In our lives, we need those moments that are so good we’re forced to close our eyes and ask ourselves, “is this real?” These moments remind us we are living life to the fullest. We’re experiencing all we want to experience. We’re making our dreams happen. We’re filling ourselves up. On our two-day trip to Luxembourg, if I would’ve pinched myself each time I was in awe of the charm and history I would have been one bruised lady.
How many of my readers have been to Luxembourg? I thought so. Tucked in between Belgium, Germany and France, it’s often overlooked by tourists. This is primarily the reason we chose to add it to our European itinerary – the allure of the unknown. Luxembourg is Europe’s most powerful investment management centre, and a picturesque vacation destination for many Europeans.
If you’re unfamiliar with Luxembourg City (as I was prior to our trip), the city sits atop a rocky promontory, founded by Count Siegfried in 963. He began building the walled fortifications known today as the Casemates du Bock, calling it “little castle.” Over the next several centuries, Luxembourg was taken over by various monarchs through marriage, war, and political disputes. It was ruled by the Romans during the Middle Ages, and later became an important strategic fortress between France and Germany in the Second World War. In 1815 modern-day Luxembourg was established at the Congress of Vienna allowing the country to become an independent state known as the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg – meaning that the country does not recognize the King and Queen, but instead the Grand-Duke and Grand-Duchess.
After the Belgian Revolution, the French-speaking portion of Luxembourg was given to Belgium and the “Luxembourgish”-speaking part became what is now present-day Luxembourg. “Luxembourgish” is the countries native language, sounding like a unique blend of French and German.
DAY ONE: FANCY TRANSPORTATION & FOOD COMAS
The picturesque three-hour train ride from Brussels to Luxembourg was incredibly picturesque. Curving through mountains covered in lush greenery and meadows dotted with early spring flowers, it was like watching “The Sound of Music” in real life. We’d pass through small villages, each with their own church or cathedral near the city center and idyllic as the pages of a picture book.
As we arrived on the outskirts of Luxembourg City, it was immediately evident that we were in one of the richest countries in the world. The streets were full of Mercedes, BMWs and Audi’s. Even the public buses were either Volvos or BMWs! Outside the train station, we hopped onto one of these pristine busses – Luxembourg is the first country in Europe to make all of its public transportation free.
On our bus ride through the city to our Airbnb, my wide-eyes could barely take it all in. The streets, the building, the parks – everything was pristinely, immaculately clean. Architecture ranging from the 1st century B.C., abbeys and churches built in the 1600s. Modern architecture in the city centre and financial district reminiscent of castles you’d read about in fairytales.
Our delightful host Sven greeted us with waffles and homemade preserves he’d made that morning! Sven shared a couple of his favorite dinner recommendations, one which was a French-Portuguese restaurant called Beirao, a 15-minute walk from our apartment.
We took his recommendations, and Beirao was one of the best meals we’ve ever had. We started with an appetizer of grilled Portuguese sausages, made in-house, coupled with chilled glass of red wine sangria. For our main course, Dane treated himself to the cordon bleu in a rich mushroom sauce, and I had the best grilled octopus of my life coupled with roasted fingerling potatoes and swiss chard in a garlic white wine drizzle. Like food zombies, we walked in a food coma back to our Airbnb.
DAY TWO – A HEAPING HELPING OF HISTORY & MORE FOOD
We woke up to a beautiful morning looking out from our Airbnb balcony, still in awe of this incredibly picturesque city. We took the bus and started our self-paced walking tour at the Grand Ducal Palace in the heart of the city. This is the official residence of the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, where he performs most of his duties as head of state of the Grand Duchy. Spired towers, wrought iron balconies, chiseled stone, it’s like looking through the pages of history books. Sigh…. Pinch me.
From there we walked through the Place Guillaume II, the town square of Luxembourg City. The French and German influence is evident here, as the buildings mimic Parisian architecture with German sensibility. The square was originally the site of a Franciscan monastery but is now used as an open-air music venue. From the square centre you can see the spires of Luxembourg’s Cathedral Notre-Dame just one block away, which is the only cathedral in Luxembourg.
The church dominates an entire block. It’s a beautiful example of late gothic architecture with Renaissance elements and adornments – arched entryways, spired bell towers, stained glass windows. Just outside the church is one of the most famous statues in Luxembourg: a bronze statue of the Grand Duchess Charlotte on Place de Clairefontaine, very popular with the Luxembourgers during her rule (1919 to 1964).
As we walked further south into the city, we stumbled upon Gëlle Fra (Luxembourgish for ‘The Golden Lady’). This monument commemorates the thousands of Luxembourgers who volunteered their service during both World Wars and the Korean War. In 1940 it was pulled down by the Nazis, and was restored to her former glory in 1984 where it now overlooks the entire city 68-feet in high – The Gëlle Fra is an elegant and inspiring symbol of the freedom and resistance of the Luxembourg people.
From the Gëlle Fra, you can see the Adolphe Bridge. It connects the city across the Pétrusse River, which flows through the walled embankments of the city above. According to our walking tour guide, the bridge has become an unofficial national symbol representing Luxembourg’s independence, and has become one of the city’s main walking tourist attractions.
After crossing the bridge, we walked down the steeply sloped embankments and through ruins and rock fortifications that makeup the landscape of Pétrusse Park. Walking around Luxembourg, where so much old meets the new, I pinched myself over and over as I watched Luxembourgians going about their daily lives, jogging through the ancient ruins of Pétrusse Park with no notice of their historic importance. As if these ruins were the neighborhood Starbucks. Walking among such history felt unreal, then again everything I was encountering was older than my home country. Inspiring, confusing, I was having all the feelings.
We made our way to the Casemates du Bock. The casemates are a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it’s easy to see why. From the Middle Ages through World War II, the walled fortress of the casements surrounding the city was one of the most reputed fortifications in all of Europe. The first underground tunnels (which span 14-miles) were built by the Spanish in 1644 and continued to be developed by French and Austrian military engineers through the eighteenth century.
As we wound our way through the tunnels and deep spiraling limestone staircases leading further and further underground, we’d happen upon dark dead ends and rusting old cannons overlooking the Alzette River below us. I closed my eyes and visualized centuries of fighting and bloodshed this fortress had scene. If only walls could talk…
If you enjoy self-paced walking tours without the necessity of WiFi, the casemates is the starting point for the “Wenzel Walk,” which guides visitors through the ancient history Luxembourg. It is a nature trail lined with plaques guiding visitors through the geology and topology of the formerly fortified city and down through “The Grund.”
“The Grund” is a picturesque area of Luxembourg City in the valley below the casements and Luxembourg City centre surrounded by the winding banks of the Alzette River. During our walk, we learned that 950 residents, 49% of which are native Luxembourgers, inhabit The Grund.
Walking along the cobblestone streets lining the Alzette River and past Neumünster Abbey at sunset, we could see why this was a desirable part of Luxembourg to live. It’s just as you might imagine an old European city to be: small, lamplit, quaint, tree-lined streets with couples milling about or sitting in small cafes. Another “pinch me” moment as we walked through the quaint village of the Grund on one side, and the fortress of the Casemates du Bock on the other. We stopped often to savor the moment, take it all in.
We strolled back to the city centre for a cocktail and hand-painted artisan chocolates before deciding to enjoy an authentic Luxembourgish meal. We stumbled upon “Restaurant Mousel’s Cantine Sàrl,” a homey, warm place with a variety of delicious unfiltered authentic beers and a menu that reflected French, Belgian and German cuisine.
We did not leave hungry. Dane ordered a traditional meat plate sampler – various sausages, pork, potatoes, beans and sauerkraut. I pulled out the big guns and ordered the Schweinshaxe (German roasted ham hock). It was as big as my forearm and a little intimidating to eat. I quickly got over the intimidation and enjoyed the whole thing. Fat and happy, we called it a night and took our extra handmade chocolates back to our room to rest up before our train ride back to Paris the next morning.
I HEART LUXEMBOURG
I came with no expectations for Luxembourg, and left charmed by its beauty, history and cultural uniqueness. The level of care and cleanliness the city and its residents take to preserve its history commands pride and respect from residents and visitors alike. I can’t wait to come back and explore the surrounding countryside, castles, national forests, waterfalls, and learn more of its fascinating history. Luxembourg is truly a melting pot of French, German and Belgian cultures that has overcome a violent history to become one of the most prominent independent nations in the world.
I truly felt as though I stepped back in time. The idyllic scenery and the historic intensity gave me pause at every turn. Pinch me! Pinch Me! Pinch me! Don’t worry. I didn’t leave with bruises. This is living though, isn’t it? These moments where we’re filled with such delight, such awe and excitement that we hardly feel its reality. The great news is, it is reality, and we’re making our reality the best it can be.