* The microstate is the world’s sixth smallest nation
* Sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria, Liechstenstein is also one of the two double landlocked countries in the world, the other being Uzbekistan
* Most of Liechtenstein’s workforce comes in daily from neighbouring Austria and Switzerland
* Just like our Independence Day, Liechtenstein celebrates its National Day on August 15
You are not alone if you think the principality of Liechtenstein is a made-up country in soppy, made-for-TV Hallmark movies with twee names such as Aldovia, Belgravia and Genovia. The kind where wide-eyed American girls fall in love with playboy princes of obscure European micro kingdoms. Places where everybody speaks perfect English in clipped British accents. And yes, while Liechtenstein does have a prince, the head of the State, in the form of Hans-Adam II, the septuagenarian grandfather is far from a playboy and speaks in heavy Alemannic German-accented English (like most of the residents).
Despite being one of the least visited countries in the world, the Alpine microstate — the world’s sixth smallest nation — does draw in the odd traveller now and then. Sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria, both landlocked countries, Liechtenstein is also one of only two double landlocked countries (the other being Uzbekistan) in the world. And its only billionaire (apart from the Prince), the owner of a dental products company, is worth half its GDP!
My tryst with Liechtenstein, however, was not born out of curiosity. More, necessity. Finding myself twiddling thumbs at Zurich airport due to a 12-hour delay in a flight to Lisbon, I hopped into nearby Liechtenstein to kill time. For free.
My rather expensive eight-day Swiss rail pass, the woman at the information kiosk let me know, would not just get me into Vaduz, Liechtenstein’s tiny capital, but also let me use the local buses once there.
With Sargans being the last railhead on the Swiss side, I soon hopped onto a Vaduz-bound bus, which dropped me at the south end of Stadtle — the pedestrian-only ‘Golden Mile’ of Vaduz that started right in front of the grand National Museum building. But the very first structure that caught my attention was the rather contemporary-looking blond wood-clad Parliament Building. Tiny and in keeping with the Lilliputian dimensions of Vaduz, the Parliament Building, designed by the Munich-based architect Hansjörg Göritz, was inaugurated in 2008.
Speaking of size, Liechtenstein is so small that not only can the country be covered on foot in six hours from north to south (under two hours, east to west), but here the ‘milestones’ show you the distance in the time that it takes you to walk from one place to another. In fact, right up to June 2020, Airbnb, in partnership with Rent a Village by Xnet, an event production and marketing company, made it possible to rent the whole of Liechtenstein for around $70,000 a night. The deal included a welcome by mayors and marching bands, temporary renaming of streets after the guests and a fireworks display at the Prince’s estate after wine tasting.
Of mains and sides
As it was almost lunchtime, I sauntered into the rather Mediterranean-looking Torkel restaurant. It is situated in the princely vineyard called Herawingert, which has been in the possession of the Liechtenstein royal family since 1712. The medieval building, which originally served as a winemaking facility, was converted into a restaurant in the ’60s and its interior is dominated by Europe’s largest wooden wine press.
My vegetarian main of käsknöpfle mit apfelmus , a pasta-like cheese dish served with apple sauce, came with a side of some more trivia. All thanks to my Austrian server, who told me that, like himself, most of Liechtenstein’s workforce comes in daily from neighbouring Austria and Switzerland.
But that is not the only Swiss invasion to happen in the country without an army. Apparently, the neighbour accidentally ‘invaded’ Liechtenstein three times in the last three decades. And on two occasions, Liechtenstein was not even aware of it!
I paired my lunch with a crisp Chardonnay made from grapes grown at the rose-pink Hofkellerei winery, owned by Prince Hans-Adam II. The enterprising prince is also the owner of the Texas-based GMO firm RiceTec, which produces hybrid rice varieties such as Texmati, a copycat patented version of the Indian basmati.
Castle in the sky
There is more to the Liechtenstein-India connection. Just like our Independence Day, Liechtenstein celebrates its National Day on August 15. On this day, the Prince throws open the fairytale-esque Vaduz Castle to citizens and guests for a beer-and-pretzel party. Constructed as a fortress in early 12th century, before living quarters were added in 1287, it was only in 1939 that the Castle became the official residence of the Prince of Liechtenstein.
Perched 120m high on a hill that overlooks Vaduz, the castle is quite a feat to get to. Trudging up the winding pathway may have been a challenge, but the vista from the halfway Kanzeli viewpoint, of both the city below and the castle above, was enough to keep me at it.
Although one is not allowed to enter the castle, a chatty groundskeeper let me walk about its perimeter, sending me on my way with one last nugget of quirky Liechtensteiner trivia. Flashing me a bright, white smile, he let me know that his beloved Liechtenstein is the world’s number one manufacturer of false teeth. I will let you chew on that one.
Raul Dias is a food and travel writer based in Mumbai