountains, its views are dramatic. At only 160 square kilometres, it is one of the smaller countries in the world. Standing on a hilltop in the community of Shellenberg, I was overlooking three countries: Austria, Switzerland and the lush pastures of Liechtenstein below me.
Its population is under 40,000, but it employs at least half that many from the two neighbouring countries, who commute daily to their Lichtenstein workplaces.
Liechtenstein promotes itself as an oasis of well-being. And that it truly is.
Vaduz is its capital, but much like driving from the heart of Winnipeg into St. James, there seems to be no obvious break between the various centres.
It is in Vaduz where both the government buildings and the museums, art galleries and trendy bars and restaurants are located. During the day, Vaduz is a busy place, but until tourists start filling the hotels during the prime summer tourism season, the streets and pedestrian corridors are unusually quiet at night.
I stayed at the Hotel Residence on the main pedestrian walkway of Vaduz. When I emerged from my room on my first evening, the contrast was stark. It was as though I had suddenly been transported to a different city, where the people had mysteriously vanished.
While to some degree the local population helps create the daytime energy, it is those commuting workers who fill the shops and restaurants each day.
There are two major art galleries on this thoroughfare that are worth visiting.
While the Museum of Fine Arts and the Hilti Art Foundation are in separate structures, known as the black and white galleries, they are managed as one entity. The two buildings stand boldly beside each other, each drawing attention to their square, but nevertheless unique architecture. In these galleries you will find collections from the masters, including a current collection of Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso and Max Beckmann. There are also modern art paintings and sculptures in the Hilti building.
As I walked around Vaduz, I was also amazed by the number of public art structures there were and how the progressive design of new buildings still blended in with the traditional ones from the past.
The Liechtenstein National Museum houses the collections of the prince. While including works of past masters, it features a gun collection going back to the 1500s. More surprisingly, it is the only museum outside the United States that has samples of original moonstones from Apollo 11 and 17.
It was scientists from Liechtenstein who helped research the effects of the space vacuum on materials. In appreciation for their work the Liechtenstein flag was taken to the moon and some of the rocks brought back were given to the museum in appreciation.
For outdoor enthusiast there may not be a better place to visit. There are skating and family ski opportunities in the winter, while over the summer there are over 500 biking and hiking trails that run from the shores of the Rhine River up to the higher hills — with climbing options that will take you to the peaks of the mountains around Liechtenstein.
After discovering the joys of Liechtenstein with its friendly people and peaceful surroundings, the thought might cross your mind to buy a house and move there.
While there certainly is space enough to build homes in the area, the laws are such that if you do not have a Lichtenstein lineage, you cannot own property.
So as I just did, you may want to consider a few days in Lichtenstein during your next European visit.
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If you Go:
Dining: The oldest hotel/restaurant in Liechtenstein is the Lowen, not far from the centre of Vaduz. I highly recommend the scalloped veal with Rosti (a Swiss potato dish).
At the Lowen in nearby Schellenberg (same name, but not connected in any way with the one above) I tasted Kaseknopfle, a pasta specialty with melted cheese and onions. Don’t let anyone suggest to a local that it’s a bit like German Spaetzle. It really does have a taste of its own.
And definitely don’t miss the Prince’s Turkel Restaurant. Each serving comes with a presentation that challenges you to consume every last bite.
Things to do: Travel up and down the hills to the nearby towns by bus. Public transportation is frequent and efficient. Take the winery tour for sure. The attached restaurant is highly regarded by locals for its food and vineyard location as well.