Crowd-free ski slopes and quirky locals: Why Liechtenstein should be your next ski destination

In a lost gully above the Rhine Valley, I am waist-deep in powdery off-piste with only wisps of cloud for company. The lack of a crowd seems at odds with the usual clamour of the European ski stampede. 

In recent years a blitz of express gondolas, expanded ski resorts and mountain festivals have taken winter sports into new territory. But what if you found somewhere where you had the piste to yourself?

That place is Malbun in Liechtenstein, an Alpine village shrouded in quirky history. There’s also a compelling argument to visit the country this year because it’s celebrating its 300th anniversary, a jubilee pegged to its switch from Alpine monarchy to imperial principality in 1719.

The town, 90 minutes’ drive from Zurich, is hidden at the end of a dead-end valley and made up of a scattering of half-timbered houses and little else. Among the year-round population of 20 there’s also a small, if bewildering, community of Dominican Republic expats. 

At the village’s handful of family-friendly hotels you can relish the remoteness. I meet a tongue-tied Austrian waiter keen to practise his English at the fireside bar of Hotel Gorfion, while later that night I join a weekly mountain cooking class at neighbouring Hotel Turna, run by Elisabeth Lampert and her father Rainer. I’m the only student. 

As I’m getting to grips with the family recipe for spätzle — involving drip-feeding a mixture of flour, eggs and stinky cheese through a dustbin lid-sized sieve into a pan of bubbling water — Elisabeth tells me about the history of the gnocchi-like dish as a mountain staple and how she learnt to make it from her grandmother before she could ski.

As she talks, snowflakes fall outside, covering the main street in a thick sheen. “More fresh tracks for tomorrow,” she says. “So more calories to burn.” 

Fittingly for a country of its size — only 12km by 25km — the small things surprise you. Liechtenstein only has 11 villages but each has its own dialect. There is one escalator, subway and shopping centre. Space in the capital Vaduz is at such a premium that the police station and prison used to be in the parliament building.

Randomly, the country built the heat shields for the Apollo 11 rocket that took Neil Armstrong to the moon. 

The ski resort of Malbun is only an hour and a half’s drive from Zurich (Martin Walser / Liechtenstein Marketing)

If the weather puts you off winter pursuits, you can learn such pub quiz trivia by catching the 20-minute bus to the capital, where the tricentennial is being celebrated this year with festivals.

There are four museums and a royal treasury to snoop around, plus the world’s sixth-smallest parliament and a fairytale castle, where Prince Hans-Adam II, Prince of Liechtenstein, lives with his family. A short walk away is the Princely Wine Cellars, where you can drink pinot noir and chardonnay straight from the prince’s personal stash (just £7 for three samples). 

The next morning, skiing conditions are perfect. The slopes remain empty and I repeatedly take the chairlift to the highest point — the 2,000m Sareiserjoch — for a view of Grauspitz, Liechtenstein’s highest summit at 2,599m. This is a country dwarfed by its neighbours — to the east peaks crowd in from Vorarlberg in Austria, while Switzerland pokes its nose in from the west.  

I may be the first Brit to ski in waist-deep powder down an empty off-piste bowl. I may also be the first Brit to learn how to make cheese spätzle to a century-old family recipe in a class of one. That’s Malbun. Any newcomer automatically becomes a pioneer.

Just keep it to yourself, OK? 

Liechtenstein: The details 

  • Liechtenstein’s nearest airport is Zurich.
  • British Airways ( flies from Heathrow from £78 return; easyJet ( offers returns from Gatwick from £53.
  • Doubles at the Hotel Gorfion ( from £167, half-board.


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