Lovely little Luxembourg

Published: Sunday, February 3, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 1, 2013 at 3:34 p.m.

Often overlooked on European itineraries, the small country of Luxembourg has plenty of natural wonder, fairy-tale castles and cosmopolitan flair.

My trip began in Luxembourg-Ville (Luxembourg City), the capital — a mixture of dynamic contemporary architecture and ancient fortresses and walls. Because of its strategic position between the Kingdom of France and the Holy Roman Empire, this "Gibraltar of the North" occupies a natural fortress amplified by the immense fortifications that were built over the centuries.

Even more incredible were the 16 miles of underground tunnels that sheltered troops, ammunition, workshops, bakeries, and more.

Although only 10 percent of the original battlements remain, they are truly impressive. The Bock Casemates (tunnels) are a World Heritage Site. Other top sights are Notre Dame Cathedral, the National Museum of History and Art, and the Palace of the Grand Dukes.

The modern part of the town crowns steep cliffs that overlook beautiful gardens, forests and the Pétrusse River below. The city has an international ambience, no doubt due to the people from more than 150 countries that call it home.

Most of the city's attractions are within walking distance, and you can really get a workout if you walk down to the valley below the promontories. The Pétrusse Express sightseeing train or the Hop On Hop Off buses are alternative ways to see the city.

The entry to the scenic "Valley of the Seven Castles" is Steinfort (Stengefort in Luxembourgish), 10 miles northwest of Luxembourg City. Next is the Koerich (Käerch) for its ruined medieval castle. Then on to Septfontaines (Simmer), noted for the seven springs (sept fontaines) that give the village its name.

Ansembourg (Aansebuerg) has two castles; then a little way north is Hollenfels (Huelmes), with an 18th century castle constructed around a 13th century keep. The castles at Schoenfels (Schëndels) and Mersch (Miersch) finalize the tour.

The northern region, spilling over from the Belgian Ardennes, features more castles alongside visible scars of World War II and, in particular, the Battle of the Bulge (winter 1944-1945).

Ettelbruck has a General Patton Memorial Museum. The city of Wiltz is split right down the middle with 500 feet separating "uptown" Oberwiltz from "downtown" Niederwiltz.

The nearby Esch-sur-Sûre's medieval castle and Parc Naturel de la Haut-Sûre draw many visitors interested in boating, fishing, hiking and other outdoor activities. Clervaux (Klierf), Vianden (Veianen), and Echternach (Lechternach) are other jewels in the area.

Echternach is the capital of the Mullerthal Region, which is also known as the Little Switzerland of Luxembourg — an area of bizarre sandstone rock formations and pleasant hiking trails among breathtaking panoramas. Well-known Beaufort Castle is in this area.

Wine enthusiasts will treasure the Moselle region, but you don't have to drink wine to enjoy this peaceful part of the country with its gentle sloping hills and the broad Moselle River.

Officially known as the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg the country is trilingual: French, German and Luxembourgish. This uncrowded country, with its marvelous scenery, high standard of living, great shopping, sights and outdoor activities, proves that size isn't everything.

Claudine Dervaes' travel column is published the first Sunday of each month.

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