Looking up at a castle on a hill
Austria,  Liechtenstein,  Switzerland

Collecting countries: three in one day

Living on an island it has always been a source of some fascination to me that the people of other European countries can cross international borders as easily as they do, unhindered by a barrier of water.

Even decades ago, before the European Union was conceived, it was simply a matter of driving to the border, showing a passport and you were through. No need to buy a ticket for ship or plane!

As a child visiting relatives in Germany I marvelled at how easily we could go shopping or sightseeing in the Netherlands. And visiting friends in eastern Austria in the days before the fall of the Iron Curtain, I was amazed that it was nonetheless a relatively simple matter to pop into Hungary for lunch.

Today of course it is even easier and borders are largely invisible. So what about visiting three countries in one day? Not a problem; as I found out while attending a small Virtual Tourist meet in Zurich a couple of years ago.

Setting out

We started in Switzerland, country number one. We travelled by train from Zurich to Sargans and from there continued our journey by bus. This took us through Vaduz in Liechtenstein (to where we would return later) and on to Feldkirch in Austria. The scenery on both journeys was fantastic, especially the views of Lake Zurich and the Walensee from the train. The latter was a particularly beautiful shade of deep turquoise as it is fed by several glacial rivers and streams.

Lake and mountains
Walensee from the train

From the bus too we had some lovely views, passing through several tranquil villages in rich farmland, with hills and mountains all around and the occasional castle perched on a ridge. The most impressive of these was Burg Gutenberg which we passed just after crossing the Rhine which here forms the border between Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

Castle and forested hillsides
Burg Gutenberg, Liechtenstein

Feldkirch, Austria

On arrival in Feldkirch we had a light lunch in a café., one of several in the Marktplatz where a market was indeed taking place. This had unfortunately more or less packed up by the time I finished eating and went to take photos of the activity; but there was plenty more to photograph. In particular there was a lovely old church by the market, Sankt Johann. Its fresco depicts St John the Baptist preaching a sermon; while the unusual figure of a knight known as the Bläsi has rung the bell to tell the townspeople the time since 1510. The church was unfortunately closed, so I only have photos of the exterior.

The town retains much of its medieval character here in its centre; but just behind the church we came across a very different style of building which divided opinion. Some found it too incongruous for this historic setting; but others (me included) rather liked its striking architecture and clean lines. This is the Montforthaus, a culture and congress centre which was opened in 2015.

In contrast the castle, Schattenburg, has been perched on a hill above the town for almost 800 years.

We strolled along the picturesque streets, where there were plenty of the small details I always love to photograph, including some attractive murals on some of the buildings. The large figures on the town hall (Rathaus) depict scenes from the town’s history.

There were also a number of religious statues on otherwise secular buildings. I noticed several of the Good Shepherd in particular which perhaps reflects the town’s rural, agricultural surroundings. The statue of the rather fierce knight, in contrast, is on a fountain just below the castle.

We went into the cathedral, Dom St. Nikolaus, which was light and airy, looking more modern than its Gothic origins would suggest; perhaps due in part to its beautiful modern stained glass, the work of local artist Martin Häusle.

From here we returned to the bus stop by the intriguingly named Katzenturm or Cats’ Tower. This is so-called because the cannons it used to house were nicknamed cats! It was built on the site of an earlier tower by Emperor Maximilian. Today it contains a large bell which is rung every Friday at 3.00 pm (the hour of Christ‘s death) and on church holidays.

Then, Austria ticked off the list, we boarded a bus for the third country of the day, Liechtenstein.

Vaduz, Liechtenstein

Arriving in Vaduz by bus we were greeted with the impressive sight of the castle. where the Princely Family still lives. We had drinks in a café on the main street before splitting up to explore.

Looking up at a large castle on a hill
Vaduz Castle

This is an attractive, almost unnervingly well-maintained town centre. It has some attractive modern sculptures and several sights of interest. These include what looked like an interesting art gallery which there was no time in our schedule to visit. The town hall has some striking murals and a plaque marking the very brief visit of Goethe to the town ‘from 1 to 2 June 1788 on his way back from Italy’.

Strolling around with a friend from Australia, we found a place offering to put a (meaningless but fun) stamp in our passport for 3 francs (or euros); something tangible to show for our extravagant but lovely day out. We also made a brief visit to the postal museum (really probably only of interest to avid stamp collectors – we didn’t linger).

Of more interest was the beautiful government building which dates from 1905. This is the official seat of the government of the Principality of Liechtenstein. Nearby is the parish church of St. Florin, built in 1873; but with buses back to Sargans running only once an hour we decided not to linger any longer as we wanted a more restful last evening back in Zurich.

So that was it – three countries visited in a single day. It’s not usually my style to rattle through countries like this; but we did this outing mainly for its novelty value, and it delivered. We saw a pretty Austrian town in a part of that country I had not previously explored. And we saw something of the tiny capital of equally tiny Liechtenstein – a country I had never visited and quite likely may never do so again. And we were back in Zurich in time for dinner!

I took this trip in 2017

27 Comments

  • Tanja

    great experience, something different:) not to brag, but..it’s easy to do three countries here too, I can have breakfast at home in Croatia, lunch in Slovenia and dinner in Italy and go back here:))) the perks of living near the border:) not that I can go anywhere that easily right now:(

  • starship VT

    Sarah, that sounds like such a fun day! And it’s impressive because not only did you visit 3 countries in a day, but you were able to see some wonderful sights, if only a few in each place! Wish I had been at that meet! Your photos are wonderful as always.

  • wetanddustyroads

    Wow, that must have been an amazing day trip! And beautiful photo’s of each country – it almost seems your day had more than just 24 hours 😁.
    When we’ve crossed the border between Portugal and Spain (while walking the Camino), I could not believe how easy it was … nobody to check our passports or even a light flashing (well, that’s maybe a bit too much, hey?). But I was still shocked at how easy it was …

  • thehungrytravellers.blog

    That sounds like a good day, I like the plan! I still think crossing borders feels great, one of those “special moments” of travel, regardless of the type of border crossing, even if they are easier (in sone cases) than they used to be. As children, we both crossed the border from France into Spain during the Franco regime – it was a scary crossing in those days. I couldn’t take my eyes off the guns carried by the border police…

    • Sarah Wilkie

      That sounds very like our experience crossing into Hungary from Austria. On one occasion we had my in-laws with us. Our Austrian friends were blasé about the process, being so used to it, and my husband and I were unfazed as we’d had similar crossings elsewhere. But my mother-in-law in particular was totally unnerved by the guns, to the extent that she couldn’t really enjoy her lunch knowing that we had to make the crossing back afterwards 🙁 But these days in Europe you can cross a border without realising it. I wouldn’t have known when we crossed into Liechtenstein had my Swiss friend not pointed it out!

    • Marie

      I’m with you there Michaela (or Phil??!!) – I love crossing borders and I love passport stamps! I’m rather disappointed with my EU passport ( although I have to admit that it’s very handy!) because I feel I’ve been cheated out of many EU stamps since it was issued! The only times I remember being anxious was going through Checkpoint Charlie in 1979 and crossing from Egypt to Israel in 1981…
      I like the sound of Vaduz and it looks lovely… You certainly had a busy day Sarah….

  • mtncorg

    Liechtenstein shares the same anthem as the, well maybe not the same words, but the musical notes. I have enjoyed the country on several occasions. Best is up high in the mountains. Beautiful trails overlooking the Rhine and the Appenzeller Alps on the other side. Being a football fan, there is a book written by an Englishman, Charlie Connelly, “Stamping Grounds” where he follows the National football team on a World Cup quest. Another fascinating look at the principality, like yours. The princely family also owns houses in Vienna and Lower Austria and is seeking to get back their former holdings in Moravia – presently UNESCO sites.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I can imagine the mountains here are beautiful, and relatively uncrowded. I think there’s a word missing from your comment – ‘shares the same anthem as the ???’

  • Nemorino

    Now that you mention it, I’ve never been to Liechtenstein, though I know someone who grew up there and returns often to visit.

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