Hiking Liechtenstein: Three Days in the Heart of the Alps

The sixth smallest country in the world has one big advantage to claim: its mountains. Liechtenstein has been called the “heart of the Alps” – although by its own tourism bureau so make of it what you will – and for a visitor who wants to extend their time in this mini-state, hiking is the best option (and kind of the only one, too.)But what are the best hikes in Liechtenstein?

One of the best routes to discover is the Liechtensteiner Panoramaweg, or Panorama Path, also called Route 66 for the number that marks the way. The trail connects the most famous, strenuous hikes in the country – Ginaweg and Fürstensteig.

If you’re heading to Liechtenstein soon, you’ll get to traverse these famed trails with no problems. But my dumbass came to visit a little too early – this year the snow season went longer than expected and with the trails being covered, it would have been dangerous to even try to ascend.

Officially the hiking season starts in mid- to the end of June so if you’re planning a visit before that, you can email the tourist information to make sure that trails are already open.

But the whole country is made up of mountains. Like, all of it. So after revising my plan, I hatched a new one – and this is the three-day itinerary for those who don’t like famous trails.

DAY 1.

Vaduz – Malbun, 15 km

Praise the daypack! For once, I’m leaving my big pack in a storage locker to hike with just a 20 L daypack. As rejoiced I am – later, as I get on the trail, I literally take a few dance steps – I am a little worried to leave my laptop behind. My dearest, my livelihood, my all. Etc.

The tourism office girl that I talked to the day before smiled at me a little funny when I expressed my concern. ‘It’s Liechtenstein’, she said in a way that indicated: nothing ever happens here.

Well, except for accidental invasions by the Swiss army. But that’s a whole another story

It’s relatively early but the temperature is already in low 20s. Blinded by the morning sun, I hike up to Schloss Vaduz to start my trail. But which one? The arrows indicate a dozen different paths. Despite being a pocket-sized nation, Liechtenstein has over 400 kilometres of well-kept hiking trails. I imagine it looking a little like the 3 to 5 metres of little intestine stuffed inside a human body. Our bodies are wild.

The yellow signs seem to be pointing at walking trails, and after a quick fact check on Maps.me I start into the forest. For the first part, I’ll be following the Liechtenstein-Weg, a new long(?)-distance trail that connect all Liechtensteinian provinces into one smooth cultural path. It’s only been launched the week before, and as much as my hipster side is attracted to novelty, it runs at a relatively low altitude – and I crave mountains.

An hour later I arrive to Wildschloss – literally translated “the Wild Castle”, a name apt for any family household in Game of Thrones. Maybe once it was the dwelling of a lesser lord; but now its walls have crumbled and its entrances have been sealed shut, its stones slowly blending into the surrounding white rock.

It is unclear who lived there or why they left. Now the ruins stand on the edge of the cliff, facing towards the snow-covered Swiss Alps on the Western side of the country. The trail has so far run mostly in shade – luckily – so I take a little sunlight break and lie down on the ancient stone wall.

It makes for a great rest stop before the calf-burning, sweat-inducing, breath-taking ascend to the town of Gaflej.

 

 

The smell of wild chives and pine trees follow me as I climb higher. The path switchbacks enough to keep me from cursing gods but the trail is narrow and covered in soft needles. If I slipped and fell, I’d probably roll all the way down to Switzerland.

As I get closer to the top, I’m surprised to hear the rumble of machinery. What I thought would be a peaceful rest stop and a lookout on the top of the mountain turns out to be a big, ugly clinic building and a parking lot that a couple of earth mover are aggressively digging around. I hike into the village and enjoy my lunch on a lone bench between quiet mountain houses.

From there, the trail continues along small settlements on the side of the mountain. The grass is green, skies are clear, birds are chirping away, little children and a man hacking fire wood greet me on my way – it’s almost disgustingly idyllic. And I cannot stop staring at the fantastic views over Swiss Alps on my right side. Kind of funny that most of the landscape you’ll end up viewing is not even in the same country.

Eventually, I come to an old tunnel.

I peek in, a little hesitant in case it’s also a passageway for cars. I don’t think it is. A plaque next to it says it was built in the last century, and it being dubbed “the old tunnel” reassures me that there is definitely a newer passage somewhere. Still, I get shivers walking through the tunnel, and I doubt it has anything to do with the fear of getting run over by a rogue car. Damn, I knew all those spooky podcasts would get to me eventually.

The middle of the tunnel is completely dark. Water drips slowly to the wet ground from the stone above me. It almost sounds like fingers tapping on stone. I refuse to look back until I’m on the other side.

As soon as I step back into daylight, though, I forget the creepy crawling in my neck. In front of me opens the Samina valley – the first landscape I’ve seen that is completely, purely Liechtensteinian.

Steg is probably little more than an artificial mountain town. Small log cabins huddle in neat rows at the bottom of the valley. The one I’ll be staying at tonight, though, stands above it all. The white-walled Sücka hut perches majestically above the valley with a snowy peak rising behind it, accentuating its isolation from the rest of the small cottages.

I’m not done with hiking yet, though.

I get lost following the river (probably enchanted by the Big Ass Peak in front of me) and end up walking 4 kilometres extra. By the time I find my way up the steep hill to Malbun, the ski central of Liechtenstein, the sun is low, and my original plan to see if I could do any of the nearby hikes is thwarted. The snow on the peaks glistens golden. All shops are closed and I can’t even find the tourist information point; only a quiet restaurant squats on the main street and the red-and-blue flag of Liechtenstein occasionally flutters about on the hill.

Time to get back down.

I pay two francs for the five-minute bus ride back down to Steg, the little town in the valley, and patiently answer questions of a local woman who’s spotted me on the bus stop. She thinks it’s so funny that a random Finnish person has just hiked half across her little country all by herself, and she finds it even funnier that I’m even there.

To be honest, so do I.

Sücka is the perfect Alpine hut. With views over the valley, I have one of the most scenic dinners of my life. Compared to the steep prices in Vaduz, I’m not even paying that much to stay here: 30 francs for one night in a shared dorm, which now – strangely at the start of hiking season – is completely empty. And a delicious breakfast is included!

DAY 2.

Vaduz to Gafadura hut, 10 km.

In the morning, I walk down to Triesenberg: back through the creepy old tunnel and down a snaking road past sleepy cows and a couple walking their dog and eyeing me suspiciously.

Look, I swear Liechtensteinians are extremely nice. They just seem slightly baffled at anyone who’d want to visit their country.

I pay 4 francs to take the green bus back to Vaduz and find my belongings safe and sound in the locker where I’ve left them. Yesterday’s heat is now contrasted by a sudden chill; the skies fill heavy with grey clouds. Instead of snow, the caps of the Alps around me are covered in mist and clouds.

After fuelling up in Coop – the only little supermarket in the centre whose prices are frankly outrageous – I continue towards Schaan, the actual biggest city in Liechtenstein. (At 6,049, it beats Vaduz by abut 600 people. Impressive, I know.) Wandering past sturdy Alpine houses with small vineyards in their gardens, I find my way on the trail and start hiking towards the town of Planken.

 

The trail is almost too easy to follow: flat and wide, like it had only recently been mowed down by a toothy, aggressive machine. It’s so flat I can take a few dance steps and swirl around a couple of times without a fear of plummeting anywhere. Those antics come to an abrupt end when I almost tackle an old man running past me. So it’s a jogging path, huh.

Past some road works and through Planken – no one around, and surrounded by mist I feel like walking into a ghost town – and I find myself at a crossroads. Gafadura Hütte, 1 ½ hours, reads the sign that I intend to follow.

Confused, I check my maps. The hut should be just one point nine kilometres away. One and half hours? Don’t be ridiculous.

Almost two hours later, as I’m dragging myself along the last stretch of the path towards the log hut looming above, I admit myself defeated. The climb up has been as steep as stairs and I am well and full spent.

I’ve emailed the hut in advance to let them know I’m coming. The lady of the house, as friendly as she seems with her rosy cheeks and flowery apron, looks surprised to see me.

‘We thought you might not come’, she explains. ‘Because of the mist and the snow, it is not great hiking weather.’

There is no wifi, no showers and not even hot water – and being the only hiker staying overnight in the dorm that night, no other people around either. On second thought, maybe entertaining myself by listening to true crime podcasts wasn’t a great idea.

The hut’s bare amenities don’t include a kitchen I could use but I’ve brought some bread and a can of tuna with me. It tastes absolutely disgusting. Seeing the prices that the hut’s restaurant charges, though, I’m happy that I’ve been smart enough to pack my own dinner. 7 euros for a piece of cake?? Ten euros for a bowl of soup?? Thank you, next.

DAY 3.

Gafadura hut to Nendeln, 10 km.

The weather has turned yet again. How glorious it is, to open your eyes in the morning and see the peaks of the Alps just outside your window, bathed in the golden sunlight!

Or it would be if it wasn’t so damn chilly. Early mornings, not even once.

 

Since the main trails are still covered in snow, I’ve opted to ascend to the border of Austria and get back to the bottom of the mountain through a different route. On my map, it looks like a pleasant ridge walk between the two countries with views over the mountains on both sides. After a short but steep ascend, I arrive at the border, marked by a rather austere metal sign. I take a few selfies and clamber uphill to the actual spine of the ridge for some epic breakfast views.

After that I accidentally walk into Austria and get lost trying to get back on the ridge path. After huffing and puffing up and down the nearly-vertical hill a few times, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t exist. As I come to a stop at a cliff in the forest, the only thing showing up to give me guidance is a curious marmot staring at me. He doesn’t know where I’m going, either. Defeated, I descend back into Austria and choose another trail.

Luckily this ridiculous little country has kilometre after kilometre of hiking trails – if one fails, at least there are a bunch of other to choose from.

 

By the time I get back over the ridge and to the path back to Liechtenstein, I’m ready to get off the mountain. The spectacular morning views are no match to the utter pain and torture that my poor knees are now going through, descending slowly along the narrow, steep hiking path on the mountainside.

I come out of the forest in the town of Nendeln, slightly dazzled and frazzled to be back to civilisation. When I sit down to wait for the bus, a young boy gives me a curious look. Probably wondering why someone is so casually sweaty on a regular Friday afternoon.

It seems like I have accomplished The Impossible – to spend an extended period of time in Liechtenstein. I’ve probably been here for about 403% longer than most visitors.

Was it worth it?

No, cries my wallet in anguish.

But my beat-up hiking boots retort with: shut up, what do you know. The real answer is hells to the yes.

I sit back and relax to wait for the next bus. Doesn’t matter that I don’t know which one’s the right one; in a country this tiny, they probably all lead to Vaduz.

Or, well, Austria.

 

 

HIKING IN LIECHTENSTEIN:

How can YOU explore the heart of the Alps?

Getting in:

Take a train to Sargans, Buchs (Switzerland) or Feldkirch (Austria) and then hop on a green Liechtensteinian bus (LIEmobil); or take a Flixbus to Feldkirch. More information about arriving in Vaduz here.

Stay:

Sücka hut, Steg (1st day): Private rooms and a dorm that sleeps around 20 people. The price of a dorm bed is 30 francs and includes a delicious breakfast (there’s Nutella!). Book a bed through email: info@suecka.li.

Gafadura hut near Planken (2nd day): Dormitory accommodation for 22 francs per night. Book a bed through email: gafadurahuette@alpenverein.li.

Pfälzer hut: If you’re hiking the Panoramaweg, probably your first day’s accommodation; however, it doesn’t open until all the snow is gone and the hiking season has officially started. Bed in a dormitory costs 22 francs. Book your bed through email: pfaelzerhuette@alpinverein.li.

Schaan-Vaduz Youth Hostel: If you prefer to stay in the city and only plan for day hikes, the cheapest place to stay is the youth hostel. Price of a bed in a dormitory is 42 francs. Note that the hostel is starting renovations and will close in October 2019!

 

Eat:

Both Sücka and Gafadura huts have restaurants; Sücka is affordable (lowest bids being a hamburger with fries for about 10 francs) but Gafadura incredibly expensive. Neither have kitchens for cooking so if you’re bringing your own food, make sure it can be eaten cold.

You can do grocery shopping at Coop in Vaduz but the prices are pretty high – if you’re coming from Austria or Germany, do a whole snack haul before getting in.

 

Luggage storage: 24/7 lockers at the bus station operate on 2 francs or 1,5 e. You can leave your stuff there for 24 hours; if you exceed the limit, you have to pay another 2 Fr/1.5 e to open the locker.

 

Contact the helpful tourist info at info@liechtenstein.li or visit their website for more info!

 

Anyone planning a trip to Liechtenstein yet?

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