Home About MMM Caravan Recent Cuttings Favourites

Little and lovely

LINGER IN LUXEMBOURG!


It’s often passed through en route to other countries, but a tour of this small duchy makes a big impression

WORDS: Helen Werin

PHOTOGRAPHY: Robin Weaver


I knew Luxembourg was small, but it wasn’t until I looked at the map of Benelux that I realised just how little it is. Up against the Netherlands and Belgium, pretty modest-sized countries themselves, it looked positively tiny.

Nowhere in Luxembourg is more than one hour away at most, one of the locals told me. This was something I was going to dispute throughout our travels around the Grand Duchy. Many of the roads are so full of bends and wind through such scenic country that you just have to slow down to look or get out to explore. Thus even short distances seem to take forever.

When a friend suggested that Luxembourg was “about the size of your average English county”, I admit to wondering if there was going to be enough to keep myself and my family occupied for two whole weeks. Would I get the cabin fever to which I am so notoriously predisposed?

Then I checked out an image gallery of Luxembourg. There was picture after picture of castles – and I love castles! These weren’t just any old ruins either, but spectacular fortresses, with fairytale-like turrets emerging from dense woods. The tourist information also enthused about the 5000k (3106.9 miles) of hiking trails; it described the Mullerthal region as Luxembourg’s ‘Little Switzerland’ and displayed inviting scenes of picturesque villages, striking buildings and deep, mossy valleys. I was hooked!

We travelled to Luxembourg via P&O’s Hull-Zeebrugge crossing, driving about 300k (186 miles) through Belgium. As soon as we crossed the western border, the roads became very noticeably smoother and the entire landscape looked, well, neat. The lack of roadside enterprises and traffic was remarkable, even if it felt a bit unfamiliar. However, on arrival at our first camp site, Camping Fuussekaul, in the natural park of the Upper-Sûre, it quickly became apparent that most of the young Dutch families here in high season never ventured off the site. It could have happened to us, too, if we had not been firm in dragging Sophie, our teenage daughter, away from all the activities.

We’d bought money-saving Luxembourg Cards at reception which gave us free entry to more than 60 museums and tourist attractions – and castles. We reached a compromise; an hour of swimming and trampolining (Sophie) would be followed by walks and/or drives through the lush landscape, a spot of culture or history and a swim in a lake. This became the relaxed pattern of our days, most of which also featured a castle (of course!)

I have to confess to disappointment at twelfth century Clervaux, our first castle, but it was my own fault. We’d wanted to see the Family of Man photographic exhibition, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It being a Monday, the exhibition was closed. Our consolation was room after room of models of old Luxembourg palaces and castles and a visit to the fascinating little museum next door dedicated to the Battle of the Bulge, stuffed with weapons, uniforms and even food rations.

Clervaux is set in a deep, narrow valley with the Benedictine abbey of St Maurice high above the town. We were drawn to the parish church (1910) by the unusual pyramidal diamond-shaped roofs of its twin spires which give them a strikingly odd perspective.

Bourscheid Castle is one of those castles straight out of a children’s story book, standing in the most beautiful location on a rocky outcrop 150m (492.13ft) above the river. It was fun to explore with the great French writer, Victor Hugo, who visited here in 1865, as our ‘host’ for an audio tour and easy to agree with his descriptions of the views as “glorious”.


It was more wonderful views from castle ruins which confronted us at Esche-sur-Sûre. This quaint village, right around which the river bends, was to become something of a favourite spot. Steps led up to different parts of what is left of its castle. Motorhomes are not allowed in the main car park, but we found on-street parking by the river. Some days we took narrow paths high in to the dense woods to a point above a bend in the river, one of the most photographed scenes in all of Luxembourg.

Looking out over the village towards the castle, this was the perfect postcard cliché. Other days we splashed in the river at Esch. An unexpected shower found us sheltering in the old cloth factory that is now the House of the Natural Park of the Upper-Sûre, with displays showing the development of cloth-making.

Further up the Sûre valley at Lultzhausen and Insenborn are several ‘beaches’ around the 10k-long (six miles) Lac de la Haute-Sûre. These ‘beaches’ are sloping grassy areas with a narrow gravel strip edging the water and, as we discovered, a sudden drop-off. It was blissful to glide through the water’s comfortable temperature surrounded by a thick border of pines and with the far-off sounds of children’s laughter drifting through the still air.

One of the staff at Fussekaul told me that walking in the woods on the other side of the lake was her favourite pastime. We took her advice, crossing the pontoon bridge at Lultzhausen and exploring different routes each time, including the Wurzel trail. Solar-powered boats could have dropped us further up the lake for us to hike back, but we liked losing ourselves (literally, several times over) in the coolness and tranquillity of the pines

One of Sophie’s favourite trails was the 6.5k (4.03 miles) Music Trail at Hoscheid. With names like ‘whispers of the wind’ and ‘song of the leaves’, the promise of  various musical instruments on which she could make as much noise as she wanted lured her deeper in to a heavily-wooded valley. Not-so-tuneful pipes dangled from branches here; a bell-like instrument hung from high up in a tree there. This turned out to be harder than it looked to ring and we had many hilarious attempts to make a strike. It was enough to hook Sophie in to walking down to a stream, before looping back to the village.


Our Luxembourg Cards gave us free public transport too, so we took a 15 minute bus ride to Ettelbruck from outside Camping Fussekaul and got off at the rail station for the 45 minute ride to the capital.

Our first impressions? Very interesting, especially as we caught glimpses of splendid fortifications and grand buildings from the train windows. The capital is set on the Bock promontory, a rocky outcrop surrounded by the deep gorge of the Alzette valley. From the bus station, we crossed the Adolphe Bridge and followed a panoramic path around the promontory towards the Corniche, described as ‘the most beautiful balcony in Europe’. It was so easy to get around on foot, passing the neoclassical Town Hall until we reached the Palace of the Grand Dukes, with its stunning Flemish-Renaissance façade, in the middle of the Old Town. The staff at Fussekaul also told us that we absolutely must visit The Chocolate House, opposite the palace. As we sat there enjoying enormous slices of gateaux we could well imagine the duke popping out of his front door for a mug of hot chocolate. There are no barriers around this palace!

I was keen to see The Casements (another UNESCO World Heritage site); immense multi-level subterranean defensive passages. It was also very easy to lose ourselves, literally and in our imaginations, in this honeycomb of dark, mysterious galleries, of which 17k (10.5 miles) remain. The first casements were built in 1644 and, during the two world wars, they sheltered as many as 35,000 people. Now and then, at the end of spooky tunnels, we’d reach a viewpoint over the gorge. These views inspired us to return to the station via the Petrusse Valley, walking through peaceful gardens below the ramparts.


We’d seen pictures of Luxembourg’s only chairlift at Vianden in all the posters so drove the 23k (14.3 miles) from our next site, Europacamping Nommerlayen. Our first sighting of the medieval Chateau de Vianden drew a ‘wow’; it’s in such a gorgeous location. Yet, once inside, I was disappointed at the amount of concrete used in its reconstruction. That was until I saw pictures of the pile of rubble it had become after being sold off, piece by piece, in the nineteenth century. Then I appreciated why it had not been faithfully preserved; there really hadn’t been much of it left!

We so enjoyed the chairlift across the river Our and 440m (1443.6ft) up to the viewpoint that we rode up and down several times. We could happily have glided above the trees all day as our Luxembourg Card allowed us to do but we’d parked Roly, our motorhome, by the castle (€2/£1.60 per hour) and our ticket was running out. We later found suitable, free, parking on the Rue de Sanatorium, close to the chairlift. We rushed back to the ‘van along rough paths in the woods above the town thinking; “If only we had more time to walk here”.

En route from Nommern to Larochette, on roads hemmed in by forest, we wandered through more beautiful beech woods dotted with bizarre rock formations. On the map the road looked almost as concertinaed as a ‘jacky jumper’ firework.

The waterfall of the Scheissetumpel is another of Luxembourg’s most photographed visitor hotpots. Being Welsh, I am perhaps used to far more spectacular falls, but the modest Scheissetumpel is pretty and Sophie enjoyed leaping stones across the river. Outside Camping Auf Kengert at Medernach, we squelched through gloopy mud and crunched across bark and gravel on a barefoot.walk. Without doubt, our loveliest walks were those in the woods above Europacamping Nommerlayen. We left Sophie to enjoy the multiple amenities for what we were in no doubt about was the best aspect of this site. Nommerlayern’s owners are very proud of their surroundings and had shown us posters of deep crevices and intriguing pinch-points in the rocks. Within minutes of crossing Nommerlayen’s terraces and entering the trees, the camp site noises waned and we were on part of the 112k long (69.5 miles) Mullerthal Trail. Each time we came up here we saw only a couple of other people. Narrow tracks took us through a deep carpet of leaves, even though it was high summer. We stooped to get under rocks and climbed over others, negotiating mossy steps, before coming to tall cliffs and then the tiny, but dramatic, gorge. I looked up to see a small rock wedged in a gap in the cliff face high above me, which looked rather precarious, so I moved on.

I rather hurriedly moved on from the creepy torture chamber at Beaufort Castle, too. It did not help that I’d gone down in to the basement on my own to be met by a variety of macabre instruments on which a prisoner would be stretched.

We’d been recommended to visit Luxembourg’s oldest town, Echternach, on the border with Germany. This photogenic – but undeniably touristy – town is one of Europe’s earliest centres of Christianity. Whilst Robin, the photographer, took pictures of the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Willlibrod and the church of St Peter and St Paul, Sophie and I visited the crypts of the abbey museum to see dozens of copies of illuminated manuscripts, though some were original. Sophie could not resist repeatedly cartwheeling across the bridge to the German side, though it became immediately obvious to us that the German side was far shabbier, with potholes and cracked roads which we’d missed on our travels in Luxembourg.


Our last day was spent exploring the Moselle region. We parked Roly for free near the leisure complex in Grevenmacher and walked to The Butterfly Garden, where tiny birds with the brightest and most beautiful plumage also flitted among the foliage. We must have spent a couple of hours vainly trying to get butterflies to land on us. We came to the point where the Moselle meets the Sûre and, at Wasserbillig, switched to the German side of the river. Now the valley sides were dotted with row upon row of vines and sunflowers. Much to Sophie’s amusement we nipped in and out of Luxembourg and Germany, at times entirely losing track of whether we were in one country or the other. Eventually, Sophie remarked; ‘This is just silly. I must have been to Germany about 30 times today!”

There certainly was no chance of me getting cabin fever or of Sophie being bored.

We loved Luxembourg’s romantic landscape; its lakes and rivers and its laid-back charm. We particularly enjoyed some of its circular walks through the nature parks. And we were seriously impressed that it packs in such a vast number of tourist attractions. No one seems to rush about, even in the capital, yet there’s an enviable efficiency about its road links, transport and facilities. And don’t get me going about Luxembourg’s castles; I still have a few left to see!

INFORMATION

* visitluxembourg.com

* The Family of Man exhibition is closed Mondays and Tuesdays (except public holidays).


WE STAYED AT

* Camping Fuussekaul, 4 Fuussekaul, L-9156 Heiderscheid, Luxembourg. +352 26 88 88 1, www.fuussekaul.lu There are many different types of chalets, studios and mobiles homes, plus safari tents, to rent.

* Europacamping Nommerlayen, Rue Nommerlayen, L-7465 Nommern, Luxembourg. +352 87 80 78, www.nommerlayen-ec.lu Mobile homes and chalets for rent. As with Fuussekaul, this site also has an entertainment/activities programme during the main holiday season.

TOP TIPS

* Buy Luxembourg Cards for 1, 2 or 3 days for free access to more than 60 museums and tourist attractions, free travel on the national public network and discounts on other activities. visitluxembourg.com/en/luxembourg-card

* Camping Fuussekaul also offers ‘camper stop’ pitches with full use of all the site facilities.

Luxembourg City

More photos