April 2005: Luxembourg

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Sometimes,” says Jean Claude Conter of the Luxemburg tourist office, “we over-emphasise just how small we are.”

Jean Claude Conter of the Luxemburg tourist board with the original charter of the Grand Duchy in Luxemburg's National museum.

Jean Claude Conter of the Luxemburg tourist board with the original charter of the Grand Duchy in Luxemburg’s National museum.

He has a point. Small is the first thing we think of when we hear the name Luxemburg, apart, that is from, the repressed recall of Eurovision juries in the 1970s.

But its size is magnified by its role in modern life, such as its current presidency of the EU.

And its picturesque post-card landscape for a post-card sized country, enhanced when visited in the snow that accompanies the cold snap northern Europe is currently undergoing, has been ignored in the rush to the citybreak circuit.

 

Luxembourg in the snow March 2005

Luxembourg in the snow March 2005

First the city. It has a population of 80,000, similar to Derry or Limerick, and a fairytale aura.

Its collection of rounded towers with pointy Rapunzel hats clinging precariously to the side of a ravine gives the impression of a nervy existence on the very edge of cataclysm. Rather appropriate, you find when you learn about its history.

Crois and customer

Crois and customer

And the country, for despite the fact that the border is twenty minutes in each direction there is a distinctive Luxemburg landscape outside of its city, with rolling rural hills in the north, Hansel and Gretel forests and lush meadows that recline toward the river valley, steel-and-mine-hat south.

Somehow as low fare airlines opened up Europe’s citybreaks Luxemburg never got its message across. It was paying too much attention to the bankers and not enough to the tourists.

Now Simon Cook, the Luxair area manager for Ireland and UK, wants to change that. The Eu140 return fares to the city are as good as anything form the low cost operators. The spa product at Mondorf-les-Bains, were you can swim in a steaming outdoor swimming pool while the snow falls on your head, is  winging its way into the brochures.

Villeroy & Boch pottery

Villeroy & Boch pottery

Stef Rathe, commercial director of the spa complex at Domaine Thermal de Mondorf, says that the business emphasis of the city makes it an ideal stop for cheap weekenders.

The produce of the Mossel vineyards, which never makes it further than Belgium, is best sampled on one of the growing number of vineyard tours. And the twelve Michelin star restaurants, one at every corner, are crying out for tourists who prefer to sample their poulard elsewhere. Yes, they have their own distinctive language, and defend it with determination.

Enter the new Luxemburg. Less banking and more massage.

 

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Vineyards in snowy Luxembourg, March 2005

For four centuries armies marched through here. Here were the eggs they sued to make Europe’s omelettes, Georges Hamen, the manager of the porcelain factory at Villeroy & Boch says, his stock having been smashed a few times since its foundation in 1748.

Prussians and French, Austrians and Spanish, and after independence had been achieved once more at Versailles in 1815, the killing machines of two world wars and the Nazis who conscripted the youth of the Grand-Duchy and sent their young men to the eastern front.

One third of them never returned. Only Poland lost a greater proportion of her young men between 1939 and 1945.

In the 1950s it was Luxemburg who gave the gentle push that founded the coal and steel unions that was to create the gigantic 450m population European Union of today.

 

Town hall with flags

Town hall with flags

Wine-grower Yves Sunnen at Caves Sunnen-Hoffmann in Remerschen pops the corks for visitors, offering a variety of Riesling, Pinot Noir and sparkling Cremant. Luxemburg is proud of its unfairly undervalued wines (for read better value to the weekender who wants to bring some home), especially the 2003 vintage, a legacy of the hottest summer on record.

The family owned vineyards line the rolling valleys of the south. A bad frost wiped out the grape crop in 1709 and it can still go below minus 16 in winter, so the fruit is as sturdy as the populace.

Wine growers know that the truth is in the tasting.

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