By Sharon Hudgins
Photos by the author
Liechtenstein is a small country with a big appetite for good food.
Wedged in between Austria and Switzerland, this country of only 62 square miles is bisected south to north by the Rhine River, with majestic mountains rising steeply on both sides of the lush Rhine Valley. Corn, cabbages, beets, onions and asparagus grow on the fertile Rhine plain. Wild game such as deer, boar, pheasant and grouse roam the forests and meadows on the mountainsides, and silvery trout swim in the cold Alpine streams.
Perched high on one of the mountains, the medieval castle of the princely family of Liechtenstein towers over Vaduz, the capital city (population 5,500). Liechtenstein is officially a principality, where the Prince still rules as a hereditary monarch in conjunction with a democratically elected parliament. The Prince also owns the Hofkellerei (Princely Wine Cellars) in Vaduz, where you can taste his excellent wines. Afterward, walk along an educational wine trail in his local vineyard, where detailed signs describe the 50 different grape varieties growing there. More than 100 other vintners throughout the country also produce red and white wines of their own.
ALPINE FUSION FOOD
The cooking of Liechtenstein is a creative combination of German, Austrian, Swiss, Italian and French culinary influences, producing a kind of local “Alpine fusion” cuisine. Soups are especially popular, from hearty meat-and-vegetable stews (split pea and sausage, smoked pork and sauerkraut) to elegant foamy white-wine soups served in stemmed glasses. Asparagus is a favorite vegetable, and the primary meats are beef, pork, and mountain trout.
Dumplings and potatoes are the main starches of traditional Liechtensteiner cooking, which includes shredded potato pancakes like Swiss Rösti and a variety of dumplings made from wheat flour, cornmeal or potatoes. Cheese is an important ingredient in the cuisine, from rich Alpine hard and semi-soft cheeses to Sauerkas, a kind of lightly aged fresh cheese made from soured milk. Desserts are as rich as you’d expect in a country situated between Austria and Switzerland. And wine has an important place on the table, befitting a country that prides itself in its small, but high quality, wine industry.
There’s a big difference between farmhouse fare in an Alpine climate and the fine cooking of Liechtenstein’s shrines of haute cuisine, several of which have garnered Michelin stars and high Gault Millau ratings. In the rustic restaurants you’ll find the stick-to-your ribs dishes like breaded pork cutlets, fried chicken, roast pork and Käsknöpfle, a large portion of little egg dumplings (like German-Schwabian Spätzle) tossed with a copious amount of cheese and garnished with plenty of crisply fried onions. Known as Liechtenstein’s “national dish,” Käsknöpfle is usually served with a separate portion of applesauce or a green salad, to counter the richness of the cheese.
Only 36,000 people live in this wealthy little enclave in the heart of Europe, where banking and financial services produce a GDP per capita that puts Liechtenstein in the top tier of the world’s richest countries. Such wealth supports a number of fine restaurants, rated among the best places to dine in Europe. These high-end restaurants tend to focus on lighter fare, artistically arranged on fancy plates—the kind of cuisine that combines respect for the country’s culinary traditions, an emphasis on local, seasonal ingredients and the imaginative use of modern kitchen techniques.
Highly acclaimed by many restaurant guides, chef Rolf Berger’s Restaurant Torkel serves haute cuisine in a beautiful setting. Located in a historic medieval building that was once a wine press, on the grounds of the royal vineyards in Vaduz, Restaurant Torkel is known not only for the quality of its cooking and its delightful ambience, but also for its excellent wine cellar. Choices on a recent daily menu in the summer included a delicious white wine soup with small yakitori dumplings on a skewer, Swiss prime beef filet in Port wine sauce, grilled sea bass in foamy smoked trout sauce, fresh berry parfait garnished with more berries and a good selection of cheeses. In nice weather, the perfect place to dine is on the pleasant stone-paved terrace overlooking the lush vineyards and the dramatic mountains beyond.
Another outstanding restaurant in Vaduz, the Marée at the Park Hotel Sonnenhof has won one Michelin star, two Gault Millau toques, and numerous other accolades. This is the place for fine dining in luxurious surroundings, from the elegantly furnished dining rooms to the large covered terrace facing the mountains and surrounded by gardens. The menu changes seasonally, four times a year, and features both traditional and modern dishes, all prepared with a light touch and plated artistically. Selections at a recent summer lunch included an appetizer of roasted scallops with melon, tomatoes, and fresh basil, followed by a main dish of crispy glazed breast of pork with fresh chanterelle mushrooms and cherries. Notable desserts were the colorful artist’s palette of house-made sorbets, and the basil sorbet with fresh strawberries and elderberry foam.
For very good food at reasonable prices, the Landgasthof Mühle is the place to go. Located on the site of an old mill on the edge of Vaduz, this lovely little inn offers an interesting menu that matches the quality of the restaurant’s décor. Try the creamy Vaduz wine soup or the excellent house-made terrine with a large salad, followed by multicolored ravioli with foamy herb sauce, and elderberry sabayon garnished with fresh berries for dessert. Highly recommended for the quality of the food, large portions and friendly staff.
Long a favorite of locals and tourists alike, the Wirtschaft zum Löwen in Schellenberg is a traditional old inn located in a wood-shingled farmhouse with red geraniums blooming in the window boxes. Dine in one of the cozy, wood-paneled dining rooms or on the pleasant terrace with a spectacular view across the border to Austria. House specialties include the head cheese with onion rings and mustard sauce, and classic Käsknöpfle, those cheese-drenched dumplings with applesauce and green salad. Large portions of good traditional food served in a nice setting.
Located in the Vögeli Alpenhotel in Malbun, a ski resort 5,000 feet above sea level, the Restaurant Alpenhotel is a cozy, rustic, pine-paneled restaurant—just the place where you want to retreat after a long day of hiking in the Alps or skiing down the mountainsides. The food is good here, and the portions are huge, apparently to satisfy those hungry hikers and skiers. The extensive menu seems to have something for every taste, including hearty meat dishes, a variety of big Rösti potato pancakes with garnishes, several pastas and cheese fondue. Warm up with garlic cream soup or creamy pumpkin soup with Styrian pumpkin seed oil, then chow down on the house-made game bratwurst with onion sauce, or deer Schnitzel with mushroom sauce. Be sure to save room for the traditional desserts (crêpes with chocolate sauce and whipped cream, battered-and-fried apple slices with vanilla sauce) or a big slice of the excellent cakes.
The Hotel-Restaurant Galina in Malbun is run by another member of the Vögeli family who owns the nearby Alpenhof hotel and restaurant there. At the Galina, the talented Norman Vögeli wears several hats: the hotel’s manager and falcon master (he stages an interesting falcon show several times a week), as well as the restaurant’s chef and pastry-maker (he supplies the delicious creamy cakes, fresh daily, for the Alpenhof Restaurant down the road). The food is very good here, including several large salads garnished with meats and cheeses, hearty soups, vegetarian main dishes, pizzas, cheese fondue and chef Vögeli’s tempting cakes for dessert.
And finally, down the mountain road from Malbun, stop off at the Cafe-Konditorei Gulfina in Triesenberg, for its luscious cakes and pastries, open-face sandwiches, and good variety of breads, all made fresh daily. Sip a cup of hot coffee and indulge in a slice of rich Engadiner Nusstorte—a regional pastry specialty, filled with caramel and walnuts—while sitting outside on the terrace that hangs precipitously over the mountainside, with a spectacular view of the valley below.
● Hofkellerei Liechtenstein, Vaduz, www.hofkellerei.li
● Restaurant Torkel, Vaduz, www.torkel.li
● Restaurant Marée, Park Hotel Sonnenhof, Vaduz, www.sonnenhof.li
● Landgasthof Mühle, Vaduz, www.muehle.li
● Wirtschaft zum Löwen, Schellenberg, www.loewen.li
● Restaurant Alpenhotel, Vögeli Alpenhotel, Malbun, www.alpenhotel.li
● Falknerei Galina Hotel-Restaurant, Malbun, www.galina.li
● Cafe-Konditorei Guflina, Triesenberg, www.guflina.li