Love letter to LuxembourgPosted: February 19, 2012
I should really be wearing a sandwich board for Luxembourg. It is my favourite out of the European countries I’ve visited to date. Some of that is down to my friends, and an affection that has developed for their home, which I’m delighted to say doesn’t feel like a foreign country when I arrive at the airport or railway station.
Some of it though, is down to the country itself. Luxembourg is a pretty small country, bounded by France, Germany and Belgium. You can drive the length of it in a couple of hours, and from west to east in less. Shaped like a teardrop, this country has a very strong national identity, without being swamped by its far larger neighbours.
This map came from http://www.worldatlas.com/webimage/countrys/europe/lgcolor/lucolor.htm, copyright and all rights reserved.
Most of the walking I’ve done in Luxembourg has been in the north and east of the country, where the terrain seems to consist of high plateaux with steeply incised valleys, making it quite a strenuous activity! Here is a shot from near Hosingen, looking out towards Germany.
It is a lovely place to walk, particularly in the evenings, when things have cooled down a little. In winter, it can be downright atrocious, but all of my walks were in the summer / early autumn. One great thing about walks in Luxembourg is that they link into the trans-European long distance paths, but also have a network of smaller scale walks, known as autopedestres. Better still, the country has a range of free maps that are available, covering the entire country, with useful elevation guides. You can find them here: http://www.mdt.public.lu/fr/infrastructures/sentiers-pedestres/index.html
Best of all, they’re all free. Wish something like that existed in the UK. To be fair, there are some pretty good walking websites for Britain now, but this post is all about Luxembourg.
Echternach is a small town in the east of Luxembourg, quite close to Germany. It has a nice character, some lovely old buildings, and they do nice ice cream. The basilica is definitely worth visiting, and there’s quite a bit to see.
A statue in Echternach – not sure if this is St Willibrord, who was a Northumbrian missionary. He certainly came through this area, but that’s the limit of my knowledge, without Google or Wikipedia. Nice statue though.
I was shown this pub in Echternach, called “Beim Doktor”. Quite cunning really, as if your disapproving other half asks where you’ve been, you can answer, entirely truthfully, “At the Doctor’s”. Nice. Also contains nice Luxembourgish people who were good mannered enough not to laugh at my atrocious attempts at Letzeburguesch.
Forget Switzerland or Germany for great castles. Luxembourg has a fair few, all in a small geographical area. This is presumably a legacy of the somewhat turbulent past this country has enjoyed, being at a strategic crossroads in Europe. Vianden is a lovely castle to visit, but Bourscheid is also excellent.
“Don’t touch the Donkey-Fountain”, that’s what I was told when I first visited the country. Naturally, I was drawn to it as if by magnetism, and a downpour of Biblical proportions followed. OK, they know what they’re talking about, but note the donkeys’ limbs. Clearly articulated, and begging for some dumb foreigner to come and play about with them. Are they surprised then about their annual rainfall figures?
Luxembourg is blessed with many good places to have a barbecue, and this shot appealed to me. Basically a dog jumping in caused cool ripples in the reflections of trees on a lovely day. The climate in Luxembourg also means that the Joy of Barbecue is possible in many back gardens, unlike Scotland, where you need a lifejacket most days 🙂
I’ve come to love Diekirch, and only recently found that it has a lovely riverside walk. A village founded by Atilla the Hun (Ettelbruck) is not far away, and you can see why people would want to settle down here. Perhaps not waving so many swords and axes about, but things have calmed down quite a lot in the past few hundred years!
This is what you get when you let a Luxembourgish girl loose with Amercian cooking programmes, and a complete disregard for calories – fuelled entirely by me. That sandwich contained my calorific requirements for about three days. It was also, without question, the finest sandwich in the history of bread products. No, really.
When I talked about deeply incised valleys, this was partly what I had in mind. It might not look too bad, but the sides are steeper than the photo suggests. Imagine having to fight your way through this territory, possibly in knee-deep snow, and with interested parties shooting at you. I would think that this represents the pinnacle of soldiering excitement for central Europe.
This square is one of my favourite places of all. On a hot summer’s day, nothing is better than sitting at the cafe in the centre-right of the photo, drinking pints of iced water and watching the world go by. In this part of town, that generally means watching French and Dutch drivers becoming confused by simple instructions, and gumming the traffic up. I think that’s the Chamber of Deputies on the left.
Most cities have some greenery in them, but Luxembourg City is notable for having a gorge running right through the heart of the city. arriving either by aircraft or train gives you an excellent view of this feature, which also has mediaeval casemates or fortifications along the side of it. The city is an interesting mix of old and new – Roman excavations sit alongside a modern financial powerhouse. Given the strategic importance of Luxembourg over the centuries, it is unsuprising that if has been called the “Promenade of Europe”.
All in all, I really love this place, in the heat of summer or the depths of winter. The people are great, and there is a huge amount of history and culture crammed into a tiny space, all distinct from the larger countries beyond the borders. If you’re ever looking for somewhere to visit, and fancy something a little different, head for Luxembourg. Arriving by train is a good way to come in, but the airport is reachable from most European hubs. I’ll be writing more about Luxembourg, but this is enough for now.