It’s a pint-sized destination but the princely capital of Vaduz rewards the curious visitor.
Venuring to Vaduz? Nestled at the foot of forested mountains, flanking the banks of the Rhine River and studded by a hillside-clinging turreted castle, the location of Liechtenstein’s capital is a visual symphony. Towering alpine peaks soar further up, beyond the turreted castle. Eager to tick another country off my check-list, this is a pin-prick of a principality with a postage-stamp sized capital, wedged between Switzerland and Austria.
Fun facts? One of the world’s wealthiest countries per capita, with a population comparable to Taupo, they haven’t had a murder in Liechtenstein for 15 years. They’re also the world’s biggest manufacturer of false teeth. Ranked as the sixth-smallest country in the world, Liechtenstein offers a curious diversion from the well-worn tourist trail. Endowed with curious museums, graceful castles and elegant vineyards, what is there not love?
The beating heart of Vaduz is surprisingly chic and modern, with its alluring array of tax-free luxury-goods stores and cube-shaped concrete buildings, in the pedestrianised zone below the castle. It’s hard to miss Schloss Vaduz, which seems to shuffle into view from all angles. This emblematic 700-year-old castle is a tale of towers and turrets, knights and legends, originally built as a fortress in the 12th century and now the official residence of the Prince of Liechtenstein. It’s for that reason that you can’t actually visit the castle.
Fair enough – I wouldn’t want randoms rummaging through my home, either. But take a guided walking tour to the castle gates in Vaduz and you’ll glean all manner of insights about the castle’s long history. If you happen to be in Vaduz on August 15, you’re in luck. It’s Liechtenstein’s National Day and the Prince opens his home for a public reception and a magnificent fireworks display. Back in town, I did admire his crown jewels in the Liechtenstein Treasure Chamber. The starring attraction is the royal coronet, a bejewelled crown, decorated with 26 pearls, 30 large diamonds and 99 smaller diamonds and 16 rubies.
All manner of state trinkets are on display, including the famous Apple Blossom Egg which was created by Carl Fabergé 120 years ago and a moon rock from the Apollo 11 mission. President Nixon gifted the rock to Liechtenstein in gratitude for the work of a local vacuum technology company who provided important components for Apollo’s lunar landing.
The Treasure Chamber adjoins the Postage Stamp Museum, on the same pedestrianised street as virtually all of Vaduz’s major attractions, Städtle. My philatelic friends tell me that Liechtenstein is a rock-star. The Liechtenstein stamp has long been one of the most coveted stamps going and one of Europe’s more unusual museums tells the story of the country’s postal independence.
Well worth a look, trust me. Nearby, the Tourist Information Centre, where you can buy a Liechtenstein Adventure Pass, which gives you direct access to 30 attractions, plus unlimited use of the public transport network. https://tourismus.li/
At the far end of Städtle, the Cathedral of St. Florin, an 1870s neo-Gothic delight, beloved for its stained glass windows and stunning steeple. You can the graves of Prince Franz Joseph II, the father of the present ruling Prince, and his wife, in this beautiful, contemplative space.
Right next door, Parliament Building and the main square. Like a giant Lego piece, it was built using more than a million bricks, in 2008. In the heart of Städtle, Kuntsmuseum Liechtenstein. This black, monolithic block houses the State Art Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art. From the striking exterior (which has river pebbles from the Rhine River Valley embedded in its façade) to the sleek, clean lines of the interior space, the museum is a beautiful canvas celebrating a carefully curated collection of art.
Its collection of 19th-century pieces, including sculptures and artwork from the Prince’s private collection arouses interest. But it’s the frequently changing exhibitions of modern art that is the biggest draw. You won’t Old Dutch Masters here – more like Andy Warhol and David Weiss.
To get a deeper sense of how Vaduz once looked, take a stroll around the old hillside neighbourhood of Mitteldorf – just above the town centre. You’ll discover a clutch of time-worn traditional houses, flower boxes and cobblestone streets. The star of the show is the eye-catching Red House.
With its deep red hue, pretty stone tower and attached vineyard, this 14th century mansion is fairy-tale fabulous. Wine has been grown in Liechtenstein for over 2,000 years, with the first boom in production coming during the Roman occupation, before Christian monks took charge of proceedings.
I definitely recommend visiting the Prince of Liechtenstein Winery, where you can wander through the vineyards and sample the excellent wines. With its four hectares of south-west-facing slopes and mild climate influenced by the warm ‘Föhn’ wind, they produce superb Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. You can also take a tour of the Princely Wine Cellars. www.hofkellerei.li
Just out of town, follow your nose to the Old Rhine Bridge. This gnarly wooden construction vaults you across the upper Rhine River connecting Lichtenstein with Switzerland. A 135-metre walk gets you across the bridge. Stop halfway and plant one foot in Switzerland and the other in little Liechtenstein. Cute. It’s entirely possible tick off the sights and delights of Vaduz in a day, but why not stay a night or two and savour some local hospitality?
Park Hotel Sonnenhof has a knock-out location on a plateau above the town, a luxury hillside retreat with dreamy views of the valley below as mountains soar above you. I loved waking up to a view of Vaduz Castle. If you’re the sort of traveller who loves resting up in velvet chaise lounges or fragrant rose gardens, you will love it here. The hotel’s salons and guestrooms brim with medieval antiques, impressive woodwork and theatrical red velvet drapes that Cinderella herself might have sewn. The subterranean pool is covered in mosaic tiles and transports you to another world entirely.
With 29 individually designed guestrooms and suites, spanning modern and classic design features, reserve a panorama room or junior suite for those heart-stealing views. I loved admiring the gallery of famous guests who have recently enjoyed a stay at this gorgeous boutique hotel – from Hugh Grant to Jose Mourinho.
Inspired by the changing seasons, head chef Hubertus Real and his team conjure up a wide range of excellent dishes in the hotel’s renowned Restaurant Marée. You’ll struggle to go past the crispy Sonnenhof Schnitzel from a saddle of veal, with cranberry chutney and potatoes. The buffet breakfast is also particularly lavish.
(As an aside, a particularly good local dessert you will find all over Vaduz is Kaiserschmarrn. This sweet fluffy pancake is made with rum-soaked raisins. It’s torn into bite-sized pieces, caramelised, and served with applesauce and plum compote.) Wherever you are roaming in Europe, bag a great deal on Booking.com. No matter what your budget or accommodation preferences may be, score a great-value stay with total flexibility and convenience, at www.booking.com
Vaduz is a short train ride away from Zurich, which is serviced by Singapore Airlines who have proudly connected New Zealand to the world for more than 45 years via its world-beating hub, Changi Airport. Operating daily services out of Christchurch and Auckland, Singapore Airlines’ renowned in-flight dining service, KrisWorld entertainment system, in-flight wifi and legendary service are all part of the package. For the best fares and seats to suit, head to https://www.singaporeair.com
Grab a ticket to ride the wonders of the European railway network with a Eurail Pass. On popular rail routes, it pays to make a seat reservation in advance. Lock in your rail plans ahead of your trip, by booking tickets or a rail pass to suit with Eurail direct. The mobile pass is the way to go. The Eurail app is an excellent initiative, packed with helpful information and benefits, notifying you of any network disruption and enabling you to check timetables, lock in bookings and seat reservations on the go, via your mobile. www.eurail.com