A location between France, Germany and Belgium, and a history of near permanent siege have taught Luxembourg to be adaptable. Both French and German are official languages, and Luxembourg has long been a go-between for its larger neighbors. But the mesh of influences has also enriched the statelet (with castles in Germanic and Latin styles) and given rise to a vibrant food scene (13 Michelin-starred restaurants, Moselle wines). By some measures, the Grand Duchy's citizens are the world's wealthiest, but they would say their real treasures are natural, from the Ardennes forests to the valleys of southern Gutland. Here are five Luxembourg essentials.
1 Luxembourg City
Luxembourg's capital is a two-tier city: the Old Town is perched on a precipitous rocky spur high above the green gorges winding around it. It grew from a 10th century fortress on the promontory, and spread across the valleys, which are today spanned by an extensive bridge system. A signposted two-hour stroll, the Wenzel Walk, takes tourists along the city's historic ramparts, and through cobbled streets that pass churches, towers and palaces. The musts: the bustling Place d'Armes, a square in the heart of the pedestrian zone; the Bock Casemates, an extraordinary warren of tunnels cut through the stone cliffs; and the Chemin de la Corniche, a promenade overlooking the valley, and described as Europe's most beautiful balcony.
Luxembourg is a cycling wonderland. The country is laced with 640 km of well-marked, long-distance cycle paths, crisscrossing a rich assortment of terrain, from the red-earthed Minette region to the rolling hills of Müllerthal. Bikes are also carried free on trains. This cycle-friendly environment partly explains Luxembourg's overrepresentation in the sport's pantheon this nation of under half a million has produced four Tour de France winners.
3 Vianden Castle
While Luxembourg's strategic position at the crossroads of Europe made it a regular bypass for marauding medieval armies, it also engendered a defensive instinct that is visible today in its proud castles. Dozens still stand, sprouting from nearly every available rocky outcrop, and the grandest is Vianden. Framed by forests and perched on a commanding hill some 60 m above a river, Vianden's spires and ramparts conjure up fairy-tale fantasia. Built between the 11th and 14th centuries on the foundations of a Roman castellum, it has been impeccably restored. A cable car takes visitors up the hill to the castle gate.
4 The Hopping Procession of Echternach
A curious treat awaits visitors to this town near the Luxembourg-Germany border on the Christian festival known as Whit Tuesday (this year on June 14). It's the hopping procession of Echternach, in which thousands hop, skip and dance their way through the streets while waving white handkerchiefs. The event honors English monk Willibrord, Luxembourg's patron saint, who founded Echternach Abbey in 698. Last year, UNESCO added the parade to its list of intangible cultural treasures.
Some go for the casino, the only one in Luxembourg, but most visitors to Mondorf-les-Bains are there for the waters. Thanks to the Domaine Thermal, this spa town near the Moselle vineyards has become a byword in relaxation. A range of massages and treatments from algae wraps and lava-stone therapy to lymphatic drainage and ayurvedic rituals will rejuvenate you after long days of sightseeing.
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