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Journey on the Liechtenstein Trail: A Hiking Vacation

Get outside, use your body, eat tremendous food, meet the mountain people, and hike your way through one of Europe's smallest countries. Lush forests, castles, and villages await on the Liechtenstein Trail.

One travel trend to come out of the pandemic is the growing interest in hiking and walking vacations. If you’re planning a sojourn by foot, why not take the road less traveled? The 46.6-mile Liechtenstein Trail traverses charming, Deutsch-speaking dorfs, snow-capped Alps, and the lush Rhine River valley – and can be completed in just a few days. It’s also a great, multi-generational adventure that blends technology with history, culture, and soul-stirring beauty. 

The Liechtenstein Trail was launched in 2019 for the country’s 300th anniversary. It takes trekkers past five castles, 11 villages (municipalities), riotous wildflowers, and glorious gothic cathedrals. There’s internet connectivity throughout this wealthy Swiss Principality, which boasts some 4,700 companies — many of them tech-based — in its otherwise rural environs.

Liechtenstein, travel, hiking vacation, Ginny Prior
Vineyards dot the capital of Valduz.

A Stopover in Zurich

There are no flights into Liechtenstein, so my adult daughter and I flew into Zurich and enjoyed this world-class city ahead of our trek. We stayed overnight at the stylish Sorell Hotel Seefeld and booked an English-language e-bike tour of the city, led by Zurich Tourism. The Zurich Card added even more value to our visit, including a boat ride on Lake Zurich. 

We walked and biked almost everywhere downtown, using mass transit when we needed a break. To get a taste of Zurich’s Swiss spa culture, we booked an afternoon at the historic Hürlimannbad & Spa Zurich, a former brewery with thermal pools amid century-old stone vaults. That evening, we ate at Haus Hiltl, the world’s oldest vegetarian restaurant, according to the Guinness Book of World Records

In Bad Ragaz

The day we left Zurich, we used the Swiss Travel Pass to take the scenic train ride along Lake Zurich to the famed spa region of Bad Ragaz – not far from the Liechtenstein border. Here, we went right to the source – booking a room at the Grand Hotel Quellenhof in the five-star Grand Resort Bad Ragaz. The main attraction is the thermal water from the Tamina Gorge (discovered in 1242), part of the resort’s signature wellness packages that combine bathing and sauna rituals, diet, exercise and best sleep practices.

For us, it was the perfect prelude to walking the Liechtenstein Trail. We soaked in the thermal baths and rotated through the Finnish sauna, steam bath, textile salt saunabath and then into the ice grotto to improve our respiratory system and draw toxins from our bodies. All this, while breathing in the fresh air and postcard views of the Swiss mountains. 

For our ‘training’, we rented e-bikes from the resort to ascend into the nearby Heidiland holiday region. These are the storied rolling hills that inspired the Heidi books and films. All the senses take over when you’re riding through this bucolic wine region, with its many specialty restaurants where you can dine outside to the sound of tinkling bells as Swiss cows graze in green pastures.

Liechtenstein, travel, hiking vacation, Ginny Prior
Typical house in Liechtenstein, many with cows in their yards.

The Liechtenstein Trail Begins

After two days of bliss in Bad Ragaz, we used our Swiss Travel Pass for the short rail/bus connection to Liechtenstein and the border village of Balzers. This is where we downloaded the free, interactive Liechtenstein Trail app, LIstory. We also arranged for luggage transport between inns, and boxed lunches for the trail. An excellent network of buses made it easy to leave the trail and catch the bus to the next village.

In Balzers, it’s not unusual to meet Americans in this southernmost municipality. The family-run inn, Hofbalzers, and its on-site Restaurant Höfle are a welcoming launch point for the Liechtenstein Trail and close to the Gutenberg Castle. One of Liechtenstein’s two intact castles, this hilltop fortress dates back to the 12th century. 

Much of the charm of Liechtenstein is how it holds close to tradition. Signage and menus are in its national language of German, and the local greeting is Hoi! (Use the Google Translate app to turn German to English in seconds.) The country’s religion is Catholic, and church bells ring throughout the day. Cowbells can still be heard in the countryside, especially on the Brown Swiss cattle grazing on open alpine mountainsides. Much like Switzerland, we had good internet connectivity and fresh drinking water in outdoor fountains throughout the country.

We took the Liechtenstein Trail at our own pace, but there’s a suggested schedule on the Liechtenstein Trail website. It recommends you start with the section from Balzers to Triesenberg. This takes you from the bucolic border with Switzerland up to the old settlement of Mäls. To this day, residents of Mäls and Balzers compete to make the highest bonfire for the Funkensonntag winter celebrations. Past Gutenberg Castle, the walking path passes rough meadows and Catholic shrines. It also intersects with the old Roman Road. This was a long-distance transit route until the end of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation in 1806.

Liechtenstein, travel, hiking vacation, Ginny Prior
Gutenberg Castle.

Surprises on the Liechtenstein Trail

The municipality of Triesen is a good place to unlock several interactive sites on the LIstory app. This comes before a more challenging ascent to the high-country hamlet of Triesenberg. Triesenberg has a fascinating history that you’ll want to absorb in the Walser Museum. This museum highlights how a neighboring region of Walser people migrated to this area in the 13th and 14th centuries. Residents still celebrate traditions like the autumn Triesenberger Wochen food festival.

Making a few tweaks to the recommended schedule, day two of our trip took us high above the Rhine Valley. This meant passing through Prufatscheg settlement, a remote and protected hamlet dating back to the end of the 14th century. The trail had an almost storybook quality as we passed wood-carved figurines telling sagas passed down through the centuries by the Walser people. The last section of trail was a narrow descent through deep forest (40% of Liechtenstein is forest) to the ruins of Schalun Castle before we entered the country’s capital of Vaduz.

Liechtenstein, travel, hiking vacation, Ginny Prior
The historic Prufatscheng settlement.

Sitting stately above this modern municipality was Vaduz Castle, a 12th century fortress that is home to Liechtenstein’s Princely FamilyCitytrain tours let us see the sites of Vaduz with English narration and a lively rendition of the Liechtenstein Polka.

Day three started late for us, as we slept in a bit before heading out on the trail. We walked to the ruins of Schalun Castle (built in the second half of the fourth century) in the municipality of Schaan, then climbed the forested path to see sweeping views from the village of Planken and downhill to the village of Nendeln. Hikers who want to see more can continue to the Historical Eschnerberg Trail, past Bendern Church (with history dating back to the sixth century) and then along the Rhine and through the forest to the northernmost municipality of Ruggell.

Last Day

Our final day took us over a dam to the Ruggeller Riet nature reserve. Purple moor grass and Siberian iris carpet this wetland area. Soon, we began the steep climb past two sets of castle ruins in Schellenberg and then continued to Hinterschellenberg, near the Austrian border. A forested trail along the Gantenstein mountain offered sweeping views of the border town of Feldkirch, Austria. The path then led down to the village of Mauren and a beautiful example of medieval architecture from the 18th century: St. Peter & Paul Parish Church. A final section of wetlands greeted us as we made our way across the border into Austria.

Bragging rights aside, there’s plenty to celebrate after finishing the Liechtenstein Trail. For my millennial daughter and me, it was a great bonding experience because she used her tech skills to navigate the apps, while I dusted off four years of high school German with the locals. (It helped that I took a few weeks of Duolingo lessons before we traveled.) But the best thing about the trip was how we worked together to accomplish our fitness goals, discover the charms and traditions of one of Europe’s tiniest countries, and made memories that, even today, seem more like a fairytale. 

About the Author
Ginny Prior is a longtime travel writer and broadcaster based in the San Francisco Bay Area. A former major-market radio newscaster, Ginny’s radio travel vignettes can be heard on Sports Byline USA. When Ginny isn’t hiking, skiing, or open-water swimming, she’s running one of the largest and oldest regional travel writer’s groups in the country: the Bay Area Travel Writers.

All images by Ginny Prior.

See medical disclaimer below. ↓

1 COMMENT

  1. Dear Ginny
    I live in St. Gallen in Switzerland, very close to Lichtenstein.
    You write „ wealthy Swiss Principality“. This is not correct! Lichtenstein is absolutely independent.
    The only thing they have in common with Switzerland is the currency of Swiss Francs.
    People from Lichtenstein would not be pleased to be seen as a part of Switzerland.

    When I was reading your article I realized what an extraordinarily beautiful country I live in.

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