Principality of Lichtenstein

There is no ceremony when you enter the Principality of Lichtenstein; there is a flag and that is about it. It is only later if you explore Lichtenstein you learn the importance of their flag. 

You pull off the motorway and take the left hand lane and you are in Lichtenstein, an independent country with a population of approximately 30,000. We were staying in Triesen just south of the capital of Vaduz (population 5,450) in a hotel that only opens at 2pm for checkin. There was no one there except one man who had somehow got himself into the reception but was unable to leave it and was stuck. His girlfriend was outside looking for anyone who could help.

We parked up and took the bus from immediately opposite the hotel into the centre of Vaduz, four stops and you can pay on an app, a reasonable 2 CHF. (Lichtenstein has a currency and customs union with Switzerland, though Euros are also commonly accepted). We walked around the town for a little while. We knew before we arrived that many of the museums would be closed, it is common in Switzerland and the surrounding areas to be open on the weekend and Monday is a day of closure. (in a small way this happens in Sweden too). 

We started at the Briefmarkenmuseum, the national Stamp Museum. It is on the first floor of a building, with an art gallery above it and the exit from the Treasure House below. It is quite small, but then so are stamps. Entrance is free and it is as much a shop for collectors as it is a museum. It was interesting, but a very short visit. We then went upstairs to the Art Gallery, which was closed until 1pm, so we turned around and went back outside.

Next door is the entrance to the Schatzkammer Liechtenstein, the Treasure House. We got to the entrance and discovered you had to buy a token to get through the vault door. The tokens are sold at the national museum which is closed, or at the Stamp Museum we had just been to. We climbed back up the stairs and bought the tokens. I was asked to leave my bag in a locker.

The Treasure House is controlled by these tokens. Small gold coins you insert into a machine and the automatic vault door opens. Only one person at a time because the second door only opens when the first door is closed. You are then in a dimly lit corridor like room with artwork on both side walls and a series of glass cases down the centre. No photography is allowed, and a security guard is always present. There are a collection of items of value to Lichtenstein. The Princes’ crown (reproduction) some ornamental weapons and armour pieces, a series of faberge eggs, and perhaps most special; two moon rocks and two flags of Lichtenstein which had been taken to the moon on the Apollo 11 and 17 moon landings, and then gifted to Lichtenstein by the American government in thanks for their assistance in the space flights. Oerlikon Balzers, a local company, worked on the surface shielding.

We then walked down past the closed National Museum to take a look at Kathedrale St. Florin nearby. Its an impressive 19th century building, but we stopped only for photos.

We then decided it was about lunchtime, and wandered up to Restaurant Adler, roughly on route to the castle. It was then we discovered quite how horrifyingly expensive Lichtenstein could be. Some of the options were pricey but not crazy (the Schnitzel I had was 24 CHF), but I nearly ordered the Stroganoff without seeing its 54 CHF price-tag! The food was good and service was great. We sat out on a terrance, but in the shade.

After we had eaten, we picked up some water as we were walking up the hill in the heat to Schloss Vaduz (Varduz Castle), the home of the Prince and his family and the centre of government for Lichtenstein. The initial walk is residential and you go past some lovely homes, before you reach the main castle walk. They try and distract you from the steep climb with a series of boards every 50 meters with facts and information about Lichtenstein and the royal family. 

When we finally got to the top, we found that not only could you not go in (which we were aware of before staring) but even the viewing options were limited. It turns out, the reason the castle no longer was accepting visitors is a member of the royal family was using shower and two Japanese tourists wandered into the room with their cameras. Ever since this happened, it has been closed to the public. It was about 3pm at this point and we decided to have an ice cream break in the centre of town and decide on our next steps. 

We looked at a few options a bit further afield, but a combination of the time and the fact many places were closed on Monday kept us closer to town. We decided to go to the art gallery which had been closed previously and then head over to the Princes’s wine cellar for a wine tasting.

Kunstraum Engländerbau, the art gallery, is quite small as we expected as we knew the floor plan from being in the stamp museum earlier. The exhibition was from a series of older artists, between 74 and 92 years old, but also displaying one of their earlier works from when they were younger to highlight how their approach and skills have changed. There were perhaps 30 pieces on display, with a whitewashed fence in disrepair in the centre acting as an alternative wall. It kept the space feeling very open but doubled the available space for display. It was an excellent gallery. All the artists displayed were local and a selection of their published works were in the centre table.

After the gallery, we walked to the north to find the wine cellar and vineyard. It was a short walk and easy to find as the vineyard starts right on the road. There is a pair of stone archways, one leading to the leading restaurant in Varuz (also closed on a Monday) and the other leading through the Vineyard to the wine cellar. There are information plaques through the vineyard about the grapes. You then come to a large terracotta coloured house which houses the wine cellar, the wine shop and the reception. It was empty when we arrived, but we signed up for the 3 wine taster. A white Pino Noir, and two red, one oak barrel aged. The middle wine was fairly mediocre, but the other two were excellent. Whilst we were there a man came in with his two kids, did the wine taster in about 5 minutes and then spent €250 on the wines he had tasted and had his kids carry them to the car. It was a little strange to watch.

We then headed back to the bus stop, pausing to take a photo of the castle from the road where we could get a good view of it. The bus was arriving just as we got there so we were back at the hotel to finally check in within a few minutes. Once settled we went to the bar for some wasabi nuts and drinks before decided what to do for dinner.

Dinner was at Guesthouse Au, and we had excellent local food with a great apple strudel to finish. The weather was still good so we stayed for a few drinks as we were only a few minutes walk from the bus stop. On the way home, the bus didn’t stop at our hotel’s bus stop, so we had a 10 minute walk in the nighttime humidity to end the night.

We had a tight schedule for Lichtenstein, we wanted to se the national museum before we left as it had been closed on Monday and the breakfast closed at 9:30 so we intended to be on the road by 11:15am. We were up with no issues, loaded the car with our gear and had a quick breakfast. We checked out and were on the 9:36 bus into town. We got to town within ten minutes so had a quarter of an hour to kill before the museum opened so we stopped for a decent coffee in a nearby cafe called Börsencafé Barista. 

With the museum open, we headed in and were the first ones there. We were issued two english audio guides as part of the entrance fee and given directions around the museums as it is quite an  unusual setup. the permanent exhibition are on floors one to three, but there is a temporary exhibition or two on an annex accessed only through floor one that also has three floors.

The ground floor of the museum covers the pre-history of Lichtenstein is was very good, though quite small as part of the floor is given over to the shop and cafe. After two sections we were followed by two American’s we could not shake who had that most unfortunate American approach to a museum, assuming it is a large empty field you need to shout across if you see something interesting.

The second floor relates to the foundation of Lichtenstein as a state and its approach to life, examples of how a village would celebrate a marriage, communion or birth of a child for example. It also helped show how Lichtenstein was a very Catholic country (that took some time in the middle ages to be established as the Christian Church was strong in towns but struggled in the country) and how it has changed over the last forty years to become more secular.

The top floor revolves around the growth of industry in Lichtenstein with their customs union opening up many opportunities. Lichtenstein has the highest rate of production employment in Europe, at 40%, though their very low population no doubt skews these figures somewhat.

The temporary exhibit was focused around the Literati of China, and how the development of the four key items, the brush, the ink stone, ink and paper formed a unique social class focused on calligraphy and beauty. The floor above was taxidermy of various animals and the top floor elements of the geographical history of Lichtenstein.

At this point we realised we had stayed much longer at the museum than we expected and we needed to head off. We rushed out to catch the 11:44 bus back to the hotel and were on the road just before midday for the over two hour drive to Innsbruck.