The sovereign shrimp . . . the little giant of Europe . . . the wee Titan . . . the postage-stamp state . . . the mouse that roars.
Call Liechtenstein whatever you will, but after all the witty quips and ding-dong designations, pick up your valise, put a red circle on your map where the little Big L is, and help yourself to a country the size of a jellybean.
Liechtenstein is a conversation piece. Where else in the world can you visit a nation that has been officially at war for more than a century with a country that no longer exists? More about that later.
A Colorful Setting
Wedged high in a niche between the Swiss and Austrian Alps, Liechtenstein would make an ideal stage-setting for an operetta. With its 60 square miles and 15,000 inhabitants, this micro-land has no crime, no jail, no radio or TV station, no army, no draft, no airport, no daily newspaper, no golf course, no customs officials, no divorce, no billboards, no communists and practically no taxes.
That last item may explain why 8,000 foreign corporations have set up headquarters in Vaduz (the only capital in Europe that doesn't have a railroad station).
Contrary to what many visitors believe, Liechtenstein does not live from its sale of postage stamps. Only 10% of the country's income derives from that source; the rest of its earnings come from a network of industry.
Nearly 4,000 people are employed in factories producing pocket-size calculating machines, optical instruments, central heating boilers, sausage skins, sewing needles, cotton textiles, furniture, toys, leather goods, paints, varnishes, screws and dental items. The false-tooth factory, second-largest in the world, grinds out 7 million teeth a month.
An independent state for more than 250 years, Liechtenstein is ruled by an octogenarian hereditary prince whose name runs too long. He is Prince Franz Josef II Maria Aloys Alfred Karl Johannes Heinrich Michael Georg Ignatius Benediktus Gerhardus Majella von Liechtenstein. His wife, the Princess Georgina, calls herself Gina.
Prince Franz Josef has a priceless art collection of 1,400 masterpieces worth in the vicinity of $150 million, many housed in his medieval castle (124 rooms), which sits on the edge of a cliff overlooking the main street of the capital. But 75 of the prince's best paintings are on view in the white-walled public gallery near the post office and stamp museum. The exhibit includes 16 canvases by Rubens, 15 by Van Dyck, three Rembrandts and works by Brueghel, Raphael, Titian and Tiepolo.
Another Liechtenstein tourist attraction (mostly unexplored) is Naafkopf Peak. It is the only place in Europe where there is a piece of ground that you can sit on and be in three countries at the same time. Liechtenstein, Austria and Switzerland meet at this point, and a huge wooden cross has been erected on the spot.
To get to Naafkopf Peak, which is actually more of a plateau than a peak, all you need is a pair of sturdy shoes in the spring or summer.
Except for two short stretches on the cliff-hugging path where you have to watch your footing, the walk to Naafkopf is quite negotiable and not dangerous at all. Give yourself a full day to go and come back, if you are staying at a hotel in the capital. If you're there in the winter, when it snows, it's best to hire a professional guide.
For your Naafkopf adventure, leave Vaduz in the morning and make your way through the town of Steg, less than 10 minutes away by auto or bus. Quaint beyond description, and mostly unvisited by tourists, Steg is the starting point for various walking trails leading to the peaks of three mountains known as the Three Sisters.
A Welcome to Hikers
Welcoming hands seem to be extended to hikers exploring a kind of never-never land; during ski periods, however, the lodgings along the way are always booked solid.
From Steg you head uphill to the town of Malbun (the end of the 760F Bus Line, if you've taken public transportation from Vaduz). A ski lift then takes you to an altitude of 6,500 feet, stopping at a wonderful sun terrace where you can enjoy a cup of coffee and a pastry before departing on foot toward the Naafkopf.
It's a fairly easy uphill hike of about 90 minutes to your first stop on this mountain ridge path, the Bettlerjoch Pfalzer Hut at 7,900 feet. There you can pause for a rest and refreshment.
With another bit of hiking you will reach Naafkopf Peak at 8,400 feet. In winter this makes a good starting point for a ski run downhill all the way to Malbun.
Three at Once
Once you reach the Naafkopf and the three countries that converge on top, there is another bonus if the weather is clear. You can see the silvery waters of Lake Constance and Germany in the distance, which means that atop the Naafkopf a visitor can see four countries at one time--Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Liechtenstein. No other parcel of land in the world offers such an opportunity.
Atop the Naafkopf you are privileged to put your signature into a special book. The sturdy volume has been there for at least 15 years, when the three-meter wooden cross first went up. Prince Franz Joseph II,his wife and their five children have also signed the book.
If you want to walk all the way down, instead of taking the ski lift from the terrace to Malbun, allow yourself about five hours from Naafkopf. Begin your descent well before dusk because in a few places you do have to pay careful attention to the rough footpath. Atop the Naafkopf and on your way down, you will enjoy still another rarity, the most invigorating fresh air anywhere.
Once you've left Vaduz you have already made a bold step to seeing the real Liechtenstein. The director of Liechtenstein's tourism industry, Berthold Konrad, is firm in his belief that visitors do not spend enough time away from Vaduz.
"Tourists who come here," he says, "stay but a few hours in Vaduz, do a little buying in the souvenir shops, manage to sit at an outdoor cafe or restaurant for a drink or a meal and get their passports stamped so that they can tell friends back home they've been to Liechtenstein."
The rest of Liechtenstein is virtually unblemished by mass tourism. Although it takes about 20 minutes to drive from one end of the country (Switzerland) to the other (Austria), visitors can turn off the main highway at almost any time and go into one of the 11 parish districts, each of which has its own character and most of which provide picturesque hamlets.
Liechtenstein's boundaries have not changed much since the early 15th Century, when two large estates (Schellenberg, known as the Lowlands, and Vaduz, known as the Uplands) were combined. In 1719, the two areas became the Imperial Principality of Liechtenstein, a constitutional monarchy with a democratic parliament.
Each of Liechtenstein's 11 communities is a former earldom. The largest is Triesenberg (population: 2,000), which has a strong Alpine character and magnificent forests and meadows. Of special attraction is the so-called Prince's Climb, which begins in the town of Gaflei and winds its way up through mountain peaks. This climb is named after Prince John II, who had a path cleared and made safe in 1898. Triesenberg, a snow-sport center, has one of the best bobsled runs in Europe.
Schaan, Liechtenstein's second largest parish, contains much of the country's industry, such as false teeth, feather pillows and quilts, and pharmaceutical products. Its Theater am Kirch Platz brings in international artists and has become the cultural focus of the country. The smallest parish, Planken, is in a woodland utopia and commands a marvelous panorama of the Rhine Valley.
Regarded as the oldest compact community in Liechtenstein, Triesen was founded in Roman times and is the home of several noble families. The old quarter of the village has a nature reserve and a beautiful small lake. The southernmost parish of Balzers is worth a look because of its Gutenberg Castle. Since 1919, it has been presenting operetta performances regularly.
Eschen, as the main locality of the Liechtenstein lowland, has excavations of the New Stone Age culture; its prehistoric settlement should be viewed. Another parish, embracing two localities, is Gamprin-Bendern, which has been continuously inhabited since 2500 B.C. The Virgin's Grotto is the only underground shrine in Central Europe, and on the Kirchhugel (church hill), the men of Liechtenstein swore loyalty to their new prince on March 16, 1699.
Schellenberg, distinguished by its two castles built during the Middle Ages, houses a community of 581; it has been inhabited for 5,000 years.
Calling itself "the village of seven hillocks," Mauren-Schaanwald has a bird sanctuary and a nature trail that attracts many Europeans. Dotted by water meadows, Ruggell has 225 acres designated as a protected area to prevent the extinction of its special flora and fauna that is not found in other parts of Europe.
As for that bit about Liechtenstein being at war with a country that no longer exists, it can be explained this way: Having fought on the side of Vienna in the war between Austria and Prussia in the middle of the 19th Century, Liechtenstein was inadvertently not included when the peace treaty was signed. Thus, despite the fact that Prussia long ago was erased from the map of Europe, Liechtenstein has officially been at war with it for more than 100 years.
For further information, contact the Swiss National Tourist Office, 250 Stockton St., San Francisco 94108; (415) 362-2260.