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With a history dating from the 14th century, Liechtenstein is a wonderful land of fairy-tale castles (one inhabited by the reigning prince), chalets decorated with geraniums, Rhine meadows, and small villages high in the Alps.

Separated from Switzerland by the Rhine River, it's one of the smallest independent sovereign states of Europe, along with San Marino in Italy and Andorra in the Pyrenees. The entire country is only about 26km (16 miles) long and 6km (4 miles) wide. Most residents of Liechtenstein, who are largely of German origin, speak a German dialect. English is also understood throughout the country.

Liechtenstein is famous for its finely engraved postage stamps, which are treasured by collectors the world over. The stamps illustrate the country's religion (predominantly Roman Catholic), monarchy, art, history, landscape, nature, and leisure activities. Stamps provide 25% of the government's income, and new series are introduced all the time. There's a postal museum in Vaduz, the capital of the principality.

Although commonly regarded as remote, Liechtenstein is actually very accessible from eastern Switzerland. A number of good roads link the two countries, and there are no border formalities or Customs stops. There are guards at the Austrian border, but they rarely stamp visitors' passports.

The ideal way to explore Liechtenstein is to wander around. Every village has a network of hiking and walking routes, which the locals themselves put to good use. Marked hiking routes cover 150km (93 miles) in the alpine area and 119km (74 miles) in the valley, which, considering the country's size, takes up a huge chunk of the land space.

Malbun and Steg are ideal starting points for mountain tours, and Gaflei and Planken (the tiniest hamlet in the country) are departure points for the Drei Schwestern area. The tourist office has a pamphlet outlining the best hiking trails throughout the Unterland (Lower Country), the Oberland (Upper Country), and the alpine region.

Guided half- or full-day tours are arranged every Thursday in summer by the Liechtenstein Alpine Association. Routes depend on weather conditions and are published on the Saturday preceding the tour in local newspapers under a column headed "Wanderungen des Liechtensteiner Alpenvereins." For information and registration, contact the guide given in the announcement.