Petra Shepherd is impressed with how much this small country has to offer
I’ll flag up straight away that my main reason for visiting Luxembourg was to tick of another country in my quest to visit every country in the world! One of the world’s smallest I thought would be easily doable in a weekend, it’s often proclaimed that you can drive across it in an hour, this land-locked country being only about the same size as Oxfordshire. However, I decided to stick with the capital itself, Luxembourg City combined with a day exploring the nearby Moselle region. For those not in the know, there’s Luxembourg the city and then quite simply the rest of the destination, the towns and hamlets are also within Luxembourg, the country.
You can read more about the cultural and culinary surprises that Luxembourg City has to offer here www.aboutmygeneration.com/?p=16008 but to add to this list, I’d also like to include a visit to Chocolate House of Luxembourg by Nathalie Bonn. This chocolate shop and cafe serves the most incredible chocolate creations in a classic medieval building dating back to the mid-15th century and is ideally located directly opposite the Grand Ducal Palace.
“I wanted to make a chocolate that would never be forgotten. To create a unique chocolate moment for every individual taste” says Nathalie Bonn, the larger than life creator and proprietor who was charmingly greeting customers on my visit. The creations really are something else with the hot chocolate spoons making excellent gifts. A hot chocolate spoon is basically chocolate on a wooden spoon, pour in hot milk, dip in your spoon, give it a quick stir, and that’s it, what’s not to like?, well perhaps the hot chilli one I chose but the hazelnut caramel and praline nougat ones got the big thumbs up.
It’s all very well sitting in coffee shops sampling chocolate but on a higher brow note, my day in the city also included a visit to The Musee D’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean (Mudam). Architect I.M Pei chose the historic site of the Fort Thungen for the construction of the museum located on the Kirchberg Plateau. The three-level museum gives artists and designers “carte blanche” to propose original creations. There’s plenty here to grab your attention, on my visit it was Su-Mei Tse’s black ink fountain with dark black ink gushing forth from a baroque garden fountain that left the biggest impression.
I’d recommend buying a Luxembourg Card. For a period of 1, 2 or 3 days you can enjoy free access to more than 60 museums and tourist attractions as well as free use of train and buses. The latter can used to access The Moselle region a mere 20 km from the city.
Small is beautiful, this saying applies just as well to Luxembourg’s wine growing region as it does to the charming Grand Duchy itself. A wine route, 42 km long, extends along the banks of the river Moselle between Schengen and Wasserbillig. The majestically manicured vineyards, steep and craggy in places, lie at an altitude of 150 to 250 meters above sea level. Less sunny than its counterparts in southern climes, Luxembourg’s Moselle Valley is one of the northernmost cultivation areas for quality wines.
The region is known for its talented vintners producing some of the county’s best white wines and cremants. Now I’m partial to a glass or two! but when it comes to fizz I wasn’t familiar with cremant. The quality label “Cremant de Luxembourg” was introduced in 1991 and represents the combination of the grapes from the Luxembourg vineyards and the “methode traditionelle”. The term “methode champenoise” means the same but is reserved exclusively for the region of Champagne in France. Cremant may be produced from a single grape variety or from a blend of several grapes, vintage or not.
Founded in 1921, Domaines Vinsmoselle is now the largest producer of wines and cremants in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Domaines Vinsmoselle evolved from the conglomeration of six cooperative wineries along the length of the Luxembourg Moselle and offer excellent personalised guided wine tours which might include a visit to a winery, wine tastings, a boat cruise along the Moselle and visits to museums.
My visit included a visit to the art deco style Caves Cremants Poll-Fabaire, Wormeldange which was created in 1930 becoming the Cremant Poll-Fabaire production centre in 1991. Cremants Poll-Fabaire are produced here according to the “methode traditionelle” which includes secondary fermentation. Ultra-gentle handling of the grapes during both the reception and the pressing guarantees an excellent basic wine. Bottle fermentation and aging for at least nine months allow the taste, flavour and quality to mature. I’m not a wine connoisseur but to me the bubbles were a shimmering gold, sparkling on the tongue and everybody appeared to be having a wonderful time, particularly those enjoying the afternoon “tea dance” or more like “cremant cavort”.
My tour also called at The Wellenstein wine cellar. Founded in 1930, it is Domaines Vinsmoselles largest site and the largest facility in Luxembourg along with Caves du Sud -Remerschen, the most southerly wine cellar on the Luxembourg Moselle near the village of Schengen famous for the agreements signed between EU states in 1985 and 1990.
Finally, a tour of the Moselle needs a fine gastronomic experience to soak up all that fine wine. The Moselle valley and hinterland feature numerous restaurants with a refined traditional cuisine based on terroir produce. This gastronomy based on local products seduces by its simple, straightforward flavours and seasonal fragrances. But first and most important of all, it gives a genuine taste. Pike with Riesling sauce and crayfish a la luxembourgeoise are some of the greatest culinary specialties of the region. I enjoyed fried fish eaten with my fingers at the restaurant “An de Tourelle” occupying a unique setting in the round tower of the Chateau de Stadtbredimus with magnificent views over the Moselle. The chateau in the village of Stadtbredimus has a history going back to the 13th century when a fortified castle stood on the site. In 1724, today’s castle was built on the ruins of the old fort and, after some questionable restoration work, was bought by the la Fontaine family in 1902. It was here that Luxembourg’s national poet, Edmond de la Fontaine, better known as Dicks, lived from 1858 to 1881.
I’d say that Luxembourg was a country that warrants more than just a fleeting weekend visit, although top tip visit on 13th June when Elton John is playing at The Coque and see him for a fraction of the price you’d pay in the UK with an intimate audience as opposed to the crowds at Wembley or the 02. There are plenty of other surprises to be had, for gourmets more Michelin-starred restaurants per head than anywhere else on the planet whilst for me it was the fizz filled Moselle that was the most fun with cremant a welcome new addition to my drinks cabinet.