Luxembourg: Europe’s big little country

by Trevor.Claringbold

Luxembourg is often written off as little more than an expensive financial base - but with stunning scenery, centuries of history and a beautiful capital, that couldn’t be further from the truth

As someone who often travels around Europe, I hold Luxembourg in very high regard. Perhaps it’s because of its convenient location at a natural crossroads of European countries, making it easy to include in many trips. Partly, too, it's because of the warm welcome and excellent hospitality I’ve always enjoyed there. But mostly it’s because, for such a small country, it manages to cram in so much that is worth seeing.
 
The capital, Luxembourg City, is one of the most naturally spectacular in Europe. It’s built around deep canyons, created by two rivers and linked by towering viaducts. I like to base myself in the city centre, so that exploring on foot is easy. The Hotel Francais, in the pedestrian area, is one I would recommend. It’s not too big, has an excellent restaurant, and on a warm evening it’s great to sit in the pavement bar and just soak up the ambience of Luxembourg at night.
 
The city is a rich combination of new and old, with a wealth of grand historic buildings and beautiful gardens, balanced by the striking modern architecture of the business and cultural areas. I’m not usually a great admirer of modern design, but even I was impressed the first time I saw the multi-faceted, blue-glass building that houses the modern art museum. The nearby Philharmonie Luxembour, and Place de l’Europe are also worth a look while you are on that side of the ravine.
 
For me, though, it’s the centuries of history that unveil themselves at every turn that always occupy the majority of my time here. From the Grand Palace, it’s an easy walk around the oldest parts of the city, with stunning views across the ravines. Take the opportunity to walk down to the valley below, too. It’s an area often not experienced by tourists but you get a whole different feel for the city as it towers above you on all sides. There are well-maintained gardens and pleasant walks through the valley, and the pretty cafés by the river are a favourite of mine to enjoy a glass of wine along the way. The Bock Casemates, with their centuries-old tunnels cut into the rock, are another sight missed by the many who never venture down to the base of the ravines.
 
Surprisingly for a capital city, good restaurants are a bit of a rarity in Luxembourg. There are plenty of places to eat, especially in the areas around the station and in the European Quarter, but none that I would really rave about. Probably the best in terms of an authentic feel, and value for money, are those around the Place d’Armes.
 
Don’t be fooled into thinking that Luxembourg City is all there is to Luxembourg. Even though it’s less than 100 km from north to south, the Grand Duchy boasts majestic countryside, pretty villages and castles seemingly guarding every hilltop. My tip is to head up into the mountains near the German border, where the densely forested hillsides, rocky cliffs, and deep blue rivers herald an unspoilt region little disturbed by travellers. Take a leisurely cruise on the beautiful River Sure or try exploring one of a network of marked walks through the forests. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there are even ‘hikers huts’ to break your rambles into easily managed sections.
 
The guidebooks all suggest that Echternach is the centre of this region, and the place to be based. The small, gothic medieval town is certainly striking, and worth a visit, especially to see the abbey and its 1000-year-old crypt. But I would recommend you aim to stay at the less well-known, but equally impressive, ancient town of Vianden, with an unrivalled position astride the River Our. My first visit was all too brief, and I found myself making plans to return… even before I had left! The huge, turreted medieval fortress that dominates the hill above the town has its origins with the Orange-Nassau dynasty back in the 9th century. As long as the weather’s fine, for just a few Euros take the chairlift up to the 450m-high summit. The panoramic views across the town, castle, river, and the lush green valley are breathtaking. And you’ll see for yourself why it’s one of my favourite places in the whole of Luxembourg.
 

Recommendations

One of the best places to eat out is the De l’Our restaurant in Vianden.
                      
Get the ‘LuxembourgCard’, which gives admission to 58 tourist attractions and free public transport. It's excellent value, and you can choose 1-, 2-, or 3-day passes, for individuals or families.
  
 

 

Trevor.Claringbold

With more than 30 years experience as a writer and broadcaster, including 14 years with the BBC, Trevor's main passions are travel and history. He has travelled widely, including to the most remote parts of Africa to report on the work of aid charities. He is also an accomplished photographer, and edits a number of websites. He lives on the Kent coast, with his wife and daughter. Favourite places: it's always difficult to choose a favourite place, having visited so many wonderful destinations. Essentially, I like those places that are well off the beaten track, such as the beautiful Isle of Valaam in the north of Russia, or following the smaller roads through the European mountains. However, top of my list is always Africa. The people are wonderful, the scenery is breathtaking, and, as anyone who has ever travelled there will tell you, Africa just gets under your skin forever!