It took us a while to work out the layout of Luxembourg City, or simply en ville to visiting Luxembourgers. The dramatic rocky plateau and steep-sided gorges that this fortress city was built around over several centuries, make any normal town planning impossible. On the upside, and there is one to all the walking up and down you end up doing, is that the winding paths and roads constantly provide beautiful views.
So befuddling is the city design to the unsuspecting outsider, that it takes a while to realise how small it is. The old town, packed with medieval reminders of its great history, is filled with narrow streets and small squares that take time to explore and make it seem larger. It can be exhausting walking up and down all the time, but the old town is full of cafes and restaurants with outdoor seating to rest and do a bit of people watching.
We descended from Fort Thüngen, where we were staying on the hillside across from the old town, to the River Alzette. Deep in the gorge carved by the river, an entirely different perspective on the city towering above emerges. We had a pleasant stroll along the river past a number of historic sites, including the Hospice de Pfaffenthal, a 17th century monastery.
Climbing steeply out of the gorge brought us to the Chemin de la Corniche, known as ‘Europe’s most beautiful balcony’. It’s hard to disagree with that claim. The views from this pathway running across the top of the former 17th century fortifications, offer sublime panoramas over the lower part of the city, known as the Grund, to the green, wooded countryside beyond. The views are spectacular.
We descended once more (did I mention the constant up and down steep slopes?) to the sleepy riverbank of the Alzette and set off through the historic Grund district. The area is home to the former Neumünster Abbey, now a cultural centre, and the Église Saint-Jean-du-Grund. It may not look much at first, but this quiet church dates to 1308 and houses a monumental gilded high altar.
The Grund isn’t large and we soon found ourselves crossing the old sone Stierchenis bridge and climbing back up to the Pont du château. The Grund is also an alternative and more lively nightlife spot than the old town. We would find ourselves descending (again) to go for drinks and dinner by the river. Luckily, by that time we had found the elevator that cuts through the solid rock of the cliffs above.
We arrived back in the old town in time for lunch and were lucky enough to snag a table with views over the valley below, all the way to Fort Thüngen and our hotel. We spent much of the afternoon slowly meandering around the centre, visiting Place Guillaume II, the main city square, the lovely Cathédrale Notre-Dame, and the Palace of the Grand Dukes.
In between all the historic buildings are numerous high-end shops catering to some of Europe’s wealthiest citizens, and the pedestrianized streets were awash with shoppers. Every now and then, we’d find ourselves emerging from the warren of streets to the edge of the old town and views over the surrounding area. What’s remarkable is just how green it is. The old town seems to be ringed by woodland parks.
The area where we were staying, the Kirchberg plateau, is also green, but that is where comparisons with the old town end. This is the business district, and where the European Parliament and various other EU bodies have their offices alongside glass office blocks, and close to the Luxembourg Philharmonic and the Museum of Modern Art. It feels like a different town altogether.
We had a nightcap in the nearby Place de l’Europe, while drinking in the views of the old town illuminated at night. In the morning, we were off to explore a small corner of the Luxembourg countryside.