Each week, we spotlight a dream vacation recommended by some of the industry's top travel writers. This week's pick is Liechtenstein.
Liechtenstein "shouldn't really exist," said Mark Richardson at The Globe and Mail. The tiny mountainous country covers just 62 square miles — about the same as Washington, D.C. — and it's surrounded by Austria to the east and Switzerland "to the everywhere else." Yet the pocket-size principality is a proud and independent nation. Home to 37,000 people, Liechtenstein has its own parliament, and a prince and princess who live in a castle overlooking the capital, Vaduz. It also has a lot of money and near zero unemployment, thanks to a lucrative banking sector. Still, the country isn't costlier to visit than its neighbors. I drove across Liechtenstein twice last month, when the whole nation looked picture-postcard pretty, with tidy forests and manicured pastures surrounded by snowcapped Alpine peaks.
The landlocked nation has no airports or harbors, so most visitors drive in, usually from Zurich, about two hours away, or Munich, about four hours. "There's no sign on the bridge over the Rhine from Switzerland that says 'Welcome to Liechtenstein' — or if there is, I didn't see it." As I soon discovered, "this is an understated country in every way." On the drive to my hotel, I got lost on a twisty mountain road and had to ask some hikers for directions. Thankfully, everyone in the German-speaking country seems to know English, as well as where everything is. Indeed, it became apparent that most of Vaduz had dined at my hotel's Michelin-starred restaurant. "Oh, you ate at the Restaurant Marée?" several locals remarked the next day. "Such a good choice."
It doesn't take long to drive the country's 15-mile length along the Rhine valley, but traversing the nation's 7-mile width takes far longer, because the roads running east "wiggle their way up into the mountains." High above the valley in Triesenberg, I stopped to enjoy a sweeping view before heading south. I pulled over again at the Swiss border, near the site of one of the most exciting incidents to occur in Liechtenstein this century. One night in 2007, 170 soldiers from Switzerland got lost during a training exercise and accidentally invaded the tranquil principality next door. Apparently, nobody in Liechtenstein noticed — "which is just as well, because it has no army of its own."