Just 51 miles long and 35 miles wide, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is one of the smallest countries in the world, yet it has all the ingredients of a large country, from modern euro-city to wooded countryside.
Confusingly, Luxembourg is the name of the capital city as well as the country but the base for our visit was the picture-perfect village of Vianden, thirty miles from the capital and just six miles from the border with Germany.
A great centre for touring on foot, bicycle, car or coach, it is famous for the nut market, usually held on the second Sunday in October. This celebrates the area’s history of walnut production. At one time, a fifth of all Luxembourg’s walnut trees grew in Vianden`s orchards. Now all kinds of walnut based products are on sale at the market including, walnut milk, walnut confectionary, walnut cheese, walnut bread, walnut sausages and (the very potent) walnut liquors and brandy. Indeed, these are so potent that all leave is cancelled at the nearest hospital and a fleet of ambulances stands at the ready on the edge of the village, which is closed to traffic during the event.
French author Victor Hugo stayed in Vianden on several occasions between 1862 and 1871 and during those times was inspired to record its beauty and setting in poetry and prose. In modern day PR terms, Hugo did a good job of promoting Vianden’s attractions to the outside world. Besides its walnuts and Victor Hugo though, Vianden has as its main claim to fame a gloriously theatrical medieval castle perched on an outcrop overlooking the town. The castle has been the subject of considerable renovation and is well worth the walk up the steep streets or, in summer, a ride on the chairlift.
Less than an hour's drive brought us to the capital, Luxembourg City. Dating back to 963 and built on a rocky precipice high above the convergence of two rivers, the old city’s main attraction is the official residence of Grand Duke Henri, Luxembourg’s reigning monarch. Its single guard is testament to the fact that this is one of Europe’s safest cities, ideal to explore on foot. The other main building is the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall) in the Place Guillaume II, re-modelled in 1838 and originally a monastery for Franciscan Monks. This area is also ideal for a bit of retail therapy with many shops offering good quality items at great prices. However ladies, be aware that many of the streets are cobbled so take suitable footwear.
Luxembourg is also a major financial centre. The new part of the city has been built across the ravine in the Kirchberg area. Reminiscent of Canary Wharf in London, it is full of glass and concrete edifices dedicated to banks and the European Court of Justice. However, a quick tour is all that’s needed, there are better things to see elsewhere.
Leaving the city we quickly found ourselves in open countryside with farms, sheep and cattle, as well as some picturesque villages. The Moselle river forms a 25-mile natural boundary between Luxembourg and Germany. The vineyards on its bank produce a range of white wines, primarily Riesling, and we enjoyed a Sunday lunchtime glass or two with the mayor of Vianden, Marc Schaefer, in the town hall. Well, it’s that kind of place.
We later visited a local vineyard where they were in the process of making Cremant, a smooth ‘bubbly’ made by the ‘methode champenoise’. After a detailed explanation and tour round the bottling and storage areas we were treated to generous samples of the product. Good job we were on a coach trip!
Just across the Moselle river is the German town of Trier, arguably Germany's oldest city and dating back to the first century BC. It contains many fascinating buildings from its Roman past, perhaps none more spectacular than the 'Porta Nigra' or black gate, which was built around 200 AD. If you have the time it’s definitely worth the short diversion.
Just when you think you have seen it all, Luxembourg comes up with another surprise, an area known as ‘Little Switzerland’. Quite why it has this name never became clear, although it does have hilly outcrops, woodland areas criss-crossed with walking and biking trails and a much-photographed miniature waterfall. It also has the famous Perekop Rock which overhangs the road. Be careful if you are driving a tall vehicle!
Luxembourg crams in so many different experiences you tend to forget you are in such a small country. The locals are friendly, food and drink is great and the variety of scenery packed into one small country is amazing.
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Luxembourg – an entire country in miniature
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Waterfall - Little Switzerland