Travis makes fun of my fascination with tiny things. I’ve always loved browsing the dollhouse furniture section at the local craft stores, my most used cheese grater is only 2 inches tall, and I always cook with the smallest pot possible. Maybe that explains my fascination with visiting Liechtenstein, a country that covers only about 160 square kilometers. It has fewer than 40,000 inhabitants, which is smaller than most cities. You can actually drive from tip to tip in just over 20 minutes!
Firmly sandwiched between Austria and Switzerland, Liechtenstein is only a couple hours’ drive from Andermatt, Switzerland and its star attraction – Teufelsbrücke, The Devil’s Bridge. We happened to find ourselves in Liechtenstein after visiting the bridge, and our route gave us a chance to see a new area of Switzerland we hadn’t yet visited.
As we crossed over Oberalp Pass – the boundary between the cantons of Graubünden and Uri – we were rather startled to see a functional red lighthouse marking the pinnacle of the pass. Intending to draw more tourists to the area, the lighthouse stands near the headwaters of the Rhine River, which flows along much of the border between Switzerland and Liechtenstein. In Europe, the river’s length is second only to the Danube. At one time, plans existed to sail a barge from the Netherlands, where the Rhine empties into the North Sea, all the way to Basel, where it would be taken apart and rebuilt at Oberalp Pass to serve as a museum. Except for the lighthouse, the project never came to fruition.
Once beyond the pass, the clouds still alternately spit out rain ranging from mist curling down the mountain slopes to an outright deluge. Since I find that rough weather in the mountains just lends to their beauty and mystery, this suited me just fine.
Just shy of the Lichtenstein border, we drove through an interesting archway marking our passage through St. Luzisteig Pass.
Minutes later we crossed over into Balzers, Liechtenstein. (Yes, Balzers.) We realized immediately that like Switzerland, Liechtenstein is stunningly beautiful. This shouldn’t be surprising considering they share the same alpine geography and similar medieval history. Just pass the border crossing, the idyllic Gutenberg Castle came into view, perched on a hilltop above the grassy fields. Deciding not to stop, we continued on to our destination – Vaduz Castle.
Just a few minutes further up the slopes, we arrived at Vaduz, the royal home of the Prince of Liechtenstein. Because the family still lives in the castle, it’s not open to the public.
Parking the car up the hill, we walked back down with Touille, our dog, enjoying the cool drizzle and fresh air. We passed several buildings near the castle that we assumed were part of the entire complex since there were no other homes in the immediate vicinity.
The structure of the castle is somewhat unique from other castles in Europe, with its squat semi-circular towers topped with aged wooden hoarding. At one point, the castle walls are 4 meters thick at their thickest point along the base. The original entryway used to be over 10 meters above the ground, which partially explains the nearly windowless, solid stone base.
Since it’s not possible to visit the interior and the castle is surrounded by a tall iron fence, there isn’t much to actually do or see there. It isn’t possible to walk all the way around it up close or enter the locked gate. Thinking we might catch some nice views of the castle from above on the hillside, we set out on an inviting gravel road nearby, giving Touille a chance to chase sticks and stretch her legs before the 4+ car ride home.
Some distance into the trail, we reached a sign pointing to yet another castle further up the hill. We hadn’t found a vantage or a break in the trees for a good viewpoint, and we were doubtful we’d find one anywhere along the thickly wooded slope. As always, we didn’t have as much time as we wanted to explore. Continuing only as far as the first switchback, we turned to hike back to the car, not looking forward to the long drive ahead.
We’d like to return to Liechtenstein, especially to do more hiking in the mountains. If we win the lotto, maybe we can rent out the entire country for a day!