Size aside, it’s pretty hard to fault Luxembourg. One of the teeniest nations on the European map, this landlocked nation enjoys some of the highest living standards in the world – something which becomes rapidly apparent on arrival. Fly into Luxembourg City and you’ll be greeted by a capital that effortlessly blends the architectural romances of old-world Europe with the latest in urban conveniences. Enter the country by land and you’ll be presented with evergreen meadows, languidly flowing canals and stately cliff-top castles. Then there’s a hearty national cuisine to tuck into, a steaming nightlife to check out and elegant town plazas to wile away the hours in – and all squeezed into a plot of land less than 1,600 square kilometres. It just goes to show, size certainly isn’t everything.
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At a glance
|Capital city:||Luxembourg City|
|Language:||Letzebuergesch, German, French|
|Time zone:||(GMT+01:00) Brussels, Copenhagen, Madrid, Paris|
|Electricity:||Type C (European 2-pin)|
Best time to visit Luxembourg
Luxembourg’s terrain varies considerably from north to south, and the weather accordingly. The northern one-third of the country, which forms part of Ardennes, is known as Oesling and the southern two-thirds Gutland. Summer (May to September) is the best time to visit, when the weather is at its warmest and driest, although rain does still fall across both regions throughout the year. On the whole, Oesling is slightly cooler and wetter than Gutland. Autumn can also be a good time to visit the north, as this is when the leaves turn and the carpet of autumn colours are breathtaking.
History and government
Luxembourg as we now know it began in AD 963 when Siegfried, the Count of Ardennes, obtained sovereignty over a promontory called the Bock and had Lucilinburhuc Castle built. Enticed by the security this impressive fortification appeared to offer, migrants flocked in and a city grew (the ruins of Lucilinburhuc Castle can still be seen in Luxembourg City). Unfortunately the fortifications were also the envy of many a surrounding empire, and the population had to endure centuries of military invasions by jealous foreign armies looking to bolster their own strongholds. Successively occupied by the Bourbons, Habsburgs, Hohenzollerns and French, Luxembourg was finally granted its independence in 1867 in the Treaty of London (at the stipulated cost of having its fortifications demolished). Down a castle and with swathes of the country’s fertile lands having been usurped by Belgium over the years, the country diversified its economy and developed into an attractive haven for squillionaires who subscribe to the belief that paying tax sucks.
As well as regularly ranking as one of the world’s richest and safest countries, Luxembourg is the globe’s only remaining Grand Duchy. What this means on the ground is that executive power over parliament rests with Grand Duke Henri – who looks exactly like what one would imagine a Grand Duke would – and his ministers. Admirably cognisant of the fact they have things pretty good, Luxembourg and its nationals are happy to share their good fortune and host the highest proportion of immigrants in the EU.
Top 5 castles
1. Bock Casemates/Luxembourg Castle
Bock Casemates, in the centre of the capital, is where the country’s obsession with castles all began. Built by Count Siegfried back in AD 963, it inspired the development of Luxembourg City and was deemed so well fortified that it became known as the ‘Gibraltar of the North’. In 1867, as part of the conditions for the country’s independence, the demolition of the fort was ordered – an unfortunate edict that cost 16 years and 1.5 million gold francs. Fortunately some of the casemates and gates couldn’t be blown up without also destroying parts of the city, so there’s still 17 km of real-deal tunnels and staircases to wander through.
2. Beaufort Castle
This castle, which boasts an impressive moat, dates from the 11th century and is particularly interesting for the various renovations and extensions that its succession of owners have made. Passing from the Beauforts to the Orleys to the Velbrucks, the castle had to be sold following destruction incurred during the Thirty Year War (1618–48) and Johann Baron von Beck came out as the successful bidder. Governor of the province of Luxembourg on behalf of the Spanish King, von Beck ordered its revamping in the Renaissance style that was all the rage at the time before expiring from battle injuries. Passing into his son’s hands, the castle fell into disrepair and even served as a quarry for a time until Henri Even and Joseph Linckels, evidently thinking it deserving of greater glory, painstakingly restored it.
Built between the 11th and 14th centuries, Vianden Castle features Gothic, Renaissance and Romanesque style architecture and exists as one of the largest fortified castles west of the Rhine. As is generally the fate of all Luxembourg’s castles at some stage, the castle fell into disrepair from the 17th century, helped none by a buyer’s decision to rip off and sell its tiles, windows, doors and furniture. Restoration began seven years later when the King bought Vianden back, and these days the castle ranks as one of Europe’s most important historical monuments.
Relatively small and modest in comparison to many of Luxembourg’s other castles, Esch-sur-Sûre is cleverly constructed on a neat bend of the River Sûre. The fortress is really only approachable from one direction – which rendered it pretty difficult to attack. A charming little town soon sprung up around it, and strolling along its riverside boulevards by evening with the illuminated ruins in the background makes for a very pleasant experience indeed.
5. Wiltz Castle
Don’t be thinking Luxembourg’s castles are all just about history, rubble, lords and dungeons – because there’s also Wiltz. Sure, the castle’s past may follow the usual tune – built, defended, defeated, deteriorated, restored – but nowadays it plays host to an annual music festival and houses the National Museum of Brewing. So when it comes to sheer coolness, you could probably say that Wiltz is king of the castles.
FAQs on Luxembourg
Beer at a bar = 4 Euro
Meal at an inexpensive restaurant = 18 Euro
Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant = 75 Euro
Apr 21 Easter Monday
May 1 Labour Day
May 29 Ascension Day
Jun 9 Whit Monday
Jun 23 National Day
Aug 15 Assumption
Sep 1 Luxembourg City Kermesse
Nov 1 All Saint’s Day
Dec 25 Christmas Day
Dec 26 St Stephen’s Day
These dates are for 2014. For other years, check: www.worldtravelguide.net/luxembourg/public-holidays
Health and Safety
Intrepid takes the health and safety of its travellers seriously, and takes every measure to ensure that trips are safe, fun and enjoyable for everyone. We recommend that all travellers check with their government or national travel advisory organisation for the latest information before departure:
From New Zealand?
Go to: http://www.voyage.gc.ca/
Go to: http://travel.state.gov/
Go to: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/
The World Health Organisation
also provides useful health information:
Go to: http://www.who.int/en/
Luxembourg Travel Tips
Top responsible travel tips for Luxembourg
1. Be considerate of Luxembourg’s customs, traditions, religion and culture.
2. Luxembourgers are very proud of their country’s unique identity. Do not lump them together with the French, Germans of Belgians or refer to Luxembourgish as a dialect of another language.
3. For environmental reasons, try to avoid buying bottled water. Fill a reusable water bottle or canteen with the tap water.
4. Always dispose of litter thoughtfully, including cigarette butts.
5. Learn some local language and don't be afraid to use it - simple greetings will help break the ice.
6. Please ask and receive permission before taking photos of people, including children.
|How to Remain What You Are||George Muller|
|The Longest Winter: The Battle of the Bulge and the Epic Story of WWII’s Most Decorated Platoon||Alex Kershaw|
|Secrets of the Seven Smallest States of Europe: Andorra, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City||Thomas M Eccardt|