Here in the Lone Star State, we often live by a mantra, “Everything is Bigger in Texas.” Yet, as our alpine adventurer Ashley Dobson discovers, there can be tremendous beauty when we start to think small…in Europe’s Liechtenstein.
Photography courtesy of Shutterstock
Less than one hundred miles east of Zurich, Switzerland lies a fairytale land. True European flair. It’s the gorgeous alpine nation of Liechtenstein that is actually the sixth smallest country in the world. With a grand total size of 62 square miles, this rich country is comparable in physical size to McKinney and comparable in population – just 37,000 citizens – to well, Texarkana. But just because you could drive the entire country in less time than it takes you to get to work in traffic in a major Texas city, doesn’t mean that Liechtenstein doesn’t have plenty to offer. This hidden gem of a nation is jam-packed with options for the perfect winter getaway. We couldn’t resist, so off we went to explore this sublime land.
Officially an independent royal principality, Liechtenstein is one of Europe’s most unique destinations. Notable not only for its tiny size, it is also one of only two countries in the world that is double landlocked. Both of its bordering countries—Austria to the north and east and Switzerland to the south and west—are landlocked themselves. But what may have been a strategic disadvantage in the warring days of old, makes it an ideal destination to enjoy cultural delights, rich history, and alpine recreation.
If you have ever wanted to cruise over fresh powder in one of the most stunning landscapes in the world, this is the place for you. The lifts and the ski facilities at Malbun are relatively new and conveniently located, but the spirit of this ski area seems to be frozen in time. While most other slope locations around the world focus on package deals and seem to have never-ending lines for the lifts, Malbun is all about the snow and taking in the beauty of the mountain on your ride down.
Liechtenstein may not be at the top of your list when you think about skiing, particularly if you typically run black diamonds. But as you reach the top and gaze out at the picturesque views of snow-covered mountains in three countries – Liechtenstein, Austria, and Switzerland – any trace of doubt will quickly fade like it did with me.
This winter wonderland has more to offer than just skiing. Nearly every town in Liechtenstein sets up its own outdoor ice skating rink during the winter. Skating with the Alps behind you and the snow softly falling, it looks like a scene straight out of a snow globe sitting on your desk.
Malbun also offers tobogganing down pre-carved runs for those with children or for adults who just want to enjoy some childlike fun. Designated winter hiking trails in the Alps allow visitors to this enchanting area to wind between snow walls, fir trees and snow hollows. Truly intrepid adventurers also can take the opportunity to ride through the Alps in husky dog-drawn sleds and experience the wintry magic in a truly unique way.
RETREAT LIKE ROYALTY
If your style is more history buff than snow bunny, or if you just want to add in a touch of royalty to your après-ski, you’ll want to take the 20-minute drive down the mountain from Malbun to Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein.
As you drive into town, the castle on the mountain will immediately draw your eye. With a large round tower made of stone on one side, this medieval-style castle overlooking the Rhine Valley gives Vaduz a idyllic setting.
Originally built as a fortress in the 1200s, the castle was burned down by troops of the Swiss Confederation in the Swabian Wars of 1499. The castle was completely renovated in the 19th century for Liechtenstein’s royal family and the family still lives there today. As such, the castle is not open to the public, but you can climb a well-marked footpath to see its stunning exterior.
Prince Hans Adam II, Europe’s richest monarch, is Liechtenstein’s current ruler. He is the son of the late Franz Josef II, who died in 1989 after more than a 50-year reign. Franz Josef II was a beloved ruler who famously secured his country’s neutrality during World War II, despite not having an army.
Prince Hans has one of the most impressive private art collections in the world. His collection includes more than 1,700 paintings and 500 sculptures, which, in total, spans more than 500 years of European history. Though the majority of this collection is on display at the Liechtenstein Museum in Vienna, Austria, the Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein features a few of the royally selected as well.
The Kunstmuseum is the largest museum in the country and it serves as the national art collection of Liechtenstein. Even the building itself stands as an architectural work of art. Designed as a commanding black box made of tinted concrete and black basalt stone, it has river pebbles embedded in its walls to reflect its gorgeous Alpine surroundings. And with pieces by Gauguin, Betrand Lavier, and Picasso inside this impressive exterior, this museum is not to be missed. We were dazzled by the array of beauty within its walls.
ALWAYS IN GOOD SPIRITS
In Liechtenstein’s capital, you don’t only get to think like royalty, you also get to drink like the Prince and his family. Head to the Prince of Liechtenstein’s enchanting 10-acre Herawingert vineyard and visit his Hofkellerei for a wine tasting. Ironclad doors lead to a cellar where a wine steward serves a selection of Vaduzer wines and a few of the Prince’s favorite Austrian Rieslings.
But Liechtenstein is not just a producer of fine royal wines – if you prefer brews to barrels, Liechtensteiner Brauhaus might offer something more to your liking. Liechtensteiner has only been making craft wheat beers since 2007, but this young producer has already won awards all over Europe. Everywhere you go you’ll want to try a flight of beers like we did.
Local spirits unique to Liechtenstein abound, too, and none is more famous than the world-renowned Telser. The oldest producer of fine spirits in Liechtenstein, Telser is primarily known for making whiskey and gin. The distillery famously never ceased its production during the two World Wars, but sales slowed during the 1990s. The fourth-generation Telser traveled to Scotland to learn how to make Scotch whiskey as a way to save his family’s distillery. Now it’s one of the distillery’s most beloved products.
After a spirited tour of Liechtenstein’s libations, there is no better way to follow up a day of tastings than with a hearty bowl of warm Käseknöpfle, a pasta-like dish with melted cheese that is one of Liechtenstein’s delicacies.
So, the next time you plan a European getaway, put Liechtenstein on your map. You don’t need more than a few days to cover the entire country of Liechtenstein, but its chic offerings may just convince you to extend your winter vacation just a little longer.
Liechtenstein’s status as a chic retreat may have a bit to do with the fact that it doesn’t have its own airport or major train station. But there are three international airports within an hour’s drive of the country and the gorgeous view of the Alps softens the blow of the drive.
The nearest airports to Liechtenstein are:
Where To Stay
One of the biggest perks about Liechtenstein is that everything is always close by. So in choosing a hotel, you are really choosing it based on its amenities and Alpine views, not its location.
Park Hotel Sonnenhof
Park Hotel Sonnenhof is a top choice for anyone looking to truly relax on their winter getaway. This hotel features a heated indoor pool, Finnish sauna, and top-of-the-line spa, all with some of the best views in the country. Its Michelin-starred restaurant offers delightful takes on traditional dishes as well as contemporary cuisine. Located in Vaduz, it is just steps away from Vaduz Castle and you will feel like you are getting the royal treatment yourself.
Park Hotel Sonnenhof, Mareestrasse 29, 9490 Vaduz, Liechtenstein
Hotel Turna is for families and winter sports enthusiasts. Located in Malbun, there is no better hotel from which to enjoy all the mountains have to offer. The chairlift runs right by the hotel’s front door and guests receive special offers on various sporting packages. The hotel’s wellness center features a larger indoor pool.
Hotel Turna Malbun, Im Malbun, 9497 Triesenberg, Liechtenstein
The Liechtenstein Tourism Office facilitates vacation apartment rentals. Primarily located in the mountains, these apartments and ski chateaus give you more privacy and allow you more freedom on your trip to Liechtenstein.