My husband and I are masters of slow travel. After all, that is how our relationship started – three weeks of leisure travel in Palawan, one of the most beautiful islands in the Philippines. We do research a bit beforehand but we don’t really mind getting side-tracked. It only adds up to the fun.
Since moving back to the Netherlands, we have been going on a weekend trips on his birthday. We did Paris in 2010, a castle-weekend in Aye, Belgium in 2011 and last year stayed in another castle in Luxembourg. The last two years had been easier now that we have a car and we can just drive wherever we feel like.
For this trip, we stayed at Chateau d’ Urspelt, a modernized castle in the middle of the Urspelt valley, surrounded with nothing but rolling hills, few houses and pig farms.The drive from Rotterdam took us at least three hours but we were blessed with a beautiful 22-degree weather, just in the beginning of spring, making the journey relaxing.
In the early months of 2012, the prices of gasoline in Western Europe have gone up dramatically so we thought that we might save some euros if we refuel in Luxembourg. Half an hour before reaching our destination, the gas light turned red and there wasn’t any gasoline station in sight. We were worried that we would get stuck in the middle of the road with no fuel and no food.
Luckily we made it to the border in time and the funniest thing was, there were at least ten refilling stations within a 10-kilometer radius of the border. The price of gasoline was at least €0.20 cheaper than in the Netherlands so surely those living in the borders of Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany drive all the way here to save on gas.
After checking in at the hotel, drinking our cremant and changing rooms, we set off immediately to explore the Old City and take advantage of the gorgeous spring weather. It was almost unbelievable that it could be that hot in early spring. I was even able to wear a knitted dress without stockings.
Exploring Luxembourg city centre
The city centre of Luxembourg is small and compact, making it ideal for leisure walks, even on stilettos. We parked in one of those underground parking places near the city garden and walked to the centre, crossing the Adolphe Bridge. This 100-year old arch bridge is unique to Luxembourg city, designed by two Pauls, the Frenchman Paul Séjourné and the Luxembourger Paul Rodange and a symbol of the country’s independence. The Adolphe Bridge looks down at Grund quarter, a valley with beautiful colors during autumn and spring and with a small river running in the middle of it. From here you can also see the skyline of Luxembourg, old houses, new building and the towers of Luxembourg castle, all doting the horizon and sparkling pretty in the evening.
We continued walking to Petrusse Park where the Adolphe Bridge can be seen with all it’s splendor. The park itself was well manicured, no stray bush or grass can be spotted from the viewing deck. This park is a magnet for photo ops and lovers enjoying lazy afternoons outside.
Place d’ Armas and Place Guillaume II
Place d’ Armas is the main city square which was brimming with locals that sunny afternoon. We had our coffee in one of the outdoors cafes and watch people for a while, got bored and decided to poke around the shops which are aplenty in this area. We scoured through the cheese stores, delicatessen and clothes shops, all lining the main streets of the city centre, for something to bring home to colleagues and families. There were a lot to buy but we were not in a shopping mode so we left with only a pack of cheese and walk more around the town.
Luxembourg will give Paris and Milan a run for their money when it comes to fashionable people. Everybody was dressed well, not necessarily in the latest vogue but in elegantly put together pieces appropriate for the weather. The Dutch can learn a lot from Luxembourger when it comes to dressing nice.
Like I said, we don’t have a plan nor a map, we just let our eyes and instincts find pretty little nooks for us. We wandered through the main shopping malls and as usual I had to stop at the bag stores, especially La Tanneur, the same store in Nantes France where I met a bag named Viktor. I did not find anything special so we continued strolling, saw funny and grand statues like that of Guillaume II and a little square with the first of the spring flowers blooming in their full beauty.
After a while we got bored again. Somehow after seeing so many old European cities and living in one for almost four years now, they don’t charm me anymore. Maybe if I have a lot of money to shop in those high end stores housed in century-old buildings, I would have stayed a little longer but we all know they too expensive.
So we drove out of the city and headed for Schengen, a small village in the southeast of the country where the borders of Luxembourg, Germany and France meet. This is also where the Schengen Agreement was signed, an economic treaty between five countries (including Belgium and France) which was meant to abolish border control in trading.
But there’s really not much to do in Schengen, it’s just really small wine- village where there is even not enough place to park your car. It’s historical significance wasn’t enough to make us stick around or even get out of the car so after circling the rotunda for at least three times and receiving three notification for three countries from our mobile providers, we drove on.
Chateau de Malbrouck
After cruising for a about 30 minutes, my husband slowed down to this small village then ascended up the hills where a fortress can be seen from a distance. Turns out this castle is Chateau de Malbrouck, an old castle restored to become a museum. Several exhibitions are held here every year in addition to the castle’s own archive. Unfortunately it was close when we visited so we can only peek inside, roam around the castle grounds and take our favorite photos – mirror shots. With our stomach grumbling, we headed down and had some snacks in one of the road side cafes where a group of biker were enjoying the sunny day outside with huge glasses of German beers.
By sun down we decided to go back to the hotel and freshen up before my husband’s birthday dinner. On the way, we soak up on the golden view of Luxembourg’s rolling hills, the tress still brown from the previous winter, the grasses starting to get greener and the sun casting it’s orange rays on the countryside.
Dinner at Chateau d’Urspelt’s restaurant was lovely, albeit expensive, party because of that bottle of 2007 Haut Medoc wine and the champagnes. The waiters were very attentive and we were even treated to a serenade by their resident violinist.
After frolicking in the bubble bad and sauna of Chateau d’Urspelt and partaking a champagne breakfast, we checked out immediately so we can still drive around before heading back to the Netherlands. My husband wanted to show me Vianden, the only place that was planned.
Vianden is another charming town located in the north-east of the country and famous for it’s massive castle named after the town. Before going to the village, we saw that the Our river provides a mystic foreground to the castle. It was the first time my husband was using his new Canon 5D so I dragged him down the river banks so he can take as much photos as we want. It was not an easy descend, the rocks are loose and crumbled down under our feet and there were small, sharp branches that left little cuts on my legs. While my husband took photos, I laid on the rocks and sun bath a little.
There was nobody in sight, the river was flowing silently and from we were sitting, mist was still clouding part of the castle. You would think that such a romantic sight would inspire amorous escapade from lovers like us but it was just so peaceful that at one point, we were just sitting on a rock holding hands and staring at the river. I wish we can stay there forever, it would have been lovely to have a house on that bank. I can imagine how the residents of the Vianden Castle must have felt whenever they look down below their ivory towers. Unfortunately we have to leave so we climbed up, on all fours, and drove to town.
Museum of Victor Hugo
We strolled around the town following Grand Rue, up and down the hill and along the river banks until after crossing the bridge we stumble upon the house-museum of Victor Hugo. I was thrilled at this happy coincidence. I am huge fan of Victor Hugo though I must say that I am more familiar with his poems than with his novels. Forgive my inadequacy but I have never even read Les Miserables nor The Humpback of Notre Dame but I have memorized one of his poems by heart - More Strong Than Time.
The Victor Hugo Museum is small and has three floors, each not more than 50 square meters. Most of the rooms have a picturesque view of the Our river and the Vianden Castle. I can only imagine that this would have been the perfect little cottage for writers, a small, quiet town with a breath-taking view can inspire so many stories. Unfortunately, he was here on exile and did not really write so much except for some letters and a lot of drawings. I was hoping to see the French version of More Strong Than Time but no luck.
There is a free audio tour every Sunday, one in the morning and another at 2:45 in the afternoon. We couldn’t wait for that anymore because it’s still a long drive back home so we left to look for a place to eat.
Since it was a sunny day, we decided to eat al fresco, in the terrace of restaurant Auberge De L’Our smacked right at the river bank. We had a fantastic view of the Our and an equally satisfying meal – a 550 grams of Ardennes’ t-bone steak paired with glasses of Bordeaux for me and mixed meat grill for my husband.
A little tipsy, I at least, we left Vianden just before sundown and head back home. And that castle visit, the main reason why we went there? We drove past it but not before taking photos. We have already seen too many castles during our travels and it would not make much difference if we miss one. Although it makes a damn good background for a photo-op.