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Luxembourg: the Moselle valley and 'little Switzerland'

Luxembourg: the Moselle valley and 'little Switzerland'

Éric Boucher - 2009-12-10

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.

Conveniently located in the centre of Europe, Luxembourg is easily accessible by road from Brussels, Paris and Amsterdam. Even driving from London is a mere 6 hour drive, quicker than driving to Edinburgh! 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...
 
Luxembourg, quintessentially European
 
The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg lies at the heart of Western Europe both historically and culturally as well as its geographical position. Its architecture and town planning show that Luxembourg is an attractive melting-pot of Belgian, German and French influences.
 
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.
 
The Moselle valley from Schengen to Wasserbilig
 
Approximately 28 miles, taking 2 to 4 hours depending on the stops you make. An ideal route during the grape-picking season in September.
 
The N10 is an easy road to follow and there is practically no reason to leave it as it runs alongside the Moselle river to Wasserbilig, crossing the wine-growing villages nestling at the bottom of the valley. The river flows peacefully between Luxembourg and Germany forming part of the border between the two countries, joins the Rhine and ends up in the North Sea. The scenery is full of tranquillity and prosperity, with gently sloping hills planted with vines on very high stakes (up to 8 ft).
 
Start from Schengen. Although this village is within a wine-making area, it is better known for the famous agreements abolishing border controls between the European Union countries. Anecdotally, these agreements were signed on a boat midstream in the Moselle where Germany, Luxembourg and France meet. A monument on the riverbank commemorates the event.
 
Then cross through a series of  'chocolate-box cover' villages: Remerschen, Schwebsange, Bech-Kleinmacher, Wellenstein and Remich. In September, the must-see event is the Wine Festival in Schwebsange, when a precious 'nectar' flows from the charming Enfants-aux-Raisins fountain in front of the church.
 
Also worthy of stops are: Bech-Kleinmacher for its old wine growers' houses transformed into a folklore and wine-making museum; Wellenstein for its typical narrow streets and collective wine cellars which are the largest in the Luxembourg Moselle area; and Remich for its sparkling wine.
 
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.
 
Luxembourg's 'Little Switzerland'
 
Approximately 22 miles, lasting half a day although it is worth spending a full day on this tour, taking time for enjoyable walks in the woods and among the rocks. If you're short on time, choose this tour to do in preference to any other. Steep winding roads, set deep into rock walls, a treat for those who enjoy driving.
 
Start at Echternach, taking 45 minutes to visit the capital of the Little Switzerland and one of the most beautiful towns in Luxembourg. Surrounded by wooded hills, this spot in the lower Sûre valley on the border with Germany is idyllic. 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.
 
When it was conquered by revolutionary France in 1795, Luxembourg became known as the 'forests department', a name it earned on account of its natural resource. Among the chaotic scenery of strange rocks and narrow gorges, beeches, hornbeams, pines, birches and oaks rise up towards the sunlight. 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).
 
After Berdof, as you head towards the Mullerthal valley, you'll see the Priedigstull, an enormous mass of sandstone that appears to be on the verge of tipping over onto the road. Behind the rock, venture into the depths of the Werschrumschluff, an vast crevice.
 
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.
 
 

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