Hands up if you’re from Liechtenstein? Hmm, just as I suspected, not many hands there. With an estimated population of approximately 37000, the whole of the country has less people living in it than my South Wales hometown of Bridgend (population circa 49500, in case you were wondering). So put in to that sort of context, the chances of a Liechtensteiner being among the people who read this article are smaller than…well, insert your own apposite comparison here.
Liechtenstein isn’t the only microstate in Europe, let alone the world, of course: there are three places in Europe alone (San Marino, Monaco and Vatican City) that are smaller. Yet, despite the fact it’s only the fourth smallest nation in the continent, it does have enough curiosity value to make it worth a visit. Do bear in mind, though, that the only way to get into the country is from the roads of Switzerland and Austria. You might well be able to see slick, ultra-modern trains from the vantage points of Liechtenstein’s capital Vaduz, but those are very much in Switzerland’s turf!
What you get within the postage-stamp-sized borders of Liechtenstein are some picturesque mountain vistas and quaint snapshots of Alpine village life. A wander up to the castle perched above Vaduz, via a path dotted with fast-fact tidbits designed to give you a crash course in all things Liechtenstein, gives you both experiences rolled into one. It’s almost enough to make you forget the rampant commercialism on Vaduz’s high street (souvenir passport stamps at five Swiss Francs a time, anyone?).
Because it uses the Swiss Franc, Liechtenstein is sometimes seen as a mere extension of its neighbour to the West. However, whereas Switzerland remains famous for its perpetual neutrality, Liechtenstein embraced UN and European Union membership back in the 1990s. Here’s a few other Liechtenstein facts for your delectation:
- Liechtenstein is the only country that takes its name from the family who purchased it. Yes, Austrian Prince Johann Adam Von Liechtenstein purchased this swathe of land back in the eighteenth century and was so pleased with his efforts that he named it after…himself.
- It is apparently the world’s largest exporter of false teeth. I wonder if anyone with dentures is now checking if there’s some sort of Liechtensteiner hallmark on them.
- A Principality to this day, incumbent ruler Prince Hans-Adam II invites every Liechtensteiner to his home (the castle) for a celebratory beverage to commemorate Assumption Day on August 15th. Whether the rest of us are welcome is something I’ll have to revisit on 15th August one year to find out…
With a benign monarch at the helm – the one piece of legislation in Liechtenstein’s constitution he cannot veto is a referendum to become a Republic – Liechtenstein is a quirky, gentle-natured throwback to the era of feuding vassals, albeit without any actual conflict or bloodshed. Some may see it as a country to be stuffed into a cabinet of curiosities, a look once and never visits again sort of place. But with an embarrassment of natural riches and characterful settlements to its name, rewards are definitely on offer to the traveller who chooses to linger a while.