“Two centuries ago, there were dozens of independent states in German-speaking Europe. Today, there are only four: Germany, Austria, Switzerland…and Liechtenstein.” That’s how I start the bit on Liechtenstein in our “Little Europe” episode.
I love the way tiny countries are defined so clearly by geography. Liechtenstein is a bowl in the mountains — high ridges on the east, milky baby Rhine River still giddy from its tumble out of the Alps running south to north on its west, and a stout and classic castle guarding the entry to the valley on the south. About the size of Manhattan, it’s truly landlocked, with no seaport and no airport.
We had a day to shoot it, and a guide to make sure we got it right. The good news — it was gloriously sunny. The bad news — it was Sunday, and the streets were dead. We drove around looking for a few of the 35,000 people with Liechtenstein passports, and found little more than empty villages.
The prince was in the news recently for threatening to actually abandon his principality if his citizens didn’t give him more political power. Liechtensteiners, who seem pretty easygoing about these things (women didn’t claim the right to vote until 1984), accepted his demands. Now, apparently, Prince Liechtenstein has more real authority than any other royal in Europe. (Though ruling a country the size of Manhattan, with the population of Yankee Stadium on an off day, doesn’t exactly give you a lot of power.)
The prince’s palace — not open to the public — overlooks his domain from atop a cliff. We knocked on the door, and the guard looked at me and my film crew like we were nuts.
I ended the segment at the literal top of the country, saying, “Like Switzerland, a big part of the principality’s modern economy is tourism and sports — hosting visitors enjoying its dramatic natural beauty. Ski lifts, busy both winter and summer, take nature-lovers to the dizzying ridge that serves as the border with Austria. Even in little, little Liechtenstein…the views are big, and the hiking possibilities are endless.”
Crossing the Rhine back into Switzerland, we snooped around to find the perfect vantage point from which to film a wide shot showing the entire country. Liechtenstein all faces west. The entire country is in shade late into the morning. And each evening it’s all bathed in the rich light of the setting sun. When our cameraman took the big camera off the tripod, our Little Europe show was in the can.
Over the last two years, we dropped into San Marino, the Vatican, Monaco, Andorra, and now Liechtenstein. In just over a year, the show will air on PBS. As we zipped back to Zürich — just an hour away on the autobahn — I pondered just how candid I want to be about the visit-worthiness of three of these little lands.
(By the way, in response to comments that I seem down on Switzerland: I really like Switzerland — from the lakefront promenades of its elegant cities to the scalps of its Alps.)