How lucky I am to have Lichtenstein as my name. If it were Monaco or San Marino, I might never have visited my adorable namesake nation. Having seen all three tiny countries, I can say with cheerful subjectivity that Liechtenstein -- all 60 square miles of it -- is by far the most intriguing.

First, let's dispel a few myths.

Liechtenstein is not buried obscurely somewhere in middle Europe. It is 75 miles from Zurich, about 1 1/2 hours by car, 2 1/2 via train and bus. In fact, it is so accessible to tour buses traveling to Germany and Austria that it wishes the hundreds of visitors disgorged each day for a quick stop would stay a little longer. Thus the tourist bureau's motto: "Liechtenstein -- Go to it, not through it."

Nor is Liechtenstein merely a cute, alpine Heidiville that ekes out a living selling postage stamps. Yes, its stamps are philatelic treasures, but they are a relatively insignificant part of the economy. Cute and alpine though it is, Liechtenstein is also a remarkably prosperous, industrialized nation. (Locals seem especially proud of the false-teeth factory.) What's more, it is a renowned tax haven for businesses, a kind of multinational Delaware, with thousands more "letterbox" corporations (40,000) than residents (27,000).

One final myth: Liechtenstein is not Luxembourg. Tucked as it is between Switzerland and Austria, it's not even near Luxembourg. Such confusion, common among Americans, is not funny to a Liechtensteiner.

The reality is that Liechtenstein is to other European countries as table tennis is to tennis -- a miniaturized game of tourism. This is not a put-down. On a reduced scale, Liechtenstein has everything a traveler needs for an enjoyable European vacation -- flowing rivers and dark forests, bustling capital city and quaint farms, castle on a hill, mountain peaks and lush valleys, a ski area, good food, one superb hotel, Old Masters paintings, vineyards galore, fine wines (that do not travel), a benign prince, famous Winter Olympic competitors, friendly natives -- all this in an area the size of the District of Columbia. About the only thing missing is a bloody revolution in its past.

Even so, my first reaction was disappointment.

For years I fantasized about presenting my passport at the Liechtenstein border and being greeted as a long lost royal. "At last, our own Princess Grace," they might say, with a curtsy. (My name actually comes from my ex-husband, an American with no regal heritage, who like thousands of Americans spells it without the extra "e.")

Unfortunately, Switzerland, with whom Liechtenstein shares customs, money and other conveniences, inks your passport. If you go straight to

Liechtenstein, which I did from Zurich, you cross the border without any formalities whatsoever. Oh, I did see a road sign -- "Furstentum {Principality of} Liechtenstein" -- as we drove across the Rhine, but it resembled the ones that read "Entering New Jersey." No spiffy militiamen, no guard station, no questions asked.

Perhaps my moment would come when I registered at the Park Hotel Sonnenhof, a serene, low-profile beauty located on a bluff above Vaduz, the capital, offering stunning views of Schloss Vaduz (the prince's castle) and the Swiss Alps.

"Ah, Madame Lichtenstein, welcome," said the gracious woman at the desk. "I am Mrs. Real. My husband and I are the owners. We hope you have a pleasant stay." Didn't she wish to know my relationship to the first family? Nope. To see my passport? Nope. She did pronounce my name better than I ever had.

Eventually, I learned that Liechtensteiners are nothing if not discreet. The royal Liechtensteins shun publicity as assiduously as the Grimaldis of Monaco attract it. So, even had I been a long lost princess, they would not have made a fuss, although I might have gotten an annuity equal to the budget of several Third World nations; the family is among the richest in the non-Arab world.

Crown Prince Hans Adam, 42, is in charge of the constitutional monarchy. His aged father, Prince Franz Josef II, is Numero Uno overall. The medieval castle, where the royals and most of their art collection live, is not open to the public. There are no soldiers stationed around it, just a single fellow in a small guard house, who doubles as telephone operator.

An acquaintance, driving through Vaduz one day, pointed out an ordinary-looking man in a blue shirt and tan slacks strolling down the street. "The prince," he said. "Gee! Can you stop and introduce me?" I asked. "It is not done," he replied quietly.

This discretion extends to passport-stamping. It is not done. If you insist, you are sent to the tourist bureau on Vaduz's main street. There, upon payment of one Swiss franc, a clerk finally stamped my passport. The only person impressed was another American. "Honey, get this! Her name's Lichtenstein!" a tourist from Pennsylvania chortled to his wife.

The rest of Liechtenstein was anything but a disappointment. Rather, it was a revelation.

Physically, the place is gorgeous, shielded on one side by a stark vertical wall of mountains, edged on the opposite side by the ribbon of the Rhine. Of its 11 semi-autonomous communities, only Vaduz (pronounced Va-DOOTZ) is clotted with day trippers and lined with souvenir shops. Even so, it is a jewel box of a capital, its outdoor cafe's inviting, its art galleries impressive, its "downtown" hotels neat and flag-bedecked, its residences overflowing with multihued flowerboxes. Unlike Monaco, there is hardly a high-rise in sight.

Were Vaduz a piece of art, Joseph Cornell would have created it.

A key to the principality's charm is that in 10 minutes you can walk beyond the Liechtensteinische Landesbank in the center of Vaduz toward the Rhine and find yourself in the midst of huge vegetable fields. A footpath leads to a covered bridge over the river. Turning back toward Vaduz, your eye is drawn to the castle, elevated high above the rest of town, nestled among evergreens like a stage set for an operetta. Beyond its turret rise the jagged peaks of the Liechtenstein Alps, with the chalets and churches of Triesen and Triesenberg villages poking through the greenery to the south. Directly before you, sheep and cows graze in pastures practically next door to offices of multinational law firms.

For a vertical overview, a 20-minute drive up a winding road near the Catholic Church in Vaduz leads into the verdant mountain regions of Triesenberg, Gaflei, Steg and eventually Malbun. This mini-wonderland of weathered old chalets, rustic country inns, a museum dedicated to the early settlers, conifers, wildflowers and well-marked mountain walking trails is so idyllic I felt like humming a few bars from Mahler's "Songs of a Wayfarer."

The juxtaposition of old and new, rural and urban, is celebrated each September when it is time to herd cows from their summer mountain meadows to milder climes in the valley. Auto traffic is halted on the lone highway from the hills while the cows, each garlanded with flowers, parade downtown, their cowbells playing a tuneful accompaniment. By tradition, those who have given the most milk lead the way wearing the biggest bells. There is a terrific traffic jam and citified locals apologize for days afterward about the soiled streets.

A logical starting point for a more detailed exploration of Liechtenstein is the tourist office, which is loaded with helpful brochures and maps. I spent my first morning dutifully checking out Vaduz's three principal museums, each within a minute of one another.

Like the rest of FL (the European auto license designation for Furstentum Liechtenstein), the museums are exquisitely down-sized. The Art Gallery, a two-story affair, features choice Bruegels and Rubenses from the royal collection. The Landesmuseum (National Museum) -- at various times in its past a tavern, private house and state prison -- features three floors of art works, weapons and other historic items. A relief map there provides an instant grasp of the landscape -- one-third valley, two-thirds mountains. There is a cozy reproduction of a 17th-century bauerstube (farmer's hut), complete with spinning wheel and wooden cradle.

Finally, the Stamp Museum, a single room with large vertical display cabinets, includes famous stamps, original artist's sketches and misprints.

At that point, I had covered the most obvious attractions. Next, Berthold Konrad, the tourist office director, who brims with enthusiasm for his homeland, was eager to show me the Liechtenstein most visitors miss. So late one afternoon we drove into the mountains to Silum, a hamlet from which one can stroll along incredibly picturesque paths.

The air was 20 degrees cooler than in Vaduz, the trail to the Bargella Saddle graveled and gently sloped. From the sattel we caught glimpses of the Austrian Alps in the distance. The Rhine glistened far below. "Ah, this is the joy of it," said Konrad, a porkpie hiking hat on his head, a hand-carved walking stick on his arm. "Any Liechtensteiner, if he feels like me, is sorry when he can only drive but not walk in the mountains." There was not a human soul on the trail, just a few cows whose bells echoed through the terraced countryside. At the Silum guest house, after a schnapps and a beer, I was ready to apply for dual citizenship.

In time, however, I learned that throughout its history, FL has had strange policies toward both foreigners and women.

A vestige of the Roman Empire, the region belonged to various noble families until 1699. Prince Johann Adam von Liechtenstein (known among his peers as "Hans Adam the Rich") bought one piece of land, Schellenberg, from a debt-ridden Austrian count, mainly so he could join a prestigious Viennese club, the Assembly of Princes, open only to holders of territory under Austrian domain. In 1712, he added the neighboring county of Vaduz and named the new parcel after himself.

It was declared an Imperial Principality in 1719, but for more than two centuries none of the royals bothered to reside in their personal principality. That happened in 1938, when the new prince, Franz Josef II, checked into Vaduz Castle, permanently. (This summer is expected to be filled with pageantry celebrating the 50th anniversary of his reign.)

The move turned out to be prudent for everyone, especially the ordinary folks, since Hitler had taken over Austria and FL had no army. As a sovereign state, Liechtenstein remained neutral and unharmed during World War II.

Once the war ended, a few Germans who had lost their factories set up new ones in Liechtenstein. Most of the local residents were poor farmers, but the prince and his Diet (Parliament) knew an economic bonanza when they saw one. They allowed foreigners to set up more factories (down-sized, naturally) without permitting more than one per industry, thus insuring a diverse industrial base.

They also initiated favorable business tax laws, while sending numerous sons to foreign law schools so they could make fortunes upon their return to Vaduz handling the ensuing paperwork. The country also began setting up selective, highly restrictive immigration laws meaning foreigners could cross the border to work but could not get citizenship and thus voting power.

One result is that meeting "locals" today is like meeting New Yorkers or Washingtonians; everyone is from somewhere else. An English woman, who took me for a delightful hike high above Steg, had married a Liechtensteiner, then remained as a translator after her divorce. "It's a central location," she noted, "and a comfortable life style." A German woman showed me the quiet lowland regions plus Planken, an itsy-bitsy collection of houses on a lovely hillside below the Dreischwestern (the Three Sisters), the country's most-photographed massif. She and her husband had emigrated for business. An Austrian merchant, whose family I met at a restaurant, operated a successful diamond business.

It remains almost impossible for these people and other foreigners to gain citizenship. Of course, there are controversial exceptions, such as the Wenzel family, originally German. Their children happened to be fabulous alpine skiers. As Hanni and Andreas Wenzel began to win international races, West Germany suggested perhaps the youths ought to be on its Olympic team. A timely vote quickly turned the Wenzels into Liechtensteiners ... and the kids made Liechtenstein a household word at Lake Placid in 1980, capturing two gold and two silver medals.

Citizenship continues to be a touchy issue, as does voting rights. Hanni Wenzel might have been a national heroine, but she, like all female Liechtensteiners, was a nonperson at the ballot box. Not until 1984 were women allowed to vote on national issues, and they still cannot vote on provincial ones in some communities.

Nevertheless, postwar policies have created a thriving economy. So many poor farmers became rich men of commerce that agriculture now must be subsidized by the state. There seems to be a filet mignon in every pot and two Mercedes in every garage. "Maybe we have five or 10 unemployed people," said the tourist office's Konrad, "but it is because they don't need to work."

Economic Eden though it may be, Liechtenstein has stirred a bit of resentment among some foreigners, and vice versa. Noting that the government provides financing to restore old houses, one foreign resident suggested that the country is "so rich they can afford to be benevolent." Because Liechtenstein appears to reap all the benefits of Switzerland without the headaches, a few Swiss residents snidely dismiss Liechtenstein as "an extra canton" of Switzerland. Liechtensteiners, in turn, occasionally badmouth the Swiss as arrogant efficiency experts.

Such undercurrents do not seem particularly virulent. A middle ground was well expressed by Konrad. "Perhaps we have the properness and the will to work of the Swiss and maybe a little of the charm of the Austrians," he remarked over a cafe' fertig (similar to Irish coffee) at the Kurhaus Su cka in the mountains near the bobsled run in Steg one afternoon.

I found Liechtensteiners charming, in their own reserved way -- the kind of people who take as much time as needed to give you directions, who talk less about prosperity than about the beauty of their nature walks and the pleasures of their minuscule ski resort at Malbun. A sports organizer told me earnestly that "the whole country is passionate about skiing and other sports," a situation aided by "a lot of government money." Here are people who could be insufferably smug about how well off they are, but instead exude a worldly happiness that is infectious.

Konrad made a point of listing the nation's main problems: suicide (the highest rate in Europe), drugs and divorce. But these are not evident to the casual observer. In and around the bars of Vaduz, I smelled not even a whiff of marijuana. Punk-haired teen-agers looked positively wholesome, while Vaduz yuppies, sipping beer and white wine, were indistinguishable from their counterparts in Zurich or Boston. Elsewhere in the evenings, culture lovers were either attending a local play at the country's one real theater in Schaan, or awaiting the arrival the following week of Ingmar Bergman's theatrical production of "Scenes From a Marriage." To judge by the empty streets on Saturday night, most people were tucked under their down comforters by 9 p.m.

Konrad, a jovial gourmet, assured me that the most popular evening activity was eating. When he referred to "Liechtenstein cuisine" I cringed, thinking of my ex-mother-in-law's cooking. Thank goodness it is more like Swiss food, featuring venison, veal, noodles and creamy sauces, with a dash of Italian dishes.

Emile Real of the Sonnenhof (his elegant dining room -- featuring "raviolini Emilio" -- is open only to hotel guests) and his brother Felix, proprietor of the Hotel and Restaurant Real, are celebrated chefs. In Schaanwald, the chic indoor-outdoor Waldhof restaurant serves a memorable rissoto with mushrooms. My favorite dish was at Wirthschaft zum Lowen in Schellenberg, a simple lowlands inn where I sampled one true Liechtenstein specialty, kasknopfle, a spaetzel swimming in a robust melted cheese topped with fried onions. Calorie-conscious visitors are in for trouble: "Nouvelle" means one heaping portion of anything, as opposed to two.

A national pastime I had not expected was winemaking. Grapes are everywhere, from family back yards to the long rows of the prince's vineyards outside Restaurant Torkel, which will arrange group wine tastings. At the Hofkellerei (wine cellars) of the prince on the Feldstrasse in Vaduz, there are tastings regularly. The general opinion is that the Liechtenstein reds are more notable than the whites, although both tasted just fine to me. The bottle labels change with each restaurant. Although stores in Vaduz will package wines for you to take home, the wines are said not to travel.

That's just as well, since the best souvenirs are world-famous and designed for traveling: stamps. The biggest variety is sold on the ground floor of the gargantuan (by FL standards) new post office building smack in the heart of Vaduz.

I had a chat one day with Herman Hassler, chief of the postage stamp creative department. A graphic designer, he proposes themes for the quarterly issues to a jury made up of bureaucrats, a philatelist and an art expert. Hassler modestly gave credit for the high quality of FL stamps to the artists who design them and to the deliberately small printings carried out by top Swiss and Austrian printers.

How many of each are produced? "Ah, that is top secret," he said, smiling. Nevertheless, he did say that about 1 million of the 1987 issues had been sold. The first '88s, of which he was quite proud, are unusual, "cartoony" tributes to the Winter Olympics, drawn by an Austrian, Paul Flora. Every artist gets the same fee for a stamp design -- 3,800 Swiss francs (about $2,900). The money is less important than the prestige, he added.

As we were saying goodbye, Hassler became -- hooray! -- the very first Liechtensteiner to acknowledge my name. "Are you related to Roy Lichtenstein?" he asked. No, I replied. But had the contemporary American master ever been approached about designing a stamp?

Hassler shook his head, almost embarrassed. "I would think we are too small and pay not enough for someone so famous."

Hey, Roy. Think about it ... a little Lichtenstein for little Liechtenstein? Contact this little Lichtenstein for more information.

Grace Lichtenstein, a New York-based journalist, is the author of four books. She writes on travel and other subjects for numerous publications.