Several years ago Switzerland invaded Liechtenstein. Well, sort of.
An infantry of 170 Swiss soldiers out on a training exercise got a bit lost and crossed the border with Liechtenstein and marched about one and half kilometres into the country before they realised their mistake.
Armed with assault rifles, the soldiers were perhaps lucky that they weren’t caught by Liechtenstein authorities or a serious diplomatic incident may have arisen.
A story like this, in many ways, captures the essence of this small European country. It’s so small you would hardly know it’s there… yet it’s so underpopulated that you can march an army through it and nobody would notice.
This is how I feel as I walk across the border from Austria into the north of Liechtenstein.
I’ve decided that this country, only 24 kilometres from north to south, is something that I could easily walk. I’ve given myself two days, so as not to make it too much of a strain.
You never know, there might even be something worth seeing along the way.
Liechtenstein is the sixth smallest country in the world. It’s also one of only two countries that is doubly-landlocked… which means it is landlocked by countries which are also landlocked (the other one is Uzbekistan, for the record).
It’s tucked away here between Switzerland and Austria, forgotten by the rest of the world. Oh, except for those who are looking to escape paying taxes.
That’s the reputation this country has – a tax dodge. Most people know little of it. I discover, as I walk across it, there is little else to know.
The whole country has a population of 35,000. That’s a lot less than most sports stadiums can hold.
If Liechtenstein was playing Ukraine in the football, the country’s entire population could fit into just one half of the stadium in Kiev.
And with so little people, comes very little else. Liechtenstein doesn’t have its own culture, its own language, its own currency, or its own army.
I guess that’s why the Swiss weren’t too worried when they marched in that time.
But Liechtenstein does have beauty. It is the only country to lie entirely in the Alps and as I cut through small roads between clumps of houses, everything has that rural alpine feel to it.
I’m walking south – so to the east, on my left, is a large collection of mountains.
They rise up from the valley, filled with green trees and with a smattering of white snow on the top. There is very little development on these mountains and they create a natural border for this tiny nation.
Immediately to my right for most of the walk is a river. The Rhine River, in fact. It forms the border with Switzerland and most of the urban settlement of Liechtenstein follows the path of the water.
Several bridges link the two countries, including small quaint wooden pedestrian bridges which have a line marked halfway along where the border should be.
I don’t see many people. It’s a quiet country – with very little reason for people to travel far or pass through.
It sits in a certain isolation from everything around it, a secret valley between the land of giants. And so as I walk, there are few chances to share a greeting or ask for directions.
Not that I am lost – it’s a straight line south pretty much – but it might have been a nice way to start talking to some locals.
I’m still a bit unclear what makes a Liechtensteiner a Liechtensteiner.
As it turns out, I manage to pass two days in a fairly quiet contemplation.
I see the occasional castle-like structure up on a hill, I pass some pretty churches, I spot some beautiful displays outside a roadside florist, and I get confused when I suddenly find myself in the middle of a modern art display in the biggest town Vaduz.
I feel like in just two days I get a sense of what Liechtenstein looks like and what it feels like. However, in a similar way to those Swiss soldiers, I’m lost to tell you how Liechtenstein fits in to everything.
25 thoughts on “This little country is so easy to miss”
I regret a bit after reading this post at the end of my Euro journey. I had decided to skip this little country as I didn’t have enough time. Oh well, all the better reason to come back to Europe I guess
I don’t think I would head back to Europe just to see Liechtenstein! It’s a cute little place but really somewhere you might pass through rather than make your destination.
I wonder if those soldiers tried marching out, or delicately slinking away…
Ha ha – I think I would move very quickly and quietly if it was me!
Is anyone else concerned that a group of professional soldiers got lost? In their own country?
Walking across a country sounds fun though.
A good point! Maybe they just weren’t paying attention, though. Those borders in Europe are not particularly well-marked!
Maybe they were on their phones.
Liechtenstein is one of my last fave countries, it was just the worse version of Switzerland or Austria. I’m glad I visited it to see what it’s all about but i think the weather played a big part of why I didn’t enjoy it so much. Plus it was so empty and boring 😉 but walking through it sounds like a pretty good way of discovering the country!
You’re right, there is not much there. From a tourist perspective, it’s pretty boring. But I like to think that you have to see the boring stuff to understand the whole world. If you didn’t go and see it for yourself, you will always wonder what Liechtenstein is actually like.
Liechtenstein is such an amazing little country! We fell in love with it last summer. A pity we only stayed one day.
To be fair, you can do most things in one day. But it is a beautiful little place just to relax and take it easy.
Thanks to you, now I can’t think of a better way to spend my time in Liechtenstein (if I do go there one day) and enjoy the tranquility and scenery. I was in Brunei two years ago and I was already bored on my second day. So I guess we need to be more creative when we travel to such small countries.
That’s exactly it. I guess if you go and to a small country and then just spend a day in the capital, there’s not much to see. But it’s easy enough to venture out and see more of the place – so why not? A bit of creativity and I saw some really interesting things and had an active and healthy couple of days!
Tax Haven you say? I wonder how many companies have “offices” there.
Are you considering it now? Although it’s not quite as warm and cheap as Mexico!! 🙂
I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t even know this country existed! It must be strange living in a country so small… I bet most people know each other, it’d be worse than living in Perth in that regard!
Ha ha ha! Worse than living in Perth? At least there’s a big state around people to spread out. In Liechtenstein, there’s nowhere to go unless you want to move to another country. Everybody you know in your entire nation is no more than a 20 minute drive away. That would be really scary!! 🙂
We can count on Turtle to make it to Liechtenstein. Thanks for the report. Looks like a place worth traveling to, even for just the novelty of it technically being a different country. I planning to visit on my next Eurail trip next month.
I am surprised this country looks so unspoilt. I have always pictured it as a boring, standard Western European country. Hmm, I guess time to revise my views.
There’s definitely a lot of nature and that makes it a really nice place to walk through. Is it boring… well, in some ways. But I would say it’s really worth a visit.
Looks and sounds like a place to add to your Europe Site Seeing Itinerary!
If you hardly spoke to any of the locals, spent only two days there and had seemingly zero opportunities to experience any kind of culture, isn’t a little presumptuous (and perhaps dismissively arrogant) on your part to say the country has NO culture of its own?
I visited Liechtenstein last year. I thought that going there with a guided tour would be better. Silly me. They gave us only 45 mins to explore Vaduz. It was such a disappointment. I didn’t have a change to walk up to the castle.
Ah, what a shame. I hope you still got to see a fair bit of the country, though. It’s the kind of place where I don’t think you probably really need a tour (unless you go with a local one that will focus on a particular theme) – it’s fun just to explore things yourself and relax a bit into the local culture.
Loved this review, didn’t even know this country existed, but now i’m including it as an destination on my trip to europe 🙂