Judith Baker visits this small country and discovers that there is a lot to see and do
On May 11th, HRH the Duchess of Cambridge will visit the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg to commemorate the anniversary of the signing of the 1867 Treaty of London. The world’s only Grand Duchy, Luxembourg was made independent in that year.
The Duchess has only a whirlwind day trip planned, but is packing in visits to some of the city’s key attractions, including the Grand Duke Jean Museum of Modern Art (MUDAM) in the Kirchberg area with its stunning contemporary architecture which also includes the Philharmonie concert hall.
With less ceremony than will greet the Duchess but no less of a warm welcome I was there last week when MUDAM was celebrating the 100th birthday of its architect Ming Pei, famous not just for this but also the National Gallery of Art in Berlin and the Louvre pyramid in Paris. The Duchess probably won’t be stopping at the neighbouring Place de l’Europe where sadly the plaque which announced the UK’s joining of the European Union in 1973 is now decorated with ‘RIP 2016’ graffiti. Luxembourg has an image strongly associated with the EU (President of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker is from Luxembourg) but far from being a soulless bureaucratic space, it also houses palaces, grand cathedrals and squares. Not to mention some of the finest food and wine on the continent.
Plus, just a short drive from the city one finds some of the prettiest countryside in Europe with a wealth of things to do for all ages.
If the Duchess had her husband and children with her, she may have been tempted to head north of Luxembourg City to the enchanting Ardennes district – a region rich in nature, fairy-tale castles and villages crammed with character and charm.
A good starting point is pretty Esch sur Sure, home to the country’s oldest castle (927) and gateway to the Upper Sure Nature Park with trails, walks and even a solar powered boat for a guided tour of the reservoir. The area offers hiking, golf, fishing, sailing or just enjoying the beach at the lake. Stop for lunch at the slightly eccentric but enchanting Hotel de la Sure which has a large terrace at the foot of the castle with great views. Its Restaurant Comte Godefroy serves up hearty traditional Ardennes platters and if tempted to stay the night, its unusual rooms include one with a swinging bed and the hotel’s Rock Spa is home to a shoe-shaped bathtub. www.hotel-de-la-sure.lu
At nearby Clervaux we find another castle, built in the 12th and enlarged in the 15th century. It is home to three museums, one being the famous ‘Family of Man’ photographic exhibition compiled by Luxembourgian Edward Steichen and first shown in New York in 1955. Comprising 503 photographs by 273 artists, from 68 countries, this is a moving collection of images showing all aspects of humanity. Having been exhibited in over 150 museums worldwide, the final integral version of the exhibition was permanently installed in Clervaux Castle in 1994. Since its creation, it has attracted over 10 million visitors and in 2003 the collection was inscribed in the UNESCO Memory of the World register. It is difficult to come away untouched by this exhibition.
Known as one of the largest and most beautiful feudal residences of the Romanesque and Gothic periods in Europe is the commanding Vianden castle, built between the 1th and 14th centuries on the foundations of an old Roman fort. Restored to its former glory and under state ownership since 1977, the castle is best explored with the help of one of the excellent guides here, or with an audio guide, but be warned hundreds of stone steps and winding staircases are not for the infirm! Don’t miss the inspiring banquet hall, the tapestry draped Grand hall and the Knights’ hall where there is a medieval festival in July there is a medieval winter market here in December and an atmospheric Halloween party for children in October. Youngsters will also enjoy the adventure park Tree Climbers next door.
Before leaving Vianden, take a tour round the town, the smallest in Luxembourg which lies on the border with Germany. Here one finds the one time home of Victor Hugo, now a museum and the Trinitarian Church with its lovely cloisters. The town is noted for its abundance of walnut trees and has a Nut Festival every October.
On the way back to the city, worth a detour is a stop at the town of Diekirch, known as the ‘town of the donkey’, so-called because the inhabitants were once referred to as donkeys by a rude official who thought they were behind the times. Now the donkey emblemcan be seen throughout this quirky little place with its quaint shops, cafes and churches. It is also home to the national Museum of Military History which is primarily devoted to the Battle of the Bulge, which took place in Luxembourg in the winter of 1944/45.
Lux for Less
- Back in the city, and reflecting on my trip, I am struck by how affordable Luxembourg is. The Luxembourg Card gives free access to more than 60 museums and tourist attractions, a visitors’ booklet identifying the most attractive sites to visit and travel on train and buses on the national public transport network of the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg free of charge. It costs from 13 Euros for one person for a day to 68 Euros for 3 days for a family of up to 5. http://www.visitluxembourg.com/en/luxembourg-card
- There is actually quite a lot for free in Luxembourg city. A free glass lift takes up to 66 people at a time from the Pfaffenthal district up to the old town, with great views over the city. All the buses are free on Saturdays, there are free Wi-Fi hotspots around the city, I found a number of free WCs which is certainly not the case in many capitals and last but not least, there is free entertainment on most weekends in the city centre, be it music, dancing or good old fashioned people watching!