“I’ve always wanted to go to Switzerland and see what the army does with those wee red knives” – Billy Connolly
After we left the hill top tavern in Tregen we continued along the scenic route and through the Ruppen Pass with yet more impressive views and then we picked up a main road that took us south through the low lying plains of the Appenzell region. This wasn’t quite so scenic but as we drove the Alps got closer and their high peaks began to loom overhead rising in dramatic style from the meadows and arable farmlands of this relatively flat part of Switzerland.
Just before we crossed the border into Liechtenstein we came across a picturesque little town called Buchs where we stopped to admire the views of the Alps that completely surrounded this delightful little place and the attractive Lake Werdenberg. We didn’t linger for long because by now we were excited about arriving at our destination so we moved on and resumed our gentle drive south.
Back on the road we missed one important turn that would have meant a significant detour and many extra kilometres down the wrong side of the Rhine if we hadn’t stopped and turned back and then we crossed the river and entered Liechtenstein with the minimum of fuss and no border controls.
Liechtenstein is the fourth smallest independent European state after the Vatican City, Monaco and San Marino and is closely aligned to Switzerland. It is also the sixth smallest independent sovereign state in the World if you add Nauru and Tuvalu. It is predominantly Germanic and the only German speaking state that does not have a national border with the National Republic.
When the Holy Roman Empire was abolished by Napoleon in 1806 everyone seemed to forget about this tiny Principality and the royal family were able to continue to exist as an independent state ever since and as such it is the only state in Europe with a remaining direct continuity with the thousand year old Holy Roman Empire of Charlemagne. It is one of only two countries in the world that are double landlocked (the other is Uzbekistan) as neither of its neighbours, Switzerland and Austria have access to the sea either. It is therefore safe to say that fishing is probably not an important contributor to the economy in Liechtenstein.
We passed through the unremarkable state capitol of Vaduz with the castle of the ruling Prince, the Schloss Vaduz, perched high overhead and with magnificent views of all that he possesses stretched out below. Out of the city we began our ascent to the village of Triesenberg a thousand metres above Vaduz into the Alps. As we climbed a road with spectacular hairpin bends there was a sudden and dramatic change of weather and it unexpectedly started to rain, gently at first but about half way to the village it really started to pour which made driving more difficult than it might have been and we were glad when we arrived at the Hotel Kulm and parked the car in an underground car park sheltered from the rain.
After we had settled in we took our umbrellas, which we had hoped we wouldn’t need, and we walked to a nearby bar with an outside terrace overlooking the Rhine valley below and across into Switzerland and although it was still raining the terrace was sheltered and we took an outside table and enjoyed a drink and the magnificent view.
Although the rain was disappointing and the bar staff and the regulars appeared slightly bewildered by our insistence on sitting outside we would not have missed this view for the world and it was so good that after the first drink we had a second and stayed a while longer. On the way back to the hotel we found a little shop and bought some wine (screw-cap of course) that we took back to the hotel and sat and drank some, well most of it actually, on our tiny bedroom terrace that overlooked the village and the mountains above.
Curiously, for only a small village, it had a magnificent bus service and we were surprised to see them arriving regularly every five minutes or so either going up to Malbun at the top of the mountain or down to Vaduz. They were bright yellow and there were lots of passengers as well, although at this time of the day most were school children on their way home. And there were bells too. On the opposite side of the road was the Parish Church with a curious onion shaped dome from where the bells sounded out regularly. We were confident however that there would almost certainly be a ring-free period through the night so we were not overly alarmed.
We decided to dine in the Hotel restaurant and we were very glad that we did. The food was exquisite, the view from the dining room was breathtaking and although it had an expensive ambiance the bill was a pleasant surprise. It was extremely popular with the local people as well and that is almost always a good recommendation for a restaurant.
After dinner we walked out again back to the bar up the hill and as it had stopped raining now and the skies were clearing we intended to sit out again for a nightcap but the terrace was locked now so we had to sit inside instead and drink in the company of locals at the next table.
We decided that we liked Liechtenstein and Switzerland and regretted not having spent an extra day here.
We tried to agree on the three things that make Switzerland famous. Our final choice might have included watches or Swiss army knives but in the end we agreed upon cuckoo clocks of course because even though they are strictly speaking from Germany the Swiss were important for introducing the ‘Chalet’style that they introduced at the end of nineteenth century. Muesli, which was introduced around 1900 by Swiss doctor and nutritionist Maximilian Bircher-Benner for patients in his hospital in Zurich but most of all Toblerone, the Swiss chocolate bar that was invented by Theodore Tobler in 1908 in his factory in Bern.