Liechtenstein – little but quite lovely

Having knocked off a swift post on Davos a couple of months back, I thought I should do something similar on the next place I stopped, Liechtenstein (its capital, Vaduz, is almost an anagram of Davos, but not quite). It’s taken a while, but anyway, here it is. I’ve been there a few times in the past when updating the Switzerland chapter of the Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget, and always enjoyed it. I used to stay, courtesy of the Swiss youth hostels association, in Schaan, a few kilometres north of Vaduz and rather livelier and less stuffy, I’m told. There is some striking modern architecture in both towns. Vaduz really is tiny and there are only a couple of good hotels and no really cheap ones. The other alternative, apart from Schaan, is the Malbun ski resort (at 1600m), which can be reached all year round by Liechtenstein’s excellent bus system (30 minutes by the hourly bus 21). Most of the principality lies on the flood plain of the Rhine (which forms the border with Switzerland), but on the eastern (Austrian) side there are some seriously impressive mountains and good hiking opportunities.

The only real development since my last visit, in terms of the tourist experience, is the opening in 2015 of the Hilti Art Foundation, essentially an extension of the main art gallery in Vaduz, the Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein (they’re linked by a short tunnel). There’s a similar focus on twentieth-century art, largely Germanic (Hodler, Kirchner, Kandinsky, Beckmann and Klee) as well as Léger, Giacometti and Picasso. Kirchner, of course, was the main attraction in Davos. Hilti is Liechtenstein’s only internationally known company, selling its power tools and fasteners worldwide. There’s also an excellent sushi bar at the art museum!

I also visited the Prince’s Kunstkammer or Treasure Chamber (also on Vaduz’s one pedestrian street, Städtle) for the first time. Opened in 2015, it has a pretty rigorous security set-up – you enter one by one through a security gate using tokens sold at the nearby tourist office (CHF8 each; free for under-16s). There’s a replica of the crown, which was made in 1626 and stolen in 1781, lots of Fabergé (etc) eggs, guns and prints – nothing too thrilling. The family’s main collection is in Vienna where they lived until 1938, when they established themselves here and gained credit for shepherding the principality through the Second World War without provoking a German invasion. The princely castle, set dramatically above Vaduz, is not open to visitors, but I do recommend the National Museum, beautifully presented in two historic buildings and a modern extension. The Lichtensteiner Brewery is also not bad, with a fairly decent Weissbier among other beers.

Squeezed between Austria and Switzerland, Liechtenstein has a Customs Union with Switzerland, uses the Swiss Franc as its currency and seems a bit Swiss in terms of its infrastructure and general efficiency; however the railway which runs across the country is operated by the Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB). This was totally closed for trackwork for the whole of June 2017, and it now takes just five minutes to cover the nine kilometres across the principality. It’s a shame that the hereditary prince or his transport minions didn’t take the opportunity to lengthen the platforms at Schaan and request the ÖBB to stop the Zürich-Wien RailJet trains there – at the moment the only service is a local shuttle between Sargans and Feldkirch which runs nine times a day each way, Mondays to Fridays only. You don’t need to use this – get off at Sargans (Switzerland) or Feldkirch (Austria) and catch bus no.11 which links the two via Vaduz and Schaan.