Lifestyle & Culture

Luxembourg packs castles and culture into a great hikers-and-bikers destination

One of the joys of living in mainland Europe is the easy access to other countries and the adventures they offer. One of those is the tiny country of Luxembourg.

What do you know about Luxembourg? For me it was the far off home to Radio Luxembourg, listened to on my transistor radio tucked beneath my pillow in my teen years of the 1970’s. But there is more to the country than hosting one of the first commercial radio stations.

Officially known as the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, it has:

• a constitutional monarch, the Grand Duke Henri;
• a tragic history of being invaded and occupied during both world wars;
• borders with Belgium, France and Germany;
• the headquarters of the European Court Of Justice;
• founding membership in the European Union, The United Nations and the North Atlantic Treat Organization;
• an area smaller than the US state of Rhode Island, yet has one of the world’s highest GDP’s.

So this little country has a lot to say and recently I went to get a small taste of what it has to offer. A weekend in Luxembourg for most people is spent in the UNESCO protected fortified capital, Luxembourg City. But I was on a motorcycle and that means exploring the small twisty roads snaking through the wooded plateau and deep valleys, and keeping away from the crowds.

Highlights from our brief visit include:

Battle Of The Bulge Museum, Bastogne

On our way from the Netherlands we stopped off in the Belgian border town of Bastogne to visit the Battle Of The Bulge Museum.

Bastogne was at the centre of the Ardennes Counteroffensive, or Battle of The Bulge, in December 1944 and January 1945 when the Nazis were trying to get to Antwerp to close off the port to the Allies.

The US troops were taken by surprise by the attack. Despite the US military experiencing their biggest losses in WWII, their fierce resistance turned the war in the Allies favor.

The Battle Of The Bulge Bastogne is one of many war museums in the Belgium Luxembourg area and was only reopened in 2014 after modernization.

It not only hosts a massive collection of objects but tells the story of the offensive with multimedia and also gives an overview of WWII and the experiences of the local people. It is child-friendly, accessible and has a café on site.

On the same site you can also visit the Mardasson Memorial. This monument is built in the shape of a five-pointed star and honors the 77,000 Americans killed or missing or wounded in the Battle Of The Bulge.
Bastogne also has other smaller war museums to visit.

Clervaux

Clervaux is small town in northern Luxembourg that, along with its neighbours, experienced the huge battle.

Set in a deep valley with its 15th-century castle protectively sitting on a rocky outcrop and a Benedictine abbey serenely looking down on it from above, Clervaux now is enjoying peaceful times.

The castle was occupied by the Americans during WWII and took some
serious damage. Now, after renovation, it hosts a small Battle Of The Bulge museum which is jam-packed with memorabilia and the original WWII tank still stands guard over the entrance to the castle.

Also based within the castle walls is the Family Of Man exhibition. The UNESCO photography exhibition toured the world for eight years and features photos from the big names of the time including Luxembourg native Edward Steichen. The museum is beautifully curated and well worth a visit.

Beaufort

Beaufort, a small village set in a valley, is the home to the Beaufort Castles, a wonderful 12th century castle ruin and its Renaissance-styled neighbor.

The original Beaufort castle is a romantic ruin with empty rooms that encourage you to wander and imagine yourself in that time period. The newer castle from the 17th century was lived in until 2012 and a guided tour, that runs twice a day Thursday through Sunday will allow you to fill that Downton Abbey part of your soul!

Vianden

This popular tourist town is overlooked by a fantastic castle once the home of William Of Orange’s ancestors (founder of The Dutch royal family), and was a favorite of French writer Victor Hugo.
The town saw fierce fighting in 1945 between the Luxembourg resistance and the Nazis.

Set in a deep river valley, the castle overlooks the town and the Our river meanders slowly beneath its benevolent gaze, inviting you to sit in one of the cafes and contemplate the whimsies of life after you have wandered the old streets.

Nearby is a chairlift, which, in the summer months, will give you a birds eye view of the town and the castle. Vianden castle, now renovated, is a popular place to visit and, if you are prepared for the steep hike up to the castle you will be rewarded with plenty of history.

Vianden is also a good base for hiking and biking.

Esch Sur Sûre

This pretty little town on the Sauer River is worth a visit, especially if you love hiking. Its ruined castle gives you a good reason to hike up the hillside to see the beauty of the town’s location, set in the curve of the river.

Luxembourg is a dream spot for hikers, cyclists and motorcyclists. The small roads are quiet and curl around the base of the river valleys and up the steep wooded sides, bringing you out onto the plateau that stretches unblemished as far as the eye can see.

For the hikers among us, the 112-kilometer Mullerthal Trail passes through an area known as Little Switzerland. The trail has three routes and passes through unforgettable scenery.

It is based around the Echternach area.

Luxembourg pretends to be a small country. But within its borders it has a plethora of castles, pastoral valleys, rolling farmland and enough modern and ancient history to keep any history buff happy.

JACKIE HARDING

About the author:

Jackie Harding was born in the United Kingdom. As a longtime expat, she’s lived in Boston for 12 years, and in the Netherlands for the past eight years.

Trained as a nurse in the U.K., she worked for nine years in the United States for as a special education teacher’s assistant. Since moving to the Netherlands, she has discovered writing and photography.

Writing for Dispatches since 2016, Jackie has written about her travels around Europe as well as about expat life and issues.

She also covered Women’s March Amsterdam.

She’s married to British businessman Martin Harding and is the mother of two international adult children.

You can read more of Jackie’s work for Dispatches here.

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