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Friday 26 May 2017

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Lurking entirely in the heart of the Alps is one of the world’s smallest countries

Vaduz Castle overlooks its namesake, the tiny Liechtenstein capital

Any trip to Switzerland is an ideal opportunity to also visit the tiny settlement of Liechtenstein, enabling you to satisfy that intrepid traveller desire to officially tick off ‘another country’.

Covering a modest area of just over sixty square miles in Western Europe and with a population of around 35,000, this Principality ironically boasts the highest gross domestic product per person in the world. The doubly-landlocked alpine microstate is bordered by Austria to the east and Switzerland to the south and west, and is the only German-speaking country not to share a border with Germany. Unsurprisingly, it’s the smallest country in the world to speak the Teutonic mother-tongue, and yet the richest. Geographically, Liechtenstein is the only alpine country lying entirely in the Alps.

Vaduz Castle, taking its name from and overlooking the capital, is still home to and regularly occupied by the Prince of Liechtenstein, Hans-Adam II, who has reigned since 1989.

For years considered one of the few remaining unco-operative tax havens, with a basic rate of personal income tax at just 1.2%, in 2009 the country made an agreement with the UK’s HM Revenue and Customs to start exchanging information. It is estimated that around 5,000 British investors have approximately GBP 3 billion squirreled away in accounts and trusts throughout the land.

To the visitor, Liechtenstein has something of a fairy-tale element to it, with its tiny landmass being watched over by one of the few remaining monarchs, from high up in his mountain castle. Resembling more of an English Lakeland village than European capital city, Vaduz is a quietly assertive economic powerhouse, with more registered companies than citizens. The country follows a policy of neutrality, and is in fact one of only a handful in the world that maintains no military. The most recent action was seen during the Austro-Prussian War, however the 80 Liechtensteiners who took part were never involved in any fighting. The last serviceman died in 1939 at the ripe old age of 95.

To browse its handful of bars, restaurants and souvenir shops makes for a pleasantly relaxing afternoon and, while Liechtenstein won’t keep you occupied for days, it is most certainly worth a relatively brief sojourn.

There’s also the ‘KunstMuseum’ (Art Museum), which has an interesting collection on the ground floor, and a changing modern exhibition on the first floor, Tate Modern style.

Wine connoisseurs might want to take a look at the Prince’s collection, which is available to view by a vineyard on the northern edge of Vaduz, just a five minute walk from the central square.

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