Part of our small states series of stories
The Benelux. This term refers to the cluster of three countries in the northwestern corner of continental Europe. You probably already know about Belgium and the Netherlands. How about the last part, the “lux” section? Is it luxe as the word suggests?
Well, Yes and No.
Depends on whether you are in the money or not we suppose. For Luxembourg is not only one of the world’s highest per capita GDP nation, it also has a very high standard AND cost of living. So luxe can be found here but definitely with a price.
Because of its location, the country lies in the way of our journeys to the eastern side of France. You see, it is almost a straight line to drive south from Amsterdam through Belgium and then Luxembourg to get to Lorraine. And it from there that we make a feint to the southeast towards Alsace. So Luxembourg was really a stopover for us on the way.
Another capital of Europe?
But the few times we drove through we did stop by some spots in the country, least of all the capital with the same name as the country. We’ve never been so confused. There is an EU parliament. And they meet in Brussels and also in Strasbourg. But then there was also one in Luxembourg. Which we now clarified to be other EU institutions. Can you imagine the traveling circus of folks just to get to a meeting? Perhaps they might want to consider video conferencing… might help them save some money and mother earth too since they tell everyone else to do so.
Anyway, there is NO capital of the EU, but Luxembourg city counts as one place where a lot of its institutions are located. And not a bad location too. For the city is beautiful indeed. We parked near Allee Scheffer (Glacis) which as free on Sundays and it was a reasonable walking distances to the sights of the city. Now that was a long time back and you best check for yourself if free parking even exist in the city.
Built in the late 10th century, the fortress from which the city developed is definitely a place to stop at. The Casemates are the remains of the fortress that ringed the city. Take a stroll along its walls because one can see the low-lying suburbs of the city. And the small canal with the bridges looked so pretty on a bright and sunny day. If you have a lack of time and there was only place to go, then this would be it.
The old city center is quite small and easy to cover on foot and on a Sunday it was rather busy. There was a long line in front of the Ducal palace, so we skipped. Ok perhaps we can return at a future date. There are lots of shops and restaurants of course, so choices on how to splurge are wide. They cater after all to the bureaucrats of the EU… However as we noted early in this essay, it is an expensive city (country) to live in because even the cost of McDonalds is higher!
There is a country outside of the city too
So off we went driving through the country, to enjoy views of the rolling hills of woods and yellow flower fields. These yellow flowers could have been rapeseeds or Narcissus…we were not sure. But they sure looked beautiful!
And we were hunting… for castles that was.
First stop was at the grand chateau of Ansembourg. And what a disappointment. Because it is not open to the public at all… and from all sides the luscious foliage made sure that nobody was getting any views except for the pointed roofs. Sigh, distraught as we were this was part of the ‘game’ or hunt.
A short drive away though we spied a little sign. Schoenfels it said. Not on our list and for good reason. Because this too was not open to the public. But we were determined. So we drove a little up the road since there were no barriers. And it was. There the sweet little castle was waiting for us to salivate over it. Said to have been built in the 1290s, the castle’s defense walls were destroyed by the French in 1690. It changed hands many times and eventually ended being sold to the State. When we were there we did not see any signs of restoration though literature on the web suggest that was the plan. But we succeeded. One in the bag!
Hollenfels was the next target for us and also just a short drive away. There are 7 of these castles in the central part of Luxembourg and this is one that is open to the public. And specifically the country has designated its use for activities catering to the younger folks. And that’s the boon for us because it made easy our quest to add another castle to our collection. Like its peers, the castle was fought over and changed hands several times over the centuries. Eventually falling into disrepair and being acquired by the state.
So you see. Owning real estate is not an easy business. Think about the taxes and maintenance. Thus inheriting a crumbling castle can therefore be a poison gift too. Such was the fate of these and many of the 130 castles that dot this tiny country of barely 2500 km². Wow. But it is because of this concentration of castles, that makes for a very exciting destination to us. One which if we can return would certainly be a place to spend more than just 2 days. Almost like trying to catch butterflies.
Today the family that gave its name to the country has already gone extinct. In fact for almost 600 years! But the country continues to exist in part due to its location but also the dexterity of how it has maneuvered its way amongst larger powers. Like the other small European states that we have written about, this one’s another survivor. It’s tough for a small fish to live in a pond with many other large fishes that can easily swallow you up!
Drove through a couple of times, finally stayed for two days in April 2004