Up in the green, verdant hills above Liechtenstein's diminutive capital Vaduz are the villages Triesenberg and Malbun (writes Anne-Sophie Redisch). A few kilometres of brisk uphill hiking - or a few lazy minutes on a local bus - you will find Triesenberg. With its Lilliputian town hall, alpine restaurants, log homes on green meadows, mountains towering behind and a magnificent view of the Rhine valley, Triesenberg is completely captivating. I stroll around for a bit, soaking it all up. It’s late September, sunny and 20 degrees centigrade, the perfect temperature.
Continuing on, the bus zigzags pleasantly up the winding mountain road. Soon a police car blocks the road. The bus driver turns off the ignition, gets off and lights a cigarette, not bothering to say what's going on or how long we must wait. Some passengers go outside to stretch their legs. Others dig out lunch boxes. No one looks surprised or annoyed. After a while, a herd of cows saunters past; coming back from summer grazing. Some of the cows wear flower garlands. There is something decidedly unhurried about the scene.
At 1,600 metres altitude, the landscape around Malbun is gentler, less jagged than other parts of the Alps. Clusters of chalet homes line the main street of the village. At the end of the road, I spot a chair lift offering to take me up to Sareiserjoch at 2,003 metres. I buy a ticket and hop on. Half a minute later, I focus all my energy on breathing: in, then out, in, out. Slowly, deliberately.
This completely irrational fear is something new to me: has it come with age, I wonder. If so, the couple sharing the lift with me must certainly be the exception to the rule. In their 80s, they flirt and laugh, enthusiastically pointing to this mountain and that. They try to engage me in their conversation but all their vigour rattles the chair so much, holding on is all I can manage.
Once at the top, excellent hiking trails take off in several directions. After a pleasant walk through the stunning landscape, I stop on the terrace of Bergrestaurant Saris, looking down at Malbun. I could stay for hours, doing nothing but drink it all in, this fairy-tale world below. Regretfully, I have places to go, planes to catch. Having almost decided to walk down the pretty, meandering path, rather than risking the chair lift once more, I notice a man jumping off the lift, casually carrying a tiny baby in a blanket on one arm.
Pride gets the better of me. If he can do that with a baby in hand, so can I. But going down is even worse. I keep my eyes closed, except a peek now and then - in a slightly perverted attempt to boost the panic. Normally, I’m not afraid of heights, but in the wiggly chair lift, I feel so exposed to fickleness, both of nature and of contraptions. Back on solid ground, I comfort myself with the old adage "it is not brave if you are not afraid".
Reaching the bus stop, I have a few minutes before the bus leaves for Vaduz. On top of a hill beside me, I notice a stone chapel. Deciding I have just enough time for a quick look, I begin sprinting up the hill. After a minute, I can hardly breathe. It feels as if my pulse is about to jump through my skin. Funny, how easy it is to forget the thin mountain air. Finally reaching the top, I am grateful for both the cool interior of the Friedenskapelle Malbun and the attractive well spring outside, thoughtfully provided for hikers who have forgotten to carry water (ahem, guilty.)
Had I limited my visit in Liechtenstein to the normally allotted 30 minutes in Vaduz (to get that desirable passport stamp), I might have dismissed the country as a quaint, yet somewhat dull destination. Many people do. Others feel a certain disdain because of its blatant capitalist leanings.
But after exploring more of Liechtenstein, I see it in a new light. It is an attractive little country with a lovely setting, with courteous and kind people, worthy of more than just a quick rush through. And who am I to blame a country for focussing on what they do best, even if in this case, it is money.
About the author
Anne-Sophie Redisch is a bilingual freelance writer and translator based in Norway. Born with restless feet, she enjoys travelling on her own and is always on the lookout for a place to read in peace. So far, she has travelled to more than 100 countries on six continents. Her two daughters increasingly insist on coming along to enliven the travel experience. www.sophiesworld.net