Trail Of The Unexpected: Pomp and pretzels on Liechtenstein's National Day

I had never imagined the Eucharist in German would be so easy to understand. "Das ist mein Blut..." said the Archbishop of Liechtenstein as he continued his liturgies from the open marquee. Meanwhile, I wondered what I was doing at 9.30am, in heavy rain, sheltering under some dripping alders in the fourth-smallest country in Europe.

It was 15 August 2008, and I had left my pension in the Austrian border-town of Feldkirch early, so as not to miss the start of Liechtenstein's National Day celebrations. The bus into Vaduz, the capital, took 35 minutes – and from the bus stop, I had made my way up to a field next to the Schloss Vaduz, the "Princely" Residence, perched on a bluff looming over the town.

The castle grounds are open to the public only once a year, on this date, when Crown Prince Hans-Adam II generously offers free drink and food to the entire population. Out of a possible 35,000, only a couple of hundred had braved the weather for mass – perhaps surprising in such a Catholic country – although more showed up later at the Schloss for freebies.

After prayers, Hereditary Prince Alois stepped up to the podium. Prince Hans-Adam transferred sovereign rights to his eldest son in 2004, making Alois – married to Duchess Sophie of Bavaria – his representative in all acts of state. Alois is set to become the 16th Crown Prince in 400 years in the Principality of Liechtenstein, 62 square miles sandwiched between one bank of the Rhine and the towering Three Sisters massif.

The man standing next to me sensed I didn't speak German and translated parts of the stork-like Prince's speech. Alois apparently reassured his citizens that the country would weather the economic crisis, and that unfavourable media coverage of its banking secrecy would not discourage trade. I remembered the slogan I had read on a brochure in the tourist office: "Transparency where necessary, privacy where possible." The gentleman I was talking to had come over from Berne for the day and was a diplomat from North Korea.

When Alois had finished, a band struck up a national anthem that proved easy enough to mumble along to, as it's sung to the same tune as "God Save the Queen" (Long live Liechtenstein happy and true on the youthful Rhine, Long live our country's prince, Long live our fatherland, and so on), one startling difference being that on the high notes, everybody snaps-to with a half-arm open salute. We then filed up the hill and into the walled castle garden. The whole area was festooned with bunting in the royal blue-red pattern; even the bread rolls were emblazoned with the coronet of the Princely House. In between mouthfuls of giant salty pretzels and beer, I actually had the opportunity to thank Prince Hans-Adam in person for his generosity.

Down on the streets of Vaduz, the Landesmuseum, sepulchral Art Museum and Postage Stamp Museum are as modest as you might expect for national institutions in a postage-stamp-sized country. I got my passport franked in the tourist office, where the staff recommended a hike for the next day. In the evening, I ate traditional käsknöpfle – cheese dumplings topped with onions. According to the brochure, Liechtensteiners are "not averse to gourmet dining", and there are in fact two Michelin-starred restaurants in the country.

Liechtenstein has no state debt, and negligible unemployment. Such factors have attracted institutions as diverse as the John S Latsis Public Benefit Foundation, the Hoval Group – who provide the central heating for Buckingham Palace – and Ivoclar Vivadent, the world's biggest manufacturer of false teeth. Presumably, it is companies such as these that lend Vaduz the aura of cosmopolitan slickness so surprising for an Alpine outpost.

The weather had half-cleared the next morning so I took a bus up to Triesenberg, and then Gaflei – the starting point for the dramatic Fürstensteig Trail, which wends its way through the clouds above the Rhine valley at 2,000 metres. Liechtenstein is stunningly beautiful, with great skiing in the winter around Malbun, or the 250 miles of summer biking and walking paths in the majestic Oberland. Being Liechtenstein, the hiking trails are immaculately tended and well-signed, and all are easily reachable via the space-age bus network.

After a couple of hours, my hike got too dangerous as the mist started to come in, but the views were well worth the prayers in the rain, and even those cheese dumplings.

Liechtenstein Tourism: 00 423 239 63 00 tourismus.li

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
tech
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
fashion
News
news
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
people
Travel
Warner Bros released a mock-up of what the new Central Perk will look like
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Manager

    £50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Mana...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments