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Liechtenstein: A Little Principality with Alpine Wonder


Liechtenstein is a little landlocked country bordering — and having close economic ties with — Switzerland. A vestige of the Holy Roman Empire, it has a ruling prince, a mainly Germanic Catholic population, and mountains that attract hikers and skiers.

Complete Video Script

Two centuries ago, there were dozens of independent states in German-speaking Europe. Today, there are only four: Germany, Austria, Switzerland… and Liechtenstein.

Nestled between Switzerland and Austria, the Principality of Liechtenstein is defined by the mighty Alps to the east, the baby Rhine River to the west, and a stout fortress protecting the mouth of its valley to the south. This quirky remnant of medieval feudal politics is just about 62 square miles. It is truly land-locked, without a seaport, or even an airport.

Liechtensteiners — who number about 35,000 — speak German, are mostly Catholic, and have a stubborn independent streak. Women weren't given the vote until 1984.

The country's made up of 11 villages. The village of Triesenberg, high above the valley, gathers around its onion-domed church, which recalls the settlers who arrived here centuries ago from the western part of Switzerland.

The town of Vaduz sits on the valley floor. While it has only 5,000 people, it's the country's capital. Its pedestrianized main drag is lined with modern art and hotels bordering a district of slick office parks.

Historically Europe's tiny countries have offered businesses special tax and accounting incentives. For a place with such a small population, Liechtenstein has a lot of businesses. Many European companies locate here to take advantage of its low taxes.

And that's how the Prince of Liechtenstein, whose castle is perched above his domain, likes it. The billionaire prince, who looks down on his 6-by-12-mile country, wields more real political power in his realm than any other European royalty.

The national museum tells the story of the prince and his country. Their family crest dates to the Middle Ages, when the Liechtenstein family was close friends with the Habsburg family, who ruled the Holy Roman Empire. The Liechtenstein family purchased this piece of real estate from the Holy Roman Emperor. In 1719, the domain was granted principality status — answering only to the Emperor. The Liechtenstein princes — who lived near Vienna — saw their new country merely as a status symbol and didn't even bother to visit for decades. In fact, it wasn't until the 20th century that the first Liechtenstein prince actually lived here.

In 1806, during the Napoleonic age, Liechtenstein's obligations to the Habsburg Emperor disappeared and the country was granted true independence. Later, after World War I, tough times forced the principality to enter into an economic union with Switzerland.

To this day Liechtenstein enjoys a close working relationship with its Swiss neighbors.

And like Switzerland, a big part of its modern economy is tourism and sports — hosting visitors enjoying its dramatic natural beauty. Ski lifts, busy both winter and summer, take nature lovers to the dizzying ridge that serves as the border with Austria. Even in little little Liechtenstein… the views are big and the hiking possibilities go on and on.