When you cross the border from Switzerland into the principality of Liechtenstein, you will see license plates marked "FL": this stands for Fürstentum Liechtenstein (Principality of Liechtenstein). You are leaving the world's oldest democracy and entering a monarchy that is the last remnant of the Holy Roman Empire—all 160 square km (59 square miles) of it. If you don't put the brakes on, you'll
wind up quickly in Austria.
Made up of 11 communes called gemeinden, this pint-sized principality was created at the end of the 17th century, when a wealthy Austrian prince, Johann Adam von Liechtenstein, bought out two bankrupt counts in the Rhine Valley and united their lands. In 1719 he obtained an imperial deed from Emperor Karl VI, creating the principality of Liechtenstein. The noble family poured generations of wealth into the new country, improving its standard of living, and in 1862 an heir, Prince Johann the Good, helped Liechtenstein introduce its first constitution as a "democratic monarchy" in which the people and the prince share power equally. Today the principality's 32,000 citizens enjoy one of the world's highest per-capita incomes—prosperous (though discreet) local industries range from making jam to molding false teeth—and pay virtually no taxes.
It’s hard to not be curious about this little vestige of royalty, but you may find yourself disappointed in the rather sterile capital city of Vaduz. Its one must-see attraction is the bold and beautiful contemporary art museum, housed in a dazzling black terrazzo box and filled with works by lesser-known contemporary greats like Bill Bollinger and Günter Fruhtrunk. You won't be alone, as the streets are packed with package tourists climbing out of tour buses. Quite a few of the newcomers are from Asia, particularly China, and many of Vaduz’s restaurants now offer overpriced sweet-and-sour chicken and other dishes.
Outside the capital you'll find some attractive views, including vineyards climbing up the hillsides. Hiking trails and ski slopes provide ample opportunity to glance, perhaps longingly, back at Switzerland.