I wouldn’t say that Liechtenstein is famed for its hiking because most people reading this may not have even heard of the country let alone hiked across it.
This tiny yet rich European principality (thanks to its tax-haven popularity), sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria is blessed with stunning mountain peaks and scenic views. Several trails weave across this beautiful section of the Alps (only 6km wide and 25 km long), testing the nerve of even the most experienced of hikers. The most famous of these trails – well, famous to the locals at least – is the Fürstensteig trail.
Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein seen from the Swiss border, with Vaduz Castle up on the hill (centre right) and the Fürstensteig peak above
Gaflei, 865m above sea level is the official start and end of the Fürstensteig trail. It’s the last stop on the number 30 bus route from Triesenberg, timetabled to meet the number 21 bus from Vaduz. As most hikers choose to drive themselves up to Gaflei, there are only around four albeit punctual return bus journeys there a day. My bus driver looked a little disappointed when I boarded the bus at Triesenberg. He later admitted to me that he was hoping to cancel that morning’s journey due to a lack of passengers (I was the only passenger on the bus for the whole journey), and had been looking forward to a longer than usual lunch break. He wasn’t too disheartened though. He duly drove me to the end of the line (it took around 15 minutes) and even offered to wait a short while at Gaflei on his 4pm return journey later that day to make sure he picked me up and drove me back down to Triesenberg.
I was expecting to find a quaint Alpine hamlet at Gaflei with a few traditional houses and maybe a shop selling a handful of souvenirs on the chance that a tourist hiker like myself might pass through. But as with most of Liechtenstein, there was nobody around, nobody at all. No houses, no shops, no people, no signs of human life whatsoever. Gaflei is literally just a bus stop, a car park and a convenient public loo, yet they are the most scenic bus stop, car park and public loo (if one is brave enough to leave the door open when using its facilities), I’ve ever come across.
The ‘terminus’ at Gaflei during morning rush hour
Gaflei: more a ham-less than a hamlet
Surely two litter bins here is a tad excessive considering how few people pass through here
Not wanting to waste any more time in whatever Gaflei was, I followed the trail signs and began my ascent up and around the Fürstensteig.
The Fürstensteig trail begins with a steep climb through dense forest
Breaks in between the tree tops at this early stage give a taste of the views to come further up along the trail
After a 45 minute ascent the landscape drastically changed. The forest slipped away, the path became more rocky …
… and the views over Vaduz, the Rhine and Switzerland beyond became more breath-taking
North of Vaduz below with the Swiss town of Buchs over on the far side of the Rhine below
Looking south down at Gaflei international car-park and the Swiss town of Sevelen across the river beyond. The mountain range in the distance on the left is the popular Swiss tourist region of Heidiland where tourists flock to experience the rural life Heidi had with her grandfather in Johanna Spyri’s famous novel. A number of film versions of Heidi including the favourite 1970s TV series (with Siefreid Franz’s famous theme tune), were filmed there
The trail, although narrow and hair-raising at times, is very well maintained with additional platforms …
… ropes and handrails added to assist along the way
Sometimes the handrails acted more like an indicator as to where the path actually was (is there really no other way around this bit?)
Sometimes I was very grateful indeed to have the handrail to hold on to (that is a long drop)
Some Liechtenstein tourist information websites use images of hikers enjoying the view whilst standing precariously on this little peak. I’m sure the view is marvellous from it
Nearing the top
Finally at the top, close to 2000 metres above sea level. It took around 1 hour and 45 minutes from Gaflei to get this far. My legs and bottom were very happy to utilise the well placed bench looking over the vista just by this sign
On the other side of the Fürstensteig looking east across Liechtenstein and Austria beyond, the scenery changed so dramatically once again. The Three Sisters mountain was to my left, the Fürstensteig continued to my right
The Tree Sisters (Drei Schwestern). Local legend has it that the Virgin Mary turned three young sisters into the peaks of this mountain after they refused to honour her feast day choosing to pick berries instead. Rather harsh
The other side of the Fürstensteig
The decent down the Fürstensteig trail was still a bit rocky at first, but much wider and flatter …
… and the occasional patch of snow reminded one of the high altitude
Not long after I began my decent, I reached a valley and the trail became much easier under foot. The ‘fence’ here was only temporary. Maintenance men were putting in new posts and ropes at the time
The hills felt so alive …
… and I felt a Julie Andrews moment coming on (yes, I know, it was the wrong country, but I defy anyone to pass this valley and not want to take a carefree twirl in it)
Finally, signs of life! and a sign nearby saying this was Bargella, 1663 metres above sea level
A belle cow with a cow bell (yes, Liechtenstein is a Swiss-German speaking country rather than Swiss-French speaking one, but ‘schöne kuh’ doesn’t quite have the same ring to it)
Enjoying the view
It’s hard work being an Alpine cow
I guess the trail concludes that way (no bull)
Another hour’s hike down and I was back in Gaflei, and still there was no one around
I am just a novice hiker and although I found the trail a tad testing in parts, it was very enjoyable overall and incredibly satisfying to complete. This is not a trail for those who suffer from Vertigo (or bad knees), and proper walking boots and good weather conditions are essential. At a steady pace it took me around four hours to complete the trail which apparently is a good time to do it in, but not quite quick enough for me to meet that 4pm bus back to Triesenberg. I missed it by a mere twenty minutes and the next one wasn’t for another two hours. The thought of killing two more minutes in Gaflei let alone two more hours compelled me to strap my walking boots back on and carry on down the mountain towards Vaduz. The route again was well maintained and the occasional sign reassured me that I was going in the right direction …
Trail signs in Liechtenstein indicate how long it takes to get to each destination rather than how far. At the pace I was going, I needed to add at least another 30 minutes to each length of time
… but the route was certainly not as picturesque as the Fürstensteig trail. For nearly two hours I zigzagged through very dense, sometimes claustrophobic forest.
I certainly could see the wood for the trees during the two hour decent through this forest towards Vaduz
Along the way however, there were grateful breaks from the forest. At one point I came across the ruins of a castle.
The ruins of Wildschloss
The final hour’s decent towards Vaduz was along a track (not a single vehicle passed me along it)
At last! After nearly three hours walking down from Gaflei, I was back in Vaduz with its Bond-villain-lair style castle up on the hill …
More on Liechtenstein, its capital Vaduz and photos of the country’s Royal family here