Travel: Rich history of nation the size of Lancashire
Grand Duchy of Luxembourg may be a little country but it has a lot to offer visitors as Mike Hill discovered
To be at Manchester Airport as dawn breaks over the runways on a Friday morning is to be cast among a sea of stag and hen parties.Bunny ears, burgers for breakfast and boozy banter as Europe’s capital cities and the beach bars of the Med await.But there is at least one handy destination on our doorstep where the party crowd has yet to pitch up and makes for a fascinating getaway for those seeking somewhere away from the maddening crowds.Luxembourg is something of a hidden gem nestled between the borders of Belgium, France and Germany.Slightly smaller than Lancashire – and with less than half the population – the Grand Duchy has remained hidden in plain sight from those looking for a continental break.Rich in history it offers fortifications, chateaux and old town streets for those keen to step back through the centuries and go exploring with the fairytale Vianden Castle the pick of the bunch.Built on a rocky promontory it towers over the pretty little ‘city’ of Vianden (pop. 2,000) and is best accessed from an Alpine chairlift offering breathtaking views along the River Our and across to neighbouring Germany.The Gothic castle dates back to the 10th century and has been rebuilt several times and even survived the Battle of the Bulge during the Second World War intact, perhaps endorsing its impregnable location.Indeed across the ages the people of Luxembourg proved adept at creating mighty fortifications as they faced the threat of invaders from different quarters.Among the most popular of the capital’s attractions the Bock Casemates were considered a model for European military architecture for hundreds of years.Dubbed the ‘Gibraltar of the North’ the mysterious tunnels of the bastion have witnessed the comings and goings of life Luxembourg from their vantage point high up in the sheer city walls.The defence system extended over several storeys and comprised galleries carved into the city’s sandstone bedrock. Peeping through the cannon holes, it is easy to image the roar of warfare echoing around the chambers as enemy hoards were repelled.Its compact nature of means Luxembourg offers more than just history for tourists with a wonderful countryside easily accessible from the capital.The most popular area enjoys the nickname ‘Little Switzerland’ but for visitors from Lancashire ‘Little Ribble Valley’ might seem more fitting with hiking trails through woodland and alongside riverbank reminiscent of our own jewel in the crown. At the small eastern village of Mullerthal ill-prepared hikers can even borrow good quality walking gear to head off into the hills.Boots, waterproofs, jackets, rucksacks, GPS equipment and even walking sticks, free of charge for up to five days. And no catch.A refreshing change after leaving Manchester Airport where the owners now want paying for the privilege of borrowing a trolley. Welcome to rip-off Britain.There are well signposted and carefully planned out trails throughout the Mullerthal region and it is easy to imagine stopping off for an unplanned taste of the countryside and taking advantage of the offer of specialist equipment laid on by the Touristcenter at Heringer Millen.With bus services covering the different regions, it is easy to plan a break taking advantage of the sights, nature and culture the country has to offer across different days.Our last port of call was the northern town of Clervaux in the canton which shares its name.The city was the site of heavy fighting during the Second World War and there are various monuments to the American forces who helped liberate the area.Among then is a tank which stands outside the Battle of the Ardennes museum and the world famous The Family of Man exhibition which are both housed in the picture postcard Clervaux Castle.The exhibition is the final resting place of Edward Steichen’s beautifully curated display of 500 images put together in the 1950s as an expression of humanity in the post war years.During a worldwide tour which followed it was seen by millions of people and added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in recognition of its global impact.The black and white images were sourced from thousands of pictures put forward by hundreds of photographers from around the world documenting human life. And it is brilliant.Wending back to Luxembourg City, the historic town squares offer a great place to unwind and indulge in a spot of people watching over a drink and a bite to eat.Just don’t expect any stag or hen parties to provide the entertainment.
* Mike Hill stayed at the Sofitel Luxembourg Le Grand Ducal.www.sofitel.com and the Golf & Country Hotel, Clervaux www.excellence-hotels.com
* Flybe offers direct flights from Manchester to Luxembourg six days per week.www.visitluxembourg.com