Liechtenstein

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The Smallest 5 for the Big 5-O

One of us turns 50 this year. In recognition of the milestone, we’re hitting all 5 of Europe’s “microstates” in a single road trip.

What prompted a birthday trip through Europe’s microstates? An inexplicable fixation with them since our first trip to Europe in 2002, which included a leg by train from Barcelona, Spain, to Avignon, France. When we planned the trip and looked at the train route, we noticed something to the west on the map – a country we didn’t know existed was positioned between France and Spain.

A entire freakin’ country – Andorra – lurking between France and Spain.

One of us (the one with the birthday, to be clear) has been fascinated ever since, and even tried to add a side trip to Andorra to our bike trip in Catalonia in 2009. (This was overruled in favor of Cadaques, which, we think you’ll agree, was a pretty good idea when you check out that post.)

Nonetheless, the impetus to visit the microstates persisted, and the 50th birthday milestone provided a great opportunity to finally see them.

There are some tiny regions in Europe and elsewhere, but not all can be considered microstates. For example, Gibraltar, at the southwest tip of Spain, is tiny, but it’s not independent – it’s a British Overseas Territory. Luxembourg, on the other hand, is independent, but not tiny (it covers 1000 square miles). By contrast, the microstates are truly micro – most cover less than 25 square miles and none of them exceed an area of 200 square miles.

So, other than being incredibly small, what defines a microstate?

  • Independence
  • Diplomatic recognition
  • Control of territory
  • Permanent population
  • Government

Based on these characteristics, the following sovereign countries within continental Europe qualify and will be part of the trip:

  1. The Principality of Andorra (finally!)
  2. The Principality of Liechtenstein
  3. The Principality of Monaco
  4. The Most Serene Republic of San Marino
  5. The State of Vatican City

Because none of the microstates, other than Vatican City, have rail stations (particularly Andorra and Liechtenstein – Nice and Rimini are somewhat close to Monaco and San Marino), we had to forego train travel, which otherwise is the best way to get around Europe. Instead, we’re renting a car and making this a road trip.

In our planning, we had a choice:

  1. Drive directly from one microstate to another, resulting in a couple of long days of driving, but providing a couple of rest days with no driving, or
  2. Add interim destinations between some of the microstates, so that we’re never driving more than 3 or 4 hours, but we would be driving every day

We chose Option 2:

The map above depicts the following itinerary:

  • Take a redeye to Rome
  • Day 1: Vatican City
  • Day 2: Drive to San Marino
  • Day 3: Drive to Bergamo, Italy
  • Day 4: Drive to Liechtenstein
  • Day 5: Drive to Lake Lugano, Switzerland
  • Day 6: Drive to Monaco
  • Day 7: Drive to Carcassonne, France (another place we’ve wanted to visit – last stronghold of the Cathars!)
  • Day 8: Drive to Andorra
  • Day 9: Drive to Barcelona
  • Day 10: Fly back

We’ll spend every afternoon and night in the destination town / country to check things out before heading off the next morning to the next target.

Today, we’re part of the way through the tip, in Vaduz, Liechtenstein. We’ll post highlights of the trip when we get back!

Categories: Andorra, France, Italy, Liechtenstein, Micronations Road Trip, Monaco, San Marino, Spain, Switzerland, Vatican City | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

European Microstate Road Trip: Overview

Our epic 9-country road trip designed to hit all 5 European microstates came to an end on Sunday. Despite some initial trepidation, it turned out to be fantastic!

This was one of our best trips, in fact, despite encountering this choice little nugget on 2 of the tiny 5 from a Cadogan guide book that we used several years ago on a previous trip:

“It’s a sleazy little paradise, [Microstate X]. . . Today, the [inhabitants] have found a way to exploit every single possibility open to a grasping, sweaty-palmed pipsqueak principality. They’ve turned their lovely corner of the [region] into a single, garish supermarket. It’s a worthy competitor for Europe’s other Ruritanian craphole, [Microstate Y], which, if you’ve never been, is the first country in the world to be entirely paved over with factory outlet car parks.”

Yow! We’ll reveal which of the pipsqueak nations the Cadogan guide was referencing in subsequent posts, but we were infatuated with the tiny countries and undeterred! We persisted and planned and executed a pretty ambitious itinerary to hit all 5 microstates in a single trip.

Information on continental Europe’s 5 tiniest nations – and the characteristics that define a microstate – was previously posted here. A repost of the map with the location of each is below:

Location of the continental Europe’s five microstates

The trip was great adventure, overall – both based on the tiny countries and some of the outstanding start, stop, or stopover locations in Italy, Switzerland, France, and Spain that we included in the trip to keep driving distances practical. Our experiences in the five microstates spanned the spectrum:

  • Two exceeded our fairly modest expectations (biased in part by the pithy and brutal opinion proffered by the Cadogan guide) and we really enjoyed our visit to both
  • One was precisely as expected
  • Two were definitely not as awesome as we thought they would be – one was simply not as magnificent as we had envisioned, while the other turned out to be every bit just an outrageously expensive Disney world

These reactions will be assigned to the appropriate country in future posts, but some highlights of the tiny five are below, presented in the order in which we encountered the little buggers.

No. 1 of 5: The State of Vatican City:

Hallway of maps in the Vatican Museum

At the border between Vatican City and Rome – No. 1 complete

No. 2 of 5 – The Most Serene Republic of San Marino:

Guaita (1st Castle) on San Marino’s Mount Titano

San Marino’s town hall at sunset

View from Cesta (2nd Castle) to Guaita (1st Castle) on Mount Titano in San Marino – Microstate No. 2 complete

No. 3 of 5 and location for the Big 5-0 milestone – the Principality of Liechtenstein:

Vaduz castle from afar

and up close – No. 3 complete

4 of 5 – Principality of Monaco:

Monte Carlo casino our evening in Monaco

Above the port of Monte Carlo – No. 4 complete

And finally, No. 5 of 5 and the microstate that started it all – the Principality of Andorra:

11th-century Sant Joan de Caselles church with Lombard-style tower in Andorra

Casa de la Vall in Andorra la Vella – headquarters of the General Council of Andorra; No. 5 of 5 complete!

Before we left the US, we were a little concerned that the trip could turn out to be an arduous box-checking exercise involving too much driving and not enough time to enjoy each destination, based on the itinerary we designed:

  • Take a redeye to Rome
  • Day 1: Vatican City (1 of 5 . . .)
  • Day 2: Drive to San Marino (2 of 5 . . .)
  • Day 3: Drive to Bergamo, Italy
  • Day 4: Drive to Liechtenstein (3 of 5 . . .)
  • Day 5: Drive to Lake Lugano, Switzerland
  • Day 6: Drive to Monaco (4 of 5 . . .)
  • Day 7: Drive to Carcassonne, France
  • Day 8: Drive to Andorra (5 of 5!)
  • Day 9: Drive to Barcelona
  • Day 10: Fly back

Travel map, as the crow flies – arriving in Rome and departing from Barcelona

Instead, our daily cadence ended up providing a good balance – we’d drive for a few hours each morning in our rockin’ diesel Skoda family truckster . . .

Our trusty Skoda after navigating the narrow alleyways of Bergamo on Day 3

. . . then arrive at our destination in the early afternoon to explore things, typically log some downtime in the evening at the hotel pool, then grab dinner.

Sweet pool in Carcassonne, our stopover between Monaco and Andorra

Although the trip focused on the microstates, some of the stopovers proved to be just as rewarding, including staying in a hotel that overlooked Lake Lugano in Switzerland on August 1, without realizing beforehand that this was the Swiss National Holiday – spectacular!

Fireworks over Lake Lugano to celebrate the Swiss National Holiday

We’ll post highlights of each of the five micronations plus the very cool stopover locations during the next few weeks.

Oh, and the book read as we started the trip?

Of course.

 

 

Categories: Andorra, France, Italy, Liechtenstein, Micronations Road Trip, Monaco, San Marino, Spain, Switzerland, Vatican City | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Microstates! The Principality of Liechtenstein

The Principality of Liechtenstein is squished between the eastern border of Switzerland and the far western border of Austria:

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/57/Liechtenstein_in_its_region.svg/800px-Liechtenstein_in_its_region.svg.png

Principality Précis:

History: We’ll skip the Romans, the Alemanni, and the Frankish empire – all of which occupied Liechtenstein – and start with the Holy Roman Empire. When the Hapsburgs had control of the Holy Roman Empire under King Rudolf I, the County of Vaduz and the Lordship of Schellenberg, as well as other lands in the region, were enfoefed to the Counts of Hohenems in the 13th century. In 1396, the Holy Roman Emperor elevated Vaduz (the southern region of Liechtenstein) to the status of “imperial immediacy” and as such became a subject directly to the Holy Roman Emperor (a critical development, as noted below). By the 18th century, however, the House of Hohenems was financially strapped.

Meanwhile, in Moravia and Austria, the House of Liechtenstein held multiple territories, but all with fealty to lords at one or more levels below the Holy Roman Emperor. Because they did not hold territory that reported directly to the emperor, they were ineligible to hold a seat in the Imperial Diet in Vienna. “Even though several Liechtenstein princes served several Habsburg rulers as close advisers, without any territory held directly from the Imperial throne, they held little power in the Holy Roman Empire.

“During the early 17th century Karl I of Liechtenstein was made a Fürst (prince) by the Holy Roman Emperor Matthias after siding with him in a political battle. Hans-Adam I was allowed to purchase the minuscule Herrschaft (“Lordship”) of Schellenberg and county of Vaduz (in 1699 and 1712 respectively) from the Hohenems. Tiny Schellenberg and Vaduz had exactly the political status required: no feudal lord other than their comital sovereign and the suzerain Emperor. On 23 January 1718, after the lands had been purchased, Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor, decreed that Vaduz and Schellenberg were united and elevated the newly formed territory to the dignity of Fürstentum (principality) with the name “Liechtenstein” in honour of “[his] true servant, Anton Florian of Liechtenstein”. It was on this date that Liechtenstein became a sovereign member state of the Holy Roman Empire. It is a testament to the pure political expediency of the purchase that the Princes of Liechtenstein never visited their new principality for almost 100 years.

Although the principality was part of the Holy Roman Empire and, later, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and although the House of Liechtenstein was primarily Austrian and Moravian, the county and lordship that became Liechtenstein was more Swiss than Austrian. Its inhabitants spoke (and still speak) Swiss German and had closer economic ties with the Swiss cantons than with Austria. And, like Switzerland, Liechtenstein remained neutral in both world wars.

Why it still exists: Several reasons:

  • When the independent Swiss cantons unified to create Switzerland in 1848, Liechtenstein wasn’t interested in becoming part of the new country and was left out.
  • Through Napoleon, the downfall of the Holy Roman Empire and the Congress of Vienna Liechtenstein, became independent.
  • With the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after WW I, Liechtenstein had no fealty to Austria and so remained independent.

Absolute size: 62 square miles

Relative size: Liechtenstein is the second largest of the five European microstates and almost two of the countries could fit inside Nantucket, which is 105 square miles.

Population: 37,877

Capital: Vaduz

Government: Liechtenstein has a constitutional monarch as Head of State, and an elected parliament which enacts the law. It is also a direct democracy, where voters can propose and enact constitutional amendments and legislation independent of the legislature.

Tiny state trivia:

  • Liechtenstein is a double-landlocked country. It’s surrounded by Austria and Switzerland, both of which are landlocked themselves. The only other country in this condition is Uzbekistan.
  • The country has one of the world’s lowest crime rates; the last murder occurred in 1997. Conversely (but not surprisingly), the country has one of worlds highest per capita income rates (the highest, when adjusted for purchasing power parity).
  • The country was unintentionally invaded by Switzerland in 2007, when a unit of the Swiss army on maneuvers inadvertently crossed an unmarked border. Liechtenstein maintains no military and had no idea, and had to be informed by Switzerland of the international incident.

With that out of the way, on to the trip.

We traveled north from Bergamo through the Swiss Alps to reach Liechtenstein.

Really beautiful drive – we drove almost continually uphill during the middle portion of the trip and passed a dozen tiny Swiss hamlets and larger villages.

Overlooking a valley in Switzerland between Bergamo and Liechtenstein:

Vaduz Castle looming above Liechtenstein’s valley:

The castle was an omnipresent site from our hotel, which featured a birds nest-like outdoor dining area.

See? Looming.

And who knew? Liechtenstein Brauhaus beer!

Amazing day (it was, after all, July 31) and amazing view:

Our destination after lunch – a hike through the woods to the castle:

Pretty accessible, actually:

The castle was originally built in the 12th century, burned in 1499 during the Swabian War by the Swiss Confederacy, improved by the House of Hohenems in the 17th century, and last renovated in the early 20th century by the House of Liechtenstein:

The seat of government in downtown Vaduz, plus a cool manor house spotted while heading back to the hotel:

Amazing birthday dinner outdoors at La Maree:

Castle during dinner:

And at breakfast before heading south (and there’s a difference in an element featured in this picture that’s directly related to the date we were in Liechtenstein):

Three down, two to go!

Categories: Liechtenstein, Micronations Road Trip | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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