At the intersection of France, Germany, and Belgium sits the small, landlocked nation of Luxembourg. It’s a little pastiche of European culture, having been influenced by the convergence of its neighbors. Today, Luxembourg is a fairytale country that is highly worth a weekend visit.
A Fairytale Country
Known for its atmosphere of calm contentedness, Luxembourg boasts a pace of life that never exceeds more than a light jog. In the summer, the air becomes thick as the nation’s enclosed position stifles any breeze, though what wind does blow wafts the sweet scents from the fields of wheat between the city’s streets. During the hottest days of the year, this gives wistful relief from the season’s sun.
I was born in Luxembourg, the Green Heart of Europe, so named for its rolling hills covered in verdant forests and its valleys patterned by farmland. Situated at the center of western Europe, this country has played a small but important role in the continent’s history and is one of the founding members of the European Union (EU). As the EU’s least populous state (with just over 550,000 in 2016), Luxembourg relies heavily on the financial services industry, which has garnered it a shrewd reputation internationally as a tax-haven. But having grown up there, I know it to be so much more.
The ‘Little Fortress’
The city that bears the country’s name lies in its southern midsts. The name Luxembourg is derived from an old Roman fortress, turned modern art museum, called Lucilinburhuc (Little Fortress). Luxembourg City’s fortified structures are the result of its strategic location in relation to the rest of Europe.
The city center is divided into two main areas: the High City (Ville Haute) and the Low City (Ville Basse). The Ville Haute encompasses the parts of the city on top of the river valley that cuts through its heart. Situated atop a sandstone plateau that overlooks the Alzette and Pétrusse Rivers, the city’s guard towers and steep stone walls are said to have been impregnable to ancient invaders. Inside the city walls, cobbled streets weave in and across each other between colorful walls, creating a maze-like system of alleys, passageways, and boulevards, each brimming with restaurants, cafés, and shops. The statue of the Golden Lady, one of Luxembourg’s most iconic memorials, is a must-see as its location provides a perfect vista over the river and across the valley.
The Ville Basse refers to the district located on the banks of the rivers at the base of the valley. This part of town is less busy than the High City and is accessible via a system of tiered gardens that descend from the ramparts above. Down there, you’ll find much of the same traditional medieval architecture interspersed with museums, churches, cafés, and restaurants. The Low City is further divided into the a picturesque residential area known as the Grund, and Clausen, a hub of bars and clubs that comes alive as the sun sets.
Castles in the Countryside
I grew up in the countryside, on the top of a hill overlooking small villages, dense forests, and open farmland. From there, you can see all the way to the German border — a fact that seems less impressive when you consider the country is only 35 miles (57 kilometers) across at its widest point. Around my home, I found endless opportunities to get lost in the natural world. In my view, there is no pastime more peaceful than a walk through the Luxembourgish countryside. The changing seasons transform the colors of the woodlands from vibrant light-greens and yellows of spring and summer, into the rust reds and oranges of fall, and finally the deep evergreen of the snowy winters.
Walking through Luxembourg’s forests and valleys takes you back in time, as the country is spotted by grand chateaus and castles. Chateau Bourglinster is a classic example of these beautiful fortifications. It resembles something out of a storybook, with smooth ochre walls flanking a cobbled courtyard and the remains of its old battlements and guard towers strewn about its grounds. As with many of these old castles, Bourglinster now houses a couple of restaurants. Farther north stand castles like Beaufort and Vianden, both grand examples of Luxembourg’s roman and feudal history.
Throughout the Luxembourgish countryside, you’ll find award-winning hiking trails, like the Mullerthal Trail, that connect a wonderful array of forests, plateaus, and sandstone cliffs and caves. In the heat of high summer, cooling off can be almost impossible, so many Luxembourgers head for the nation’s many lakes. One such lake worth a visit can be accessed from near the town Esch-Sur-Sure, a quaint old village built around high escarpment topped by ancient turrets. Another option is to make your way to the river Moselle along the southern border. This is Luxembourg’s quintessential wine region, its sloping valleys bearing grape vines of all colors. The landscape there is also crisscrossed with trails to hike, interspersed with eateries to visit, and pockmarked by traditional chateaus.
A small place
In many other countries, living in rural areas can feel quite isolating as travel to the cities and bigger towns is often long and less than desirable. However, Luxembourg’s size means its public transportation is able to reach the majority of its regions effectively enough to make travel hassle-free. Busses can take you along tight country roads, trains connect Luxembourg’s north and south and also offer connections to France, Belgium and Germany, and a recently installed modern tram system makes travel into the city a breeze.
Should you wish to visit Luxembourg, a long weekend will give you a great sample of life in this tiny European heartland. In the span of three or four days, you’ll be able to explore the city, wander the country, and get a hearty sample of the local culture, cuisine, and commerce. But when visiting, always remember to get a little lost, whether that be among its magnificent urban center or its bucolic countryside.