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How to plan a hike along the new Liechtenstein Trail

Winding through unspoilt mountain scenery for almost 47 miles, the new hiking trail offers the chance to cross the double-landlocked microstate on foot.

By Jack Palfrey
Published 25 Apr 2021, 08:00 BST, Updated 27 Apr 2021, 10:42 BST
The storybook Gutenberg Castle makes a scenic starting point for a hike along the Liechtenstein Trail. ...

The storybook Gutenberg Castle makes a scenic starting point for a hike along the Liechtenstein Trail. The white-stone fortress was built in the 13th century as a private abode for wealthy barons.

Photograph by Getty Images

A German-speaking, mountainous, monarchical microstate squashed between Switzerland and Austria, Liechtenstein remains something of a mystery to most travellers. But there’s now a perfect way to be acquainted with the charms and heritage of this pint-sized principality: the Liechtenstein Trail.

Unveiled in late 2019 to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the country’s sovereignty, the 46.6-mile walking route weaves through the nation’s 11 municipalities, threading together the country’s top sights. Medieval castles, royal vineyards and historic taverns all feature, the history of which can be uncovered using the accompanying LIstory mobile app.

It’s recommended to start off in the south from Balzers and ending at Schaanwald near the country’s northern tip. The trail can be tackled by anyone with moderate fitness, and hotels can porter bags to the next overnight stop, providing ramblers of all levels the opportunity to say they’ve hiked around an entire country in a long weekend — even if they do have to point it out on a map. Here are some of the highlights of the trail.

1. Gutenberg Castle

Start in the south, where the first notable landmark on the route is Gutenberg Castle, which looms large over the town of Balzers from its hilltop perch. The romantic-style, white-stone fortress was built in the 13th century as a private abode for wealthy barons, but now even the thriftiest of travellers are allowed to nose around its grounds free of charge. Gutenberg is one of five strongholds on the trail, despite Liechtenstein being one of the few countries in the world not to have its own army.

2. Vaduz

Five miles north of Balzers is the country’s capital, Vaduz, with its eponymous castle — home to Hans-Adam II, Prince of Liechtenstein — dominating the city’s skyline. Take a break from rambling to get better acquainted with the country’s reigning monarch: drop into the National Museum to eye some of the prince’s most prized possessions, including artwork and ceremonial weaponry, before heading to the Herawingert ‘princely vineyard’ to sample a royally approved pinot or two.

3. Restaurant Rössle

Taverns play a crucial role in the culture of Liechtenstein, hosting stammtische (regular get-togethers) where locals sip beer and chew over public affairs. Located in the town of Schaan, the Restaurant Rössle has been welcoming hungry punters for nearly 200 years, and makes for an ideal pitstop along the trail. Its menu features hearty local favourites including schnitzel and käsespätzle (a cheesy pasta served with apple sauce).

4. Kreuzkapelle zu Rofenberg (Chapel of the Holy Cross)

Following the track north from Schaan, hikers will happen upon the pretty Kreuzkapelle zu Rofenberg. This unassuming 16th-century church is a waypoint on the Camino de Santiago, and drawings from early pilgrims are scrawled over the walls inside. The square in front of the church also served as the public court, sentencing prisoners to grisly ends in the gallows across town.

5. Grossabünt

From the Kreuzkapelle zu Rofenberg, the trail winds west towards the mighty Rhine River, marking the border with Switzerland. Due to the large marshlands that attracted mosquitos, this region was a hotbed for malaria until the 19th century, when the wetlands were eventually drained. Thankfully, no such fate has befallen the serene outdoor swimming lake at the Grossabünt leisure complex, perfect for revitalising weary limbs on a warm day.

6. Ruggeller Riet

The final section of the hike cuts through the Ruggeller Riet, the largest nature reserve in Liechtenstein. The protected peatland area is home to more than 1,000 species of animals, with birdlife that includes cormorants, kingfishers and Egyptian geese. The reserve is at its most alluring in early summer, when the blooming Siberian iris blankets the park’s meadows in a wonderful blue hue. From here, it’s a short walk to Schaanwald, the trail’s end point.

Did you know?

To celebrate the country’s National Day (15 August), the Prince of Liechtenstein hosts an annual party at Vaduz Castle for all residents of Liechtenstein to attend, with complimentary beer on offer.

Read more: Mountains, myths and monsters: exploring the folklore of Austria's dramatic Hochkönig region

Published in the May 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK) 

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