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Published: November 3rd 2017
This is one blog of an intended occasional series, reflecting on travels to the Micro-States of Europe (Liechtenstein, San Marino, Monaco, Malta etc).
Our entry point to Vaduz in Liechtenstein was Zurich. This is a city so eye wateringly expensive that on arrival, you can feel your wallet curling itself into a protective ball like a hedgehog. After the single overnight stay in the centre of of the city, it was on to our destination for the weekend; Liechtenstein.
This double-landlocked, 62 square kilometres sized, pissant principality receives only around 37,000 tourists a year. One of its few claims to fame is that it leads the world in false teeth manufacturing (around 20% of global sales). Due to the absence of an airport, country does take some getting to for a disinterested casual tourist. The train from Zurich to Sargans (50 mins) was then followed by a bus ride (25 mins) before we reached our ultimate destination; the capital city of Vaduz.
Liechtenstein is the spiritual home of the triangular-shaped commerative postage stamp. Downtown Vaduz (such as it is) is notable for its postage stamp museum on the main street, after arriving we also took a quick look around the Leichtenstein National Museum, the Kunst Museum and gazed up at the façade of the Cathedral of St Florin (closed). We then plonked ourselves in the main square for a coffee and to decide what on earth would occupy us for two more days.
From where we were sitting we could detect a low-energy throb emanating from a crowd near the town hall, which I would not go as far as to say was expectation. We wandered over and examined some posters. You have to have to hand it to the city fathers of Vaduz, they pull out all stops to keep the populace entertained, their minds distracted from the decline in philately and the implications of improved standards of oral hygiene. The town entertainment for the weekend was a vintage car rally on Sunday and this was preceded by a Mungo Jerry concert on Saturday.
Mungo who? Was this the mutton-chopped minstrel and noted UK one-hit wonder from the early 1970’s?. Indeed it was…..but how would we escape?
We were staying in the Residence Hotel where we decamped for a lie down. When questioned, the friendly, effusive young woman on the front desk had never heard of any hiking trails. However, she offered to see what she could do looking intently the internet browser on her PC.
Arising late next day, we waited for some heavy showers to subside before heading down for a late breakfast. Passing the front desk a thick sheaf of paper was presented in our direction. Heavy perusal over a good breakfast showed some good options for hikes with the main characteristic being endless Z-shaped switch-backs as the paths climbed and climbed. The most accessible from Vaduz would be the Furstensteig trail which was well illustrated with climbers striking romantic poses on knobbly-looking promontories.
The path from the centre of Vaduz took us upwards. Within ten minutes we were walking past the robust looking Vaduz Castle, primary residence of Liechtenstein's Princely Family. We then skirted the edges of fields before moving into thick woodland, the narrow track zig-zagging endlessly up.
After a good one and half hours we re-emerged into fields and reached Gaflei situated at 865 m above sea level. Gaflei is essentially a high altitude car park and loo stop but offers some stunning views from a viewing platform back across the U-shaped valley. This is the jumping-off point for the Furstensteig trail and for those who a taking the lazy option there is the number 30 bus sop at this location. The trail is one of the country's most famous hikes and we were soon again back on an ascending wooded trail.
A further 45 minutes later and we were out of the woods and onto a rocky path hugging the side of the mountain with a apron of scree below. Things were getting decidedly hair-raising in places, as we negotiated outcrops and short wooden walkways where the path had given out. There were plenty of cable handrails to cling to and facilitate ascent. Two hours later a rather battered looking sign declared that Furstensteig had been reached, the vista beyond was offering a good reason to return. The views were as dramatic looking back across the river, Switzerland and the opposing valley side.
For us, however, it was time to return the way we had come. A much more rapid descent ensued. After the rocky path had been gingerly hiked, we raced down through the wooded switch back trail, propelled by the springy ground. A quick look on the phone indicated we had climbed the equivalent of 326 floors and walked 15.7 miles. It had been fantastic to escape the rather warm, rather claggy air of the valley.
As we reached the castle in the gathering late-August dusk, we could hear the first verse of “In the Summertime” drifting up through the warm evening air. Mungo Jerry front man, Ray Dorset, was still giving full throttle in what was likely the third or fourth encore, as he sang;
In the summertime when the weather is hot
You can stretch right up and touch the sky
When the weather's fine
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