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It's easy to overlook the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg when planning a tour of Europe, dwarfed as it is by its neighbours France, Germany, and Belgium. In the global imagination, Luxembourg features as a country known for important banking institutions and European Union bureaucrats.
However, this little country is located at the crossroads of several major European highways, and if you have reason to travel through it, don't hesitate to stop awhile and probe behind the glass office blocks and official buildings to find a land of fascinating medieval fortresses, rolling woodlands, sun-drenched castles, and quaint villages.
The entire country is only 51 miles (85km) long and 32 miles (52km) wide, but there is a lot in this small package. The Ardennes region is hilly, densely forested and dotted with medieval castles, best known for being the site of the World War II Battle of the Bulge.
The Mullerthal area is great for hiking, with a landscape of curious sandstone rock formations, waterfalls and forest. The Moselle wine-growing region is picturesque and famed for its white wines while Luxembourg City has grown up around an ancient fortified citadel in a setting that's unique and strangely beautiful.
The Grand Duchy also has a booming fine-dining scene, including a number of prestigious Michelin-starred restaurants. Luxembourg's long history is concerned mainly with warding off and withstanding invasion, occupation and siege, which is perhaps why its people seem a little more conservative than their neighbours.
This is no more evident in the national motto that reads: 'We want to remain what we are'. For travellers, the advantage of this stoic traditionalism is the country's dedication to preserving history and culture, and the many traditional parades and festivals to attend.
The mighty fortress established by Count Siegfried atop the Rock of Bock in 963 eventually became a citadel with three girdles of battlements, the inner one fortified with bastions, and the other two containing a total of 24 forts along their length.
As the centuries passed, the stone cliff foundations underneath the castle were excavated to form a network of 14 miles (23km) of underground tunnels, called casemates, where thousands of soldiers could shelter and workshops for artillery and arms, kitchens, bakeries and slaughter-houses could be housed.
In 1867, the Treaty of London declared that it be demolished after centuries of sieges and battles. Despite this, several sections of the fortress still remain, and the subterranean casements are open for viewing. Visitors can also enjoy a sound and light tour on the history of the castle.
The best way to view the remaining parts of the fortifications is on foot, strolling through the cobbled streets of the old town. Visitors can get a map from the tourist office (on the Place d'Armes). Although the casements officially open in March, they sometimes open later in the year without any warning. Visitors should check whether they are open before visiting.
The city residence of the Grand Ducal family is right in the heart of the old town, and is surprisingly unpretentious, recognisable more by the fact that there are sentry boxes and determined looking guards outside, than for any other feature.
The building is, however, quite aesthetically pleasing with its Italian Renaissance facade. Built of ochre yellow stones, it overlooks a paved pedestrian square and features spires and railings. It was originally the site of a medieval town hall that was destroyed by a gunpowder explosion in 1554, and rebuilt 20 years later.
Those with an eye for architecture will be able to tell that the palace was built over various periods. Much of the structure dates back to the 16th century, although an annex to the building, constructed in 1859, is now the seat of the Chamber of Deputies.
Guided tours are usually available in the peak summer months, by arrangement with the Luxembourg City Tourist Office. But for the majority of the year, visitors can't explore the castle and it's simply an interesting landmark to pass by and photograph.
The National Museum for History and Art was recently substantially refurbished and contains some major archaeological finds from Luxembourg which include artefacts from the Gallo-Roman period and the Middle Ages, displayed in underground galleries.
The collection covers the history of Luxembourg since the first evidence of human habitation, and it is vast, covering a wide array of topics. Exhibitions of fine arts, modern art, medieval artefacts, coins, medals and arms are all on display.
The collection also includes exhibits on local culture and folklore, and interesting photographs demonstrating how the city has changed through the decades. The museum regularly hosts workshops and temporary exhibitions covering a wide range of topics.
There is a cafe at the museum for refreshments and during summer it has a sunny terrace for guests to enjoy. There is also a small gift shop for mementoes and souvenirs.
Nestling behind the barrier of the Ardennes Mountains, Luxembourg City is protected from the cold North Sea winds and enjoys temperate maritime climate. Summers are mild and pleasant, and winters cool to cold.
The warmest months of the year are between May and September, but even at the height of summer Luxembourg City is seldom hot, with temperatures averaging 74°F (24°C). Visitors in the summer should anticipate a noticeable drop in temperature at night.
In winter (November to February) temperatures average 32°F (0°C), with more extreme winter weather in the northern reaches of the country, which also receive more rain. Spring (March to May) is a beautiful season in Luxembourg City as the mountains and valleys come alive with wild flowers.
The best time of year to visit Luxembourg City is in the spring and summer, between May and September, when the weather is pleasant and outdoor activities are plentiful and popular. Tourists generally avoid winter, which can be dismal, but the country does have some lovely Christmas markets over December.
The currency in Luxembourg is the Euro (EUR), which is divided into 100 cents. Foreign currency can be exchanged at all Luxembourg banks and bureaux de change, as well as the airport and post office. Major hotels will also exchange currency, though rates are high. Major credit cards are widely accepted.
The official language in Luxembourg is Luxembourgish, a conglomerate German/French dialect. French and German are commonly used, and English is widely spoken.
230 volts, 50Hz. European-style two-pin plugs are used.
US nationals: US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond the period of intended stay in Luxembourg. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
UK nationals: British passports endorsed 'British Citizen', 'British Subject' (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom), and 'British Overseas Territories Citizen' issued by Gibraltar, only need to be valid for period of intended stay in Luxembourg. All other endorsements require at least three months validity beyond the period of intended stay in Luxembourg.
UK nationals: A visa is not required for passports endorsed 'British Citizen', 'British Subject' (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom), and 'British Overseas Territories Citizen' issued by Gibraltar. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days in a 180 day period for holders of passports with any other endorsement.
UK nationals: Holders of identity cards issued by Gibraltar authories, and endorsed 'Validated for EU travel purposes under the authority of the United Kingdom', do not require a visa to visit Luxembourg.
CA nationals: Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond the period of intended stay in Luxembourg. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
AU nationals: Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond the period of intended stay in Luxembourg. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
ZA nationals: South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond the period of intended stay in Luxembourg. A visa is required.
IR nationals: Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Luxembourg. No visa is required.
NZ nationals: New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond the period of intended stay in Luxembourg. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
The borderless region known as the Schengen Area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option, and which allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of all the aforementioned countries. Additionally, passengers not having visible means of support, and those who are suspected of being a danger to public security, tranquillity or order may be refused entry to Luxembourg. Moreover, it is advised that non-EEA passengers hold return or onward tickets, and the necessary travel documentation for their next destination, as refusal of entry upon arrival can lead to serious difficulties and costs for passengers and transporting airlines.
NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
No vaccination certificates are required for entry to Luxembourg, and there are no health risks associated with travel to the country. Medical facilities are of a high standard in cities but may be limited outside of urban areas.
British citizens should carry a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) in order to qualify for free emergency medical treatment. Travellers should have medical insurance when going to Luxembourg.
If you require certain medications during your trip, it's best to bring them with you in their original packaging with a signed and dated letter from your doctor detailing what the medication is and why you need it.
Hotel and restaurant bills generally include a service charge in Luxembourg. Porters and doormen in upmarket hotels appreciate small tips and taxi drivers expect a tip of around 10 percent.
Travel to and around Luxembourg is very safe and the country has low crime rates. Visitors should take normal precautions against pick-pockets and petty theft, but trips are likely to be trouble free.
Luxembourg is a proud and stable country, with a culture surprisingly closed off to foreign influences and marked by formal, even ceremonial, social interactions. European visitors will find Luxembourg's social milieu to be very similar to that of France or Germany, although perhaps slightly more conservative.
Be sure not to put your feet up on tables or chairs, or to point your finger when referring to someone, as this is rude. Body language is quite muted in Luxembourg, and it's considered impolite to inquire about someone's private affairs unless you know them well.
French is the language of business in Luxembourg, though some German and English is also used. Translators are readily available but some effort at speaking French will be appreciated. Business exchanges are quite formal, beginning with a handshake and an exchange of business cards.
Punctuality is essential and dress is formal, with a suit and tie the norm. Surnames and titles are usually used. Luxembourgers are polite and cautious, and it's important to build personal relationships. Business hours are usually 8.30am to 5.30pm Monday to Friday, often closing for an hour at lunch.
The country code for Luxembourg is +352. Free wifi is widely available at hotels, cafes and restaurants in tourist areas.
Travellers over 17 years arriving from non-EU countries do not have to pay duty on 200 cigarettes, or 100 cigarillos, or 50 cigars, or 250g tobacco, or a proportional mix of these; 1 litre spirits with alcohol content higher than 22%, 2 litres of spirits with alcohol content below 22%, 4 litres of wine, 16 litres of beer, or a proportional mix of these.
Other goods allowed include gift items and souvenirs to the value of €430 per adult travelling by sea or air, €300 per adult travelling overland, and €150 for children below 15 years. Providing goods are bought for personal use, there are no restrictions on carrying tobacco and alcohol between the 15 original countries of the EU (including the UK).
Luxembourg Tourism Website: www.ont.lu
Luxembourg Embassy, Washington DC, United States (also responsible for Canada): +1 202 265 4171.
Luxembourg Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7235 6963.
Netherlands Embassy (responsible for representing Luxembourg), Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6220 9400.
Honorary Consulate of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, Johannesburg, South Africa: +27 (0)11 463 1744.
Honourary Consulate of Luxembourg, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 286 7285.
United States Embassy, Luxembourg: +352 460 123.
British Embassy, Luxembourg: +352 229 864.
Canadian Embassy, Brussels (also responsible for Luxembourg): +32 (0)2 741 0611.
Australian Embassy, Brussels (also responsible for Luxembourg): +32 (0)2 286 0500.
South African Embassy, Brussels (also responsible for Luxembourg): +32 (0)2 285 4492/64/53.
Irish Embassy, Luxembourg: +352 450 6101.
New Zealand Embassy, Brussels, Belgium (also responsible for Luxembourg): +32 (0)2 512 1040.
Luxembourg is a tiny country, and it's possible to get essentially anywhere in less than an hour. Bus services are excellent within Luxembourg City, and most routes pass through the central bus station, making it easy to get to most places. A standard ticket is €2, while a day pass is €4. The buses also travel out to villages like Junglinster, Mersch, Trier, and Wasserbillig.
Bus tickets are valid on the train network, which is relatively comprehensive throughout the country and connects to destinations in Germany and Belgium. Renting a car in Luxembourg is also an option as local drivers are polite and the road system is well-developed. Parking can be difficult to find on weekends in Luxembourg City.
Luxembourg-Ville, or Luxembourg City as it is often called, has a UNESCO-listed Old Town and a fairytale, medieval charm which draws visitors. The main attractions in Luxembourg include the remains of the Bock Fortress, particularly the subterranean casements, the Grand Ducal Palace, the Philharmonie Luxembourg, which offers a wonderful selection of concerts and performances, the National Museum for History and Art, and the Passerelle or Luxembourg Viaduct, a bridge built in 1861 which affords incredible views of the city. The smallness of the country is an advantage for travellers because almost all places of interest to sightseers are within reach from the capital, allowing for a variety of fun excursions. It takes no more than a quick drive or train trip to reach any number of picturesque ancient villages nestled among Luxembourg's lovely countryside. Some of the most popular daytrip destinations are Clervaux, Echternach, Mondorf-Les-Bains, Vianden, Remich and Grevenmacher. Another well-known attraction near the city is the American Cemetery and Memorial which commemorates the soldiers killed during World War II and is a moving site.
The best time to visit the city, and indeed the rest of the country, is in the sunny, comparatively warm months between May and August (spring and summer), as Luxembourg-Ville can get a bit bleak and cold during winter.
In a silent forest clearing near the village of Hamm, a few miles east of Luxembourg City, lie the graves of more than 5,000 American soldiers killed during World War II, when the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg became a battleground in the Allies' last bid for victory on the Western Front.
One of the graves is that of the legendary commander, General George Patton, who died in a traffic accident just after the war. There is a striking central monument to the dead, and some maps detailing the Allied progress through Europe. There are also lists of those who went missing during the war and never found.
The cemetery has become a place of pilgrimage and homage, maintained immaculately by members of the American Battle Monuments' Commission. The lines of white crosses are a sobering and moving sight and the cemetery will be of interest to patriotic Americans and anybody with an appreciation for military history.
Unlike many cemeteries the world over, the Luxembourg American Cemetery closes each day at 5pm. Not far away, at the village of Sandwieler, is a German war cemetery with some 10,000 graves. While the American Cemetery glorifies the sacrifice of its soldiers, the German equivalent gives more of a sense of the horror and futility of war.
The picturesque village of Vianden, situated on the banks of the Our River and guarded by a magnificent restored medieval castle, makes a pleasant day trip as it is conveniently only 25 miles (40km) north of the city of Luxembourg.
The castle dates back to the 9th century and was originally the home of the counts of Vianden, powerful nobles until the 13th century. The ruined castle was restored in the 1980s and now houses a museum that recaptures life in the Middle Ages and recounts the area's troubled history.
In the small town below, visitors can sip tangy Moselle wines beside the stream while enjoying the views of the green hills. The village has been delighting tourists for more than a century, and strolling around the narrow cobbled streets beneath towers and medieval ramparts feels like stepping back through time.
The surroundings of the town are magnificent and there are many pretty walking trails to be explored using Vianden as a base. Indian Forest also offers fun and thrilling high rope and zip-line courses for the whole family, which allow visitors to traverse the forest canopies. There is plenty of quality accommodation and some lovely restaurants to enjoy in town.
A 12th-century castle overlooks the village of Clervaux, located in the heart of the Ardennes Mountain region 30 miles (50km) north of Luxembourg City. A Romanesque church with twin spires and a large Benedictine monastery completes this idyllic setting.
The castle houses three small museums, including one that features a collection of World War II memorabilia from the Battle of the Bulge. Another room is dedicated to the Luxembourg Holocaust victims, its walls lined with mementoes of Luxembourgers who died in concentration camps. The castle often closes without notice so it is best to confirm before making the trip.
Behind the castle a road leads uphill to the St Maurice Abbey, built in 1910, where the Benedictine monks sometimes hold Gregorian chant concerts. There is a church service every morning at 10.30am at the abbey.
The town is picturesque and has numerous appealing restaurants and cafes, as well as good hotels. It also has a charming little shopping district. Clervaux is easily accessible by train and is a popular excursion from the capital. Two days will be more than enough to explore the little town and its attractions.
The beautiful town of Echternach lies on the border between Germany and Luxembourg on the banks of the Sûre River, and is widely acknowledged as the oldest town in the country. It boasts a famed abbey, founded in the 7th-century by St Willibrord, whose remains are contained in a magnificent white marble sarcophagus in the crypt of the Basilica.
There are also three museums in the town, one dedicated to the history of the abbey, another showcasing ancient artefacts, and a third detailing rural architecture. Echternach also boasts the remains of an ancient Roman villa, thought to have been the largest of its kind north of the Alps.
Apart from these attractions, Echternach is perhaps best known for its unique annual event: a centuries' old traditional dancing procession takes place each Whit Tuesday, attracting thousands of pilgrims and spectators.
Although the charms of the town itself are undeniable, Echternach also attracts visitors because of its stunning natural surroundings. The town is a base for hikers and nature lovers wishing to explore the area known as the Mullerthal.
The Mullerthal is a fascinating landscape of curious sandstone rock formations, waterfalls, creeks, springs and forests. Also known as 'Little Switzerland', this region is criss-crossed with hiking trails and dotted with picturesque villages.
The Moselle Valley is a region in eastern Luxembourg, promoted as a wine-growing region since the 19th century. It has developed into an important tourist industry thanks to its rural idyllic atmosphere and environment.
The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg shares with Germany the wide, navigable Moselle River, tributary of the Rhine. Along the riverbanks are vineyards that produce a wine which connoisseurs rate as among the best in Europe.
A wine tour through the quiet villages and wine cellars of the region proves a scenic and relaxing experience. The principal town of Luxembourg's Moselle wine growing region, Grevenmacher, has links to the German bank of the river by a bridge.
Grevenmacher is an old town with narrow streets, the remains of medieval fortifications, and a 13th-century belfry. The town's claim to fame is the wine cellars of Caves Bernard-Massard, housing internationally-acclaimed sparkling wines.
The cellars are open daily for tastings from April to October. There is a small museum in the town, and an exotic butterfly garden. Grevenmacher is also an embarkation point for regular scenic river cruises on the Moselle, which call at other quaint villages in the region.
In the Moselle region in the southeast of Luxembourg, nestling in the hills, lies the spa town of Mondorf-les-Bains. Thousands come on holiday every year to enjoy the verdant surroundings and thermal springs of one of the most modern balneotherapy centres in Europe.
The town is actually very old, established by the Celts and conquered by the Romans in about 65 BC. The settlement has frequently been attacked and destroyed in its long history, but has nonetheless endured.
The Mondorf-les-Bains holiday resort consists of a thermal park set in 50 hectares of parkland, offering a variety of sports facilities and a balneotherapy pavilion with saunas, swimming pools, waterfalls, whirlpools and geysers. The hot springs are said to be particularly good for the treatment of liver, gastric and respiratory ailments, with visitors also pampered by massages and mud baths.
There is a casino in the town and historical and architectural attractions include some interesting frescoed churches, a Roman fortress and some Art Nouveau-style houses to visit while on holiday. The spa town has plenty of luxury accommodation, great shopping opportunities and some excellent restaurants.
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