Squeezed between Switzerland to the west and Austria to the east, high up in the Alps is 62 square miles of land known as Liechtenstein. Famed for being small – and that's about it1 – Liechtenstein is one of only two countries in the world – along with Uzbekistan – which is doubly landlocked2. Interestingly, it's also the only German-speaking country which does not share a border with Germany.
Although famed for its tiny size, since 2006 Liechtenstein has actually grown in size, for it was then that the first accurate survey of the country was taken. It was discovered that its borders were actually 1.9km longer than previously thought, giving Liechtenstein an extra 50 football pitches (0.5 square km). The country now covers 62 square km, which is plenty of space for the 35,000 inhabitants.
Located in the Alps the majority of Liechtenstein is mountainous, with cold, snowy winters. These are ideal conditions for skiing and winter sports, with the highest mountain, Grauspitz, clocking in at a height of 2,599m. This wintery terrain has proved most useful to the locals in their Winter Olympic bids; as a nation Liechtenstein has won a total of nine Olympic medals – all in Alpine skiing, of course – giving it more medals per capita than any other country in the world.
The western edge of the country lies in the Rhine valley3, with a slightly warmer, more temperate climate. Over the average year, temperatures in Liechtenstein range from a chilly -3.4°C to a respectable 22°C.
Despite, or perhaps because of the weather, only two thirds of the current population of Liechtenstein are native Liechtensteiners, the majority of the others are from its German-speaking neighbours: Switzerland, Austria and, of course, Germany. More impressively, almost half of the workforce commute into Liechtenstein every day and actually live over the border in either Austria or Switzerland.
In 1342 the Earldom of Vaduz was created. It meandered along nicely under the control of The Holy Roman Empire, before Prince Johann Adam Andreas purchased it alongside the domain of Schallenberg and created the Imperial Principality of Liechtenstein in 1719. It became a sovereign state in 1806 and then, in 1815, Liechtenstein joined the German Confederation. In 1852 Liechtenstein agreed to a customs treaty with Austria, but the treaty didn't last very long and was abolished in 1919; however a mere five years later another customs treaty – this time with Switzerland – was in place.
Solidarity with Switzerland
After the First World War Liechtenstein didn't have the financial resources to support itself, and on 26 May, 1924 it entered into a monetary and customs union with Switzerland. This still stands today4, with Liechtensteiners buying their groceries with Swiss Francs. Like its westerly neighbour, Liechtenstein is recognised as a tax haven – it has more registered companies than it does citizens.
Although Liechtenstein is generally accepted to be represented by Switzerland in most matters, the countries do not have a defence agreement and as Liechtenstein does not have its own army5, in the event of a war they would not automatically be represented by the Swiss Army6. Despite the general belief that Switzerland acts on behalf of Liechtenstein on the world stage, Liechtenstein is, in its own right, a member state of the United Nations, EFTA7, EEA8 and WTO9, as well as a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol.
Liechtenstein has been a constitutional monarchy since October, 1921. The current prince – Hans Adam II10 – has ruled since 1989; his official title is Reigning Prince of Liechtenstein, Duke of Troppau and Jägerndorf, Count of Rietberg, Sovereign of the House of Liechtenstein. Since 2004, his son, Hereditary Prince Alois, has been allowed to act as his father’s representative where and when necessary. Hans Adam II is also one of the wealthiest leaders in the world, having earned his billionaire status as the owner of the LGT banking group. His extensive art collection – bought with a fraction of his wealth – is displayed at the Liechtenstein Museum11.
The Regent Prince has the right to overrule any of the decisions made by Liechtenstein's parliament, known as the Landtag. In the past Prince Hans-Adam II has used this power to his advantage by threatening to sell the whole country to Bill Gates. He later claimed this was just a joke, but only after he’d been granted the power he asked for in the first place.
Liechtenstein is politically divided into eleven different Gemeinden or municipalities, although many of these are no bigger than a single town. Five of these Gemeinden are in what is known as the Unterland (Lower District) and the remaining six make up the Oberland (Upper District). The Landtag is made up of 25 individual members, each of whom is elected by proportional representation and serves for a maximum of four years. 15 of these members come from the Oberland and the remaining ten from the Unterland. The Landtag is overseen by a Prime Minister and four ministers, two of which must come from each region. There are currently three political parties represented within the Landtag: the right-wing Fortschrittliche Bürgerpartei (The Progressive Citizens’ Party), the centre-right Vaterländlische Union (Fatherland Union) and the left-wing Freie Liste (Free List)
The capital 'city'12, Vaduz, sits on the River Rhine, is home to just over 5000 inhabitants and has neither an airport nor a railway station. Don’t worry, they’re not completely cut off from the rest of the world: Liechtenstein's only railway station - which is based in the country's biggest town, Schaan – is only a mere 2km away.
Vaduz itself is home to the biggest tourist attractions in the country, including The National Museum, Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein (National Art Gallery of Liechtenstein, which is the one that looks like a big black box), Vaduz Castle (the home of the Royal Family which sits atop a hill overlooking Vaduz) and the Postage Stamp Museum. Liechtensteinian postage stamps are big business: as a small country, Liechtenstein doesn't need a lot of stamps, so over time they become collectors' items for philatelists around the world.
Finally, if you happen to have $170,000 to spare you can rent the entirety of Liechtenstein to do with what you will.