The Appreciation Process
Looking down on Place Guillaume from my third floor hotel room, I admired the spiderweb of blue and white lights that decorated the Christmas market. A third rate singer belted out unintentionally bad renditions of tunes made famous by Sinatra and Crosby. Bigger sisters helped guide little sisters around the small makeshift ice skating rink. A long line of people were waiting for various grilled meats at one of the Christmas stands, while other people huddled around small enclosed wood fires with their Bofferding Christmas beers and glühwein. I cracked the window open further to relieve the stuffiness of the hot hotel room and felt the -2C air which brought with it the mouth-watering scent of the wurst and burgers. In the distance over on the Place de la Constitution, I could see the top of a glittering ferris wheel slowly spinning romantic couples and families into the Luxembourg sky.
Anyone who is afflicted with wanderlust knows the anxious feeling of arriving at a destination where the party has already started and only the formalities of the hotel check-in stand in the way. With the administrative burdens behind me, I took a moment at my hotel window to soak in the atmosphere and start the appreciation process which I had previously written about. Luxembourg City is a place that seems to draw me back almost every year, this being my 4th visit since 2011 and first at Christmas time. It can never be understated how fortunate I feel to be able to visit someplace multiple times that many people dream to do once in a lifetime.
The other thing that struck me as I stood there was the Luxembourg people themselves. Below me were people of all ages celebrating the holidays, people coming from a country whose population (half a million) is more or less the same as the city of Antwerpen. Who do these people identify with? What do they learn in history class? What moments do the Luxembourgers look back on to establish who they are and where they come from? Reading a history of Luxembourg will leave one’s head spinning as Luxembourg rose from a County to a Duchy to a Grand Duchy beginning around the late 10th century. Luxembourg was like a revolving door for all of Europe’s competing empires and its fortress was essentually expat housing, continuously changing tenants, but at the same time being improved by each successive occupant. When things re-organized after Napoleon’s conquests, Luxembourg became united with Belgium and the Netherlands, but Belgium, who suffers terribly from stubborn independence, broke free in 1830 and took half of Luxembourg’s lands with it. Luxembourg remained united with the Netherlands until 1890 when the King of the Netherlands died without a male heir. Due to particular condition in a treaty, Luxembourg could leave the union in that circumstance. They did and since then, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg has stood by itself.
So after 1100 years of being a toehold for almost every major European empire and still remaining as a separate and free country, here I was looking down on the people of Luxembourg celebrating Christmas in the shadow of that legacy. Really something to appreciate.
A Place to Explore
Luxembourg City is a difficult city to capture into words. It is not just a collection of buildings, streets, and landmarks. It is a geographical and geological puzzle. Even with a map it can be difficult to figure out where you are. The east side of the city center resembles one side of a puzzle piece thanks to the snaking Alzette river (which can confuse you if you try to use it as geographical marker) while the southern side has the dramatic gorge carved out by the Pétrusse river. There are so many levels to the city that there is actually an elevator to quickly get you from bottom to top. The city’s fortress qualities are still on prominent display. Walking along the bottom of the gorge feels a little bit like being a hobbit walking into Minas Tirith. It is a place to explore and admire all of the evocative reminders of its fortress past. Make sure not to miss the Saint Quirin Chapel (1355), a small chapel built into the rock over top of a natural spring which was thought to have healing qualities. Today, it is only used by special arrangement for religious tourists on a pilgrimage.
Top Things To Do In Luxembourg City
In my opinion there are really four must-do things in Luxembourg City (which you could literally do in the following order):
- Climb the steps down from the city near the Place de la Constitution and walk along the Pétrusse river gorge (or if preferred, jog).
- The Pétrusse connects to the Alzette and leads to the best neighborhood for the ‘old city’ feel in Luxembourg, the Barrio Grund.
- From the Barrio Grund, head up to the Casemates and explore the old fortifications. Great photos of Barrio Grund are captured here. Even after four visits to Luxembourg, this is still the only site for which I’ve purchased a ticket.
- Back in the city center, stop for a piece of cake at The Chocolate House, a charming and very busy cafe filled with luscious cakes and other sweets. Pick out your piece of cake at the counter and receive a number. Return to your table and wait for what will surely be a highlight of your visit. The hot chocolate sticks are a personal favorite to buy as small gifts. In good weather sit outside and watch the palace guard.
Christmas in Luxembourg
When it comes to Christmas, Luxembourgers have embraced the tradition of their German neighbors. The main Christmas market is dramatically situated on the Place de la Constitution. Riding the ferris wheel gives spectacular views of the city at night.
In Luxembourg, the beers Bofferding, Battin, and Diekirch are the dominant triumvirate. Diekirch is the oldest and brewed at the Brasserie du Luxembourg in the town of Diekirch which is a 40km drive north of Luxembourg City. Diekirch also has a beer museum dedicated to the history of the Diekirch brewery.
Both Bofferding and Battin are brewed at Brasserie Nationale. The brewery is about 20km southwest of Luxembourg City in the town of Bascharage and visits can be arranged for Groups of 10 or more.
This 11th century fortification once used by William of Orange just prior to his leading a Dutch revolt against the Spanish empire in 1566 and once used by anti-Nazi Luxembourger rebels to defend against Waffen-SS in World War II is essentially a required day trip from Luxembourg City. Instructions to get there from Luxembourg City can be found here.
Plan to Come Back
Even after four visits to Luxembourg City, the area beckons me back with its “Little Switzerland” landscape and unique history. For American World War II buffs, there are two sites which remain on my bucket list, the General George Patton Memorial Museum in Ettelbruck and the Luxembourg American Cemetery where Patton is buried. This is why itsabrewtifulworld in Europe. The possibilities are endless to enjoy the brews of Europe in a landscape filled with beauty and history.