“It occurred to me that there is no reason to go to Liechtenstein except to say that you have been there. If it were simply part of Switzerland… nobody would dream of visiting it” – Bill Bryson – ‘Neither here Nor there’
There was a fine start for our final day and we took an early breakfast at a table with a grandstand view of the valley and the river with the mountains as a dramatic operatic backdrop. The breakfast was as enjoyable as the previous night’s evening meal and it would have been nice to stay a while longer and enjoy this magnificent view but the car was due back in Friedrichshafen by ten-thirty and we wanted to make the most of the drive. First of all before setting back to Germany we planned to drive to the very top of the mountain above our hotel to the winter sports resort of Malbun.
It was early and the road was quiet and we made a leisurely ascent through small villages with an abundance of unoccupied winter ski chalets and as the road became steeper the car began to strain in objection to the uphill task. The smell of burning clutch was enough to confirm that it wasn’t altogether enjoying the assignment of taking us to the top. When we completed the drive and stopped in Malbun we were one thousand six hundred metres above sea level and there were good views to be had all around us.
The place was almost completely abandoned because although it was only April there was no snow remaining in the valleys or on the ski slopes and only the very tops of the mountains still retained a covering.
Every year the number of days of snow cover in the Alps is steadily reducing and the snow line is retreating because recent years have seen the warmest winters on record in the Alps and climate projections predict even higher temperatures in the future. Scientists say that this is due to global warming and some warn that within twenty years skiing will not be possible below two thousand metres and already some investors are refusing to offer loans to resorts under one thousand five hundred metres as they worry about future snow cover.
Most ski resorts now rely on snow cannons to create simulated snow by pumping thousands of gallons of water into the air which turn to ice crystals to provide an artificial skiing surface but unfortunately these machines use so much energy and consume so much water that they are also contributing to the environmental damage and this solution to the no-snow problem may ultimately be sadly self defeating.
We didn’t stay long at the top and not being able to get across the mountain because the road terminates at Malbun we returned down the mountain stopping in the Hamlet of Steg where we looked at the charming little chapel of St Wendelin that stands next to the River Samina that was flowing swiftly, full as it was of the last of the melted snow from the mountain top and babbling excitedly as it surged towards the river valley below.
The views were excellent and we stopped a time or two to enjoy them, although we were reluctant to leave them behind but we had to get on because there wasn’t a lot of slack in our return timetable. We passed back through Triesenberg and back down the mountain and on to Vaduz which although looked overwhelmingly dull we felt compelled to stop there and take a quick look.
I don’t really know what I was expecting really, it just sounded as though it should be more interesting than it is, the very fact that it has been able to remain independent through two hundred turbulent years of European history should have given me a clue. If none of its more powerful neighbours had taken a fancy to it or annexed it for themselves in all of that time that probably says a lot about its value or its interest.
In fact although it is regarded now as a wealthy country this hasn’t always been the case. In the immediate aftermath of the Second-World-War the Prince of Liechtenstein even had to sell off family heirlooms to stay solvent but in response to this sorry state of affairs the economy of Liechtenstein was completely modernised and the advantage of low corporate tax rates attracted many foreign companies to the country.
These days the Prince of Liechtenstein is the world’s sixth wealthiest head of state, with an estimated wealth of three billion Euro and the residents of the country enjoy one of the world’s highest standards of living. And that’s not bad for the world’s sixth smallest country!