A hilltop castle (Balzers; Liechtenstein)
Another day, another scenic rail journey - were it not for the sheer cost of all this, it would be pleasant to allow this lifestyle to run on forever. The tiny nation of Liechtenstein is one of the world's 2 double-landlocked countries (the other being Uzbekistan), and is easily reachable by train from Zurich, by making one's way to the Swiss border town of Sargans. The scenery en route to Sargans comes into its own, and makes for the kind of vistas which one would stereotypically associate with the Swiss countryside. First port of call in Liechtenstein was the nation's one and only ski resort of Malbun, which required two buses to reach, and the latter half of the journey involved an ever-winding, ever-climbing route which peaked when the resort town had been reached.
Mountainous vista (Malbun; Liechtenstein)
The mountainous vistas from the vantage point of Malbun are, one can safely assume, as good as you would expect to find in such a miniscule nation, but despite being late March, there were no visible signs of the ski season coming to a close, and all the features which might well be associated with a commendable ski resort elsewhere on the continent - i.e. an outdoor skating rink, a sizeable igloo, restaurants and lodgings, and a sufficient ski lift network. Sunny climes and a luscious snowscape are a fairly rare juxtaposed occurrence, so when a visitor has the good fortune to stumble across this kind of setting, in the unlikeliest of places, it is no great surprise that the nature of the experience will stand out in the mind. Heading away from the ski resort, a bus trip to the nation's capital city Vaduz
was next on the agenda, and the centrepiece of this tiny city is the famed castle, which is perched upon a cliff edge, it appears, overlooking the rest of the town proper.
City-centre building (Vaduz; Liechtenstein)
Elsewhere in Vaduz, a couple of significant museums, a tourist information bureau, one or two souvenir shops, and the odd restaurant or two characterize the downtown area, and due to the small population of the country, it is no surprise that it ranks among the higher echelons of the GDP per capita nations of this world. Further north, Schaan might well be classed as the largest of the nation's settlements, but in terms of population count, the difference is negligible, and a visitor will no doubt concede that a country of this compact standing can easily be experienced in the context of just one day. Heading back towards Sargans, and the castle town of Balzers
is by-passed providing a touch more evidence that there are places of historical significance within a nation which must surely rank amongst Europe's lesser-visited and most overlooked countries.
Finely-carved statues (Vaduz; Liechtenstein)
For my money, I would prefer to define Liechtenstein as the true essence of central Europe, where Switzerland effortlessly blends with Austria in a setting which has one or two cultural trappings to endow itself with an identity to call its own. Rarely before has such a clinically clean nation been encountered, and if small-town atmosphere and scenic surroundings are your bag, then it might well be worth considering playing your bit part in putting this everso low profile nation on your very own tourist map.