When deciding to travel around Europe, following the decision of Great Britain to break away from the European Union, I knew I wanted to make the most of my British passport and travel freely from country to country, before that luxury was taken away from me and the opportunity to work in Europe became increasingly difficult. I listed a number of countries I wanted to visit and I also wanted to go to places I’ve never been before so decided to make Luxembourg my first stop. It is so small (the whole country is around the size of Northamptonshire) and is rarely mentioned or considered in travel articles, which tend to favour larger, more popular countries so I was intrigued to see what kind of punch Luxembourg could pack.
First and foremost, Luxembourg was unknowingly a brilliant first stop for this European adventure. It is only a 55 minute flight from Gatwick and the airport is only 6km from the city centre. Everyone luckily speaks English and Luxembourgish is a hybrid of French and German, so communication was easy. The fact that it is so small, means it is very easy to get around and the public transport – electric buses – is very user-friendly.
I spent my first two days walking around. As I’ve said before, just wandering around allows you to get a real feel for a place and you can people watch and observe people’s customs and traits as you go, to allow you to mimic them when necessary and feel more settled in a foreign place. According to my health app, I climbed the equivalent of 100 flights of steps and walked over 41km in those first 2 days, so it’s no wonder my feet ached! I saw a lot though and because Luxembourg old city was established down in a valley along the banks of the River Alzette, with the new city up on the cliffs with many, many staircases connecting the two areas, you can see why I now have calves of steel!
After these two days of thorough exploration, my summary of the city was beige and quaint. If Luxembourg was a person, it would be your awkward cousin who had a very strict and moral upbringing. Absolutely lovely and harmless but if you invited him to a rave, he’d turn up in a plaid shirt and have creases ironed into his cream chinos.
Luxembourg could definitely use a pop of colour and I can only assume they used local (beige) stone to build the majority of the old city but you can see in the many green spaces of the new city, that they are seemingly opposing that with some fantastic pieces of public art. What is suprising though as you wander round is the extent of growth the city is going through. Everywhere you looked, there were cranes building new apartments and offices and in some areas, they were shoe-horning buildings into the smallest spaces. A tram line was also being laid, to provide an alternative mode of public transport, should the buses power down and even the museums and public squares look like they are brand new. It is surprising as there just doesn’t seem the need for it. I didn’t see very many people about and nowhere was crowded. Perhaps it is a case of build it and they will come. As a founding member of the European Union, perhaps they know something that we don’t.
For anyone travelling to Luxembourg, I highly recommend getting a Luxembourg card. You buy the card for 1-3 days and you get to use all the public transport in the country for free and have free access to 76 attractions around the country. It looks as though there are 77 in total. Having spent two days seeing what Luxembourg City had to offer, I spent 20 euros on a 2 day pass and decided to travel to the Ardennes by train and visit a small town called Vianden. For some reason, travelling by train and using public transport in a foreign country always makes me a little nervous, should I get it wrong. So as I boarded the train to Ettelbruck, I kept calm as, after an announcement I couldn’t understand, I followed all the other passengers off the train and onto another one at another platform. I was told the bus to Vianden leaves from just outside Ettelbruck station so when I arrived and saw two bus stops, I was able to figure out I was at the wrong one, when I saw my bus departing from the other one. I managed to get the next bus and using the GPS on the maps.me app, I was able to figure out when I arrived in this beautiful little village, flanked by a stunning castle high in the hills. Woo hoo! I thought. More steps!
One of the attractions that helped me choose Vianden as my first destination away from the capital was the cable car (free with my Luxembourg card) they have, which takes you to a look out point above the village and the castle, so you can really appreciate the view of this ancient village and of the Ardennes in general. As luck would have it, the cable car was closed for maintenance. So I decided nevermind, and made my way up to the castle, which was owned by the Grand Duchy for hundreds of years, before the lack of an heir meant that it was sold off little by little until there was nothing left. In 1977, it was sold to the State and millions of Euros were spent restoring it to the magnificent castle it is today.
I took an audio guide around Vianden Castle and it was great to see how well restored it was and to get a feel for the history of the place, often fought over by the Germans and the Dutch. As there isn’t a great deal to do in Vianden, I spent a couple of hours here, looking at all the paintings and imagining the sitters moving around the castle, in the days when they lived there.
I left the castle to go to a lookout point to take the above photo of the castle and fell in stride with another solo traveller who got off the same bus as me. He was from Costa Rica (although working for their embassy in Washington DC) and we had a chat and a wander around together, swapping travel stories and enjoying the scenery and surroundings. It was helpful meeting him, as he suggested I go to the Victor Hugo museum after lunch and as we wandered there (down hill) I was able to ask the right questions to know who Victor Hugo was. I said “who was Victor Hugo?” (brilliant detective work me thinks). Turns out he was a French author who favoured Vianden and lived there a short while following his exile from France, for being too political and left-wing. Arguably his most famous novel was Les Miserables. Entry to the museum was also free with my card and after a quick tour looking at a number of press clippings and personal letters (all in French), I left for a slow amble around the village to enjoy the solitude and remoteness of the place. Also, give me a river and I’ll walk the banks for as long as I can. I love a good river walk and with Vianden settled on the banks of the Our, I enjoyed my stroll before getting the bus and train back to the City.
The following day, I decided to get the bus to Gravenmacher and enjoy a tour of the Bernard Massard Cellars, which was founded in 1921 and is the largest private producer of sparkling wine in the country. Needless to say it isn’t very big! I couldn’t find the bus stop in the city which went out that way but knew I could catch the same bus from a stop just outside the city (thanks to a top tip), so got the bus there and then got on the next one to the cellars, which were on the banks of the river Moselle, flanked on the other side by the German Rhineland.
Using my Luxembourg card, I got a free tour and tasting at the cellars and as it was so early in the season, I was the only one there so got a private tour all to myself. It was actually really interesting and I love that it is now run by the 4th generation of the same family. I enjoyed my free glass of sparkling on the terrace, overlooking the Moselle and into Germany.
After a stroll along the river, I decided to cross the bridge and head into Germany, just because I could. I wandered over, spent about 7 minutes taking photos of Luxembourg and then wandered back across. No passport necessary. I had a late lunch and then went to the Butterfly Gardens or (as they sound much more beautiful in French) Jardin du Papillions.
The jardin was small but beautiful and as it was free entry with my card, I enjoyed wandering round taking in the beautiful colours of the butterflies, the flowers and birds, before heading back out into the glorious sunshine.
I settled in a beer garden (or Jardin du biere if you prefer) for a couple of Luxembourg’s finest ales before getting the bus back to the hostel, where I could admire the shade of red on my face, afforded to me by spending too long in the sunshine.
My evenings were spent primarily eating (one night I even ate with someone else!) reading, booking hostels and transport to get me to my next destination and mostly getting an early night, after so much walking.
The next morning it was time to leave this quaint little country and I went back to the station to board the train to Belgium. As I said, Luxembourg was a great starting point for this trip and I would advise people to come and visit but don’t just stay in the city centre, as there is so much more to see and do in other parts of the country and they all seem extremely beautiful and, dare I say… slightly more colourful.
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