Luxembourg

Luxembourg: view from the Old Town looking south

I visited Luxembourg for a short break and would highly recommend it as a destination.

Luxembourg is the world’s only Grand Duchy. It is a tiny little state bordered by Belgium, Germany and France. The inhabitants speak Luxembourgish (yes, that is a real language), French and German and there are several temporary and permanent immigrants contributing other languages and cultures to the place – a real melting-pot.

I began my weekend with an early flight from London City airport. By the time I arrived and caught the bus into the centre of town it was getting on for eleven – which still left me with practically a full day ahead of me.

Despite being March, it was colder than in Britain (although the temperature did improve over the next couple of days), and there was snow on the ground, though it didn’t actually snow while I was there.

I picked up a Luxembourg Card from the tourist information office. This card is amazing and I recommend it to anyone who visits. For 27 Euros (for three days; one-day and two-day cards are cheaper) you get unlimited travel on public transport, plus free admission to most of the museums in the country, and discounts on the rest. I used mine constantly and, with the exception of the 2 Euros I paid to take the bus from the airport, didn’t spend another penny on sightseeing or transport throughout my trip.

The first thing I did was visit the Bock Casemates, down towards the eastern edge of the Old Town. These are fortifications built into the rock several hundred years ago which were designed for defence at a time when the castle on the hill was chosen for its suitability in this respect. After a quick stop off for a Panini and a cup of coffee, I headed to the Musée National d’Histoire et d’Art (National Museum of History and Art). This huge museum was well laid-out and fascinating, with five floors below telling the story of Luxembourg from prehistoric times to the present day, and five above, displaying the fine art collection and temporary exhibitions. There was an English guide available for the information boards on the lower floors, which came in handy, and I particularly liked the impressive Roman mosaic on display.

Saturday

On Saturday I visited Vianden, a gorgeous small compact village full of quaint little houses, with a river flowing through the centre and a curved bridge crossing it. Above it all, the castle overlooks the town high on a hill. I decided to visit the castle first, in order to get the climb out of the way. This was a good decision, as it was exhausting, and I don’t know if I’d have been able to manage it later!

Looking over the castle didn’t take ages, as there were few information boards or other things to see, but it was definitely worth it. The castle was apparently sold by its nineteenth-century owner and dismantled, leaving it in a state of disrepair not rectified until the twentieth century when it was rebuilt. It still looks pretty good, considering. The place is just how I would have imagined a fairytale castle to be, with round towers and a stunning hillside location.

Later I popped into the Victor Hugo Museum for a quick look around. The great writer stayed in the town on several occasions, and some of the letters he wrote here are on display. His study has been recreated in the room facing the castle. Unfortunately the displays were all in French so I couldn’t understand them, but it was still exciting just to be in a place connected with the man.

I caught the bus back to the town of Diekirch, which my guidebook said was full of museums. The major attraction was the Museum of Military History, covering the Battle of the Ardennes (better known perhaps as the Battle of the Bulge) of 1944-45. I knew my mam, who is really interested in the war, would have been fascinated by the museum. I had a good look round, but the place went into a lot of depth (it is used by military historians as well as the general public) and I skimmed a lot of it. The personal testimonies and modelled recreations of real-life scenes (taken from photographs) were moving and really brought home what life would have been like during the battle.

I popped into the town’s own museum too, but the boards were in French and German so I couldn’t actually understand anything. However, the museum is next to the church and you can actually get into the crypt via the museum, which I thought was quite exciting. I then visited a bizarre museum, home to a selection of classic cars and a selection of Diekirch beer glasses.

Sunday

On Sunday I walked through the Old Town for the last time, taking in the view, and visited the Musée d’Histoire de la Ville de Luxembourg (Luxembourg History Museum). This has been cleverly built within a number of buildings from different periods of the city’s history, with stone from the old defences forming part of the basement. I loved the video installation exploring the landscape and nature of the city. I could have sat looking at it for hours.

After a couple of floors exploring the city’s past, the museum began to look at different themes relating to Luxembourg, including its role in industry, within Europe and the natural world. Finally, the temporary exhibition was ‘The ABC of Luxembourg’ – exploring the national identity of the Grand Duchy through an irreverent and entertaining alphabet. I thoroughly enjoyed this excellent museum and I’m glad I made the effort to look for it, tucked away on a back street.

Following this, I made my way to the Musée Dräi Eechelen, which tells the story of this fort overlooking the city, with armour, swords and a frightening-looking guillotine all displayed. I popped into the MUDAM (Museum of Modern Art) next door, too, but the exhibitions were in the process of changing over. The building itself was very impressive, though.

I definitely recommend Luxembourg as a different kind of city break. There’s plenty to do and it’s easy to navigate.

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