Travel review: Four countries in four days - Lake Constance
A puzzled look falls upon our tour guide’s face.
She blinks several times, before saying: “No, there are no homeless people in Liechtenstein.
“To have homeless people in a rich country would just be embarrassing.”
Lisi Bech is telling us about Liechtenstein’s socio-economic make-up.
We are walking through the spotless streets of Vaduz, which is the tiny country’s capital town.
It is nestled within the Rhine Valley and tall mountains loom all around us.
It quickly becomes clear that this place is surreal; clear just like the blue sky on this Autumn day.
The towering mountains, with white-capped peaks, offer a stunning backdrop to the expensive shops which line the high street.
But despite being the capital, Vaduz is empty and eerily quiet today.
Surprisingly, although we are now in Autumn, the temperature is above 10C, making it relatively warm for a settlement located at the foot of the Alps.
Vaduz, and more generally Liechtenstein, is a far cry from what you would consider modern-day Britain.
The pace of life here is much slower and people are sparsely populated.
Two thirds of Liechtenstein - which spans just 24km long and 12km wide - is located in the mountains.
It’s population of 38,000 people are spread out across 11 picturesque towns and villages.
And did I mention an expensive high street? Its larger neighbour Switzerland has a reputation for being pricey - but Liechtenstein is even more costly.
Even a standard grocery shop here is expensive. The Germans, who commute to here for work, try and avoid it.
This is why Mrs Bech is taken back by a question about homelessness.
She summarises how good people in Liechtenstein have it, by saying: "We consider living here paradise. That is why we encourage our young people to travel and see the outside world."
This is what makes Liechtenstein interesting.
It is small slice of paradise nestled within the Alps.
The capital, which is a small town of around 5,500 people, is worth visiting. Vaduz has a 12th-century castle which still inhabited by the Liechtenstein royal family. However, there is little else to see apart from getting your passport stamped at a tourist office with the Liechtenstein mark.
But the real attraction is the beautiful peaks located nearby.
In the dry season, the mountains offer scenic walking trails for hikers. In the Winter, the slopes turn into ski paths when it snows.
A short drive up winding roads takes us to the village of Malbun.
On a clear day, the journey from Vaduz provides breath-taking views of the Rhine Valley, as you snake up the mountains pass.
As we reach Malbun, large, wooden houses greet us. We have travelled here to ride a chairlift up to Sareisjoch Mountain, which is located in the Rätikon mountain range of the Alps.
It is a short - but very scenic - journey where tall green trees almost touch your feet on the way up in the chairlift.
The mountain is a great spot for hiking. There are a variety of trails from T1 (easy) to T6 (very hard).
Friendly tour guides, from a company called Bergregion, can be hired; while an app, called LIstory, can be downloaded to help you explore.
This place is a must-visit for people looking to explore nature and the outdoors. It is both suitable for families and solo travellers.
A good food pit-stop up here is the Sareis restaurant, which is located on a cliff-edge. The menu features local dishes.
A safe - and slightly adventurous - option is the Black Burger, which consists of a black patty and delicious dressings and cheese on a succulent beef burger.
I washed it down with a crisp, clear pint of Austrian beer called Mohren Brau. Again, another good recommendation.
The whole point of this trip is to experience the Lake Constance region.
This encompasses the 536km sq lake itself, alongside Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Liechtenstein.
- Flights to Zurich cost £212 from Heathrow flying with Swiss International. The Lake Constance region can be reached by train, with a train service running between Zurich's train station, which is connected to the airport, and the city of St Gallen, which overlooks Lake Constance. A three-day Swiss Travel Pass costs £197, with unlimited travel on the network.
- The Einstein hotel ( 4*) in St Gallen, Switzerland, costs £140-per-night for a standard room. The hotel's restaurant, which is located on the opposite side of the road, serves local dishes and there is also a spa at the hotel. Visit www.einstein.ch/en/home for more information.
- Liechtenstein celebrated its 300th anniversary this year. Vaduz is the capital and worth visiting. You can get your passport stamped for €3 at the tourist office. At nearby Sariesjoch Mountain, the chairlift from the village of Malbun costs 9.80CHF (Swiss francs) for adults and 5.40 for children.
- A tour of Weingut Haug winery in Lindau Germany, which overlooks Lake Constance, costs €150 for a group. This includes tasting a selection of wines and a tour of the vineyards. For an added fee, a traditional Bavarian lunch of ham and cheese can be thrown in. For more information, visit www.weingut-haug.de
- The Isle of Mainau, known as Butterfly Island, attracts more than one million visitors each year. The island, located in Konstanz, Germany, is one of many islands that exist on the lake. It features beautiful flower gardens, fountains and of course a butterfly house. Entry costs €10.50 for adults and €6.50 for children. For more information, visit mainau.de
You can visit all four countries in a matter of hours, or in a more in-depth tour, over a matter of days.
Another highlight of the region is a cable-car ride to Karen mountain in Dornbirn, Austria - which is the next place on our whistle-stop tour.
Here you can experience stunning views of Dornbirn, Lake Constance and the Alps.
Be sure to try an Apple Strudel at the cafe on the mountain.
Our tour is focused on outdoor activities and cycling through Rorschach, Switzerland, is another highlight.
“This is the real Switzerland,” said one of my press colleagues, as we cycled on electric bikes up a quaint little road.
We were in the Swiss back country, which featured farm houses, flowing streams and cows and chickens running about with bells jingling.
It resembled a scene out of a story book. Our bikes were hired from near the lake shore in the Swiss town, and it was an easy-going 20-minute ride to reach the back country. The bikes made for comfortable, alternative modes of transport.
Of course, a great way to experience the region is by boat.
You can travel between Switzerland, Germany and Austria on the lake, all of which border the lake.
A picturesque destination is the small city of Lindau, Germany, which has a lighthouse, a large Bavarian lion statue, a harbour (built in 1856) and restaurants, cafes and hotels.
The soil around Lake Constance is good for growing - and that is why the grapes at the Weingut Haug, a wine-maker in Lindau, are so delicious.
The winery, around 5km from the harbour, offers wine-tasting, a tour of the vineyards and a traditional Bavarian buffet for €150, which can be split between a group.
And you can tour an apple orchard called Ferienhof Katzenmaier at Ailingen, which is a town 21km from Lindau, where the produce is fresh and tasty. Holiday cottages are also available with the German back country on your doorstep.
There is an increasing number of Airbnb’s popping up in the Lake Constance region.
However, there are a good number of hotels offering a little more comfort as well, if you can afford the extra price tag.
The most lavish hotel on our trip was the Einstein ( 4*) in St Gallen, Switzerland.
The decor featured shiny, polished wooden surfaces. It’s restaurant - on the opposite side of the road - served a high-quality menu including traditional German sausages. A standard room here costs £140-per-night.
Katharinenhof Comfort (4*), in Dornbirn, Austria, was more simplistic in design, but it proved to be a clean and comfortable stay.
And Hotel Knoblauch Friedrichshafen (4*), located in Friedrichshafen, Germany, was a cosy stay with a modern restaurant menu that catered for all tastes. This was our place for the night after visiting the apple orchards. The hotel also featured an indoor and outdoor swimming pool, a gym, and a sauna. The rooms were simply designed but of a high-standard, especially the bathrooms with a cleverly-designed walk-in shower.
Lake Constance is not a name that springs to mind for us Brits when considering a holiday abroad.
But for those who like the outdoors, and the European culture, the region is worth a visit.
If I could compare it to the Midlands, it would be like visiting Shropshire, but on a much, much larger scale (and more expensive).
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