Exploring the Tiny Principalities of Europe
Sometimes the best travel is to the smallest places on earth. Tiny principalities in Europe are packed full of fun and exciting things to do, whether it is a visit to some of the best beaches in the world or mountain retreats. Explore Monaco, Liechtenstein, San Marino, and Andorra to find out what they have to offer the traveler on a budget. You might just find that free walking tours add to the experience you can have in these little principalities full of heart, soul, and culture.
What comes to mind when you think of Monaco? It is the most well-known of the four tiny European principalities on the list, with Andorra running second in popularity. Most people think of wonderful casinos packed full with celebrities and the rich who have nothing better to do than spend their money gambling a little in Monte-Carlo casinos. Yet, Monaco has much to offer the intrepid traveler looking to enjoy a spectacular vacation.
It is not only a country for champagne sipping and beach bumming, it is also a country where you can enjoy the Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium. Discover the numerous fish and other hidden organisms of the sea that have fascinated biologists like Jacques Cousteau. Take a few hours to enjoy a walk through the Exotic Gardens known to have some of the most beautiful cacti in the world. Enjoy a little time in front of the Prince's Palace watching the changing of the guard. Whatever you want to do on an amazing trip to a tiny principality is yours for the taking in Monaco. Perhaps a spa treatment at Les Thermes Marins Monte-Carlo or a drive along the coast to see the old castle ruins rising above the Mediterranean Sea will entice you to spend a long vacation in Monaco.
If you time your trip just right, you can enjoy the Monaco Grand Prix. This Formula One race has been around since 1929. It is a spectacular event for car lovers who may also want to stop by the Museum of Antique Automobiles, which was funded by Prince Rainier III.
Bordered by Switzerland and Austria, Liechtenstein has 160 square kilometers of land for you to explore. As an alpine country, many visit for its amazing winter spots, but it is also a place of farms and agriculture. Stunning mountains rise over towns and villages, with castles dotting the countryside every so often.
Vaduz is the main city of Liechtenstein and one of the best places to find an array of entertainments. You might consider starting off with Schloss Vaduz, a castle that rises over the capital from a hill. The castle is not open for public tours; however, there are trails that allow you to climb and see the same sights as you can from the castle. Another option is stopping by Torkel which is above the prince's vineyards. This restaurant offers a garden terrace with views of the castle above. It is a cozy place to eat in winter, as well as a stunning option for those warm summer months, when you need a bite to eat.
If you are a lover of history and culture, then a stop at Liechtensteinisches Landesmuseum will prove well worth it. This surprising little museum offers heritage, natural history, and much more including information on the medieval witch trials.
Walsermuseum just near Vaduz is another place for you to see history of a different sort. It is specific to the Walsers where you will see a variety of interesting carvings made from tree trunks and branches. Lastly, before heading out of Vaduz to see what else Liechtenstein has to offer, consider a stop at Mitteldorf. It is a small town to the northeast of Vaduz, which is more like a suburb of the capital city. It is a charming, traditional village with quaint streets, rose gardens, and traditional houses.
Burg Gutenberg, which is also a short drive from Vaduz is another site. This stately 13th century castle opens only to the public during concerts and is an icon of the area.
San Marino certainly has a long history, having been founded around 301 A.D. The principality is only 61 square kilometers, sitting on a hilly country area with Mount Titano as the center focal point. It is a small location with a big legend. According to legend Marinus, a master stone-cutter, left his native island to establish a community at Mount Titano. San Marino was founded on its own laws and regulations to provide a democratic state.
One of the most notable attractions is the Maranello Rosso Ferrari Museum. Visitors can explore the history of the Italian car manufacturer by viewing the numerous Ferrari cars on exhibit. There are currently 25 on display from the 250 GTO to the Gilles Villeneuve's F-1.
Another fascinating museum is the Abarth, which features 40 cars from the Abarth manufacturer. Several prototypes, Formula One models and Fiat are on display.
While visiting San Marino it would be remiss of you to forget San Leo. San Leo rises above San Marino, Marecchia Valley and Montefeltro. It is sitting atop a huge limestone rock of 640 meters. San Leo was used by Dante in his Divine Comedy, which has made it famous throughout the world. There is also the Church of the Cappuccini built in the 16th century.
Another of the tiniest principalities with an amazing array of entertaining options for travelers, Andorra sits in the Pyrenees between France and Spain. It is not a region to be missed when you consider the spectacular ski hills, mountain scenery, and hiking trails offered within its borders. Several villages and towns are tucked in between the different mountain peaks letting you find little known places to explore the entire time you drive around Andorra.
It is such a close trip to Andorra with only three hours to drive from Barcelona or Toulouse. The capital is often the main attraction. Andorra La Vella is easy to traverse by foot with bustling streets, plenty of dining, and amazing shops filled with local wares. It is almost like you step into another world, a historic one when you see the medieval churches that seem to withstand time.
When visiting during winter, head to Vallnord. It is the most well-known of Andorra's amazing skiing resorts. Beginners and enthusiastic professionals all find trails to explore whether they ski or snowboard.
In northern Andorra is a small village, Canillo, which is home to the chapel of Sant Joan de Caselles. It is one of the best Romanesque chapels that remain standing today. It is a mixture of brilliantly colored red brick stones and amazing frescoes inside.
Choosing just one of these four tiny principalities may be hard, so perhaps you will set up a trip that begins with San Marino in Italy, traverses Monaco before heading north between Austria and Switzerland's border to end in Liechtenstein or vice versa. With the ease of European train and road travel, you could enjoy a lovely budget trip, staying in hostels, setting up free walking tours, and simply take in all these little locations have to offer you.
By Quin H.