Things to see and do - Schengen
Leaving for Belgium
Luxembourg: the Moselle valley and 'little Switzerland'
Luxembourg: the Moselle valley and 'little Switzerland'
Want to get the feel of tomorrow's Europe? Want to explore a country that is familiar yet different? Discover Luxembourg, travelling along some of its most beautiful routes.
With its compact dimensions - 51 miles stretching north to south and 36 miles across from east to west - you can tour Luxembourg with ease in 3 to 5 days. Read on for two suggested tours, both ideal if you are visiting for a long weekend...
The duchy's past represents European history in a nutshell. Since the division of the Carolingian Empire in 843, Luxembourg has always been the place where France has clashed with Germany. These woeful facts and its geographical position as a natural stronghold explain the country's tumultuous history: successions, annexations, divisions, dismantling... From the Dukes of Burgundy to the Habsburgs, from Louis XIV to the French Revolution, from the Netherlands to Belgium, virtually all European countries have, at one time or another, wanted to gobble up this small country.
Present day Luxembourg was created by the 1839 Treaty of London at the cost of a harrowing amputation - three-fifths of the country's area (the French speaking part, accounting for half the population) was taken over by Belgium. Lëtzebuergesch, a German dialect, is now the national language, but trilingualism is the norm. Locals communicate in Lëtzebuergesch, French by contrast is used in government sectors and on virtually all road signs while the press, for its part, is 90% in German!
With its high number of Mediterranean labourers, the daily immigration of some 110,000 Belgian, German and French workers and 7,800 officials working in European institutions, Luxembourg stands out as a mini United Nations with its 32% foreign population, rising to 50% in Luxembourg city alone.
Shortly after Stadtbredimus, leave the N10 and turn left towards Greiveldange. The road climbs up among vines, offering splendid views over the meandering Moselle. After Greiveldange, return to the N10 in the valley and head towards Wasserbilig, crossing through Ehnen and its old district, Wormeldange with its large wine cellars, the centre of Luxembourg's Riesling and Grevenmacher wines...
The wine road finishes in Wasserbilig, where the two rivers, the Sûre and the Moselle, meet - the ideal departure point for boat excursions.
The architectural heritage is remarkable and had a narrow escape - the town was almost completely destroyed in September 1944 under the cross-fire of the Americans and Germans during the Ardennes offensive. But fortunately it doesn't show! The small streets in the pedestrianised town centre are lined with beautiful traditional houses, and on the Place du Marché, you'll see the former 15th century law courts with their Gothic arcades and bartizans.
A few strides from there, forming, as it were, a town within the town with its imposing size, is the abbey. This monastery had a great intellectual influence in the Middle Ages, but while precious manuscripts exist from those days (including the famous Codex Aureus kept in Nuremberg), the medieval buildings have completely disappeared, the last ones destroyed in 1724. The buildings seen today are mainly from the 18th century and have a fine classical appearance.
Alongside the monastery, the colossal St-Willibrord Basilica looks like a Romanesque building with four towers. As the ancient towers were destroyed in 1944, it was decided to restore the basilica to its original style, discarding the previous Gothic model and additions. As for Saint Willibrord, he would hardly be remembered today if it wasn't for the dancing procession dedicated to him each Whit Tuesday since the 15th century. As the Saint had the power to cure chorea - better known as Saint Vitus's dance - the inhabitants of Echternach pay homage to him by crossing the town dancing and hopping to polka music. From the end of May to the end of June, the basilica hosts musical events as part of the International Echternach Festival.
On leaving Echternach, head off in the direction of Diekirch and drive alongside the Sûre river. Then turn left towards Berdof. Shortly after the turn you'll cross wooded massifs.
The magnificent scenery becomes almost magical when you reach the Perekop rock which overhangs the road by almost 130 ft. If you dare, take the staircase carved out of a narrow crevice in the rock to its summit: you'll be level with the forest canopy with a fine view over the sea of green and the winding road below.
At the Perekop rock, you can join the hiking path connecting Echternach to Grundhof at the place where it skirts the Aesbach stream. Up to Berdof and beyond, the road is peppered on both sides with oddly shaped rocks with highly suggestive names passed on as a tradition: Hölle (Hell), l'Ile du diable (Devil's Island), Priedigtstull (The Pulpit), etc. As to be expected, this area, ideally situated at the heart of Little Switzerland, is at the crossroads of many hiking paths (41 miles signposted).
The road then descends down into the Mullerthal valley, which you should keep for later after a quick detour to Beaufort (turn right at Vogelsmuhle and then left). This little town is known for its Renaissance château and the highly romantic 12th century castle in ruins, described by Victor Hugo: 'It comes into view at a turn in the road, in a forest, at the bottom of a ravine, like a vision. What a splendid sight.'
Return to Vogesmuhle and turn right. The road then enters the Mullerthal (the Millers' Valley), a paradise with lush meadows crossed by a river interspersed with little waterfalls! On the wooded slopes, you'll see strange masses of sandstone dotted around.
Sadly the dream ends here. Return to Echternach through Consdorf and Scheidgen.