Fine wine? Until I received an invitation from the Grand Duchy to come on a wine themed weekend trip, I must admit that I had no idea that Luxembourg even grew wine. And much to my relief, or at least that’s what the Luxembourgers told me, very little of the rest of Europe knows it either. Without knowing much about one of Europe’s smallest countries other than that they are famed for being a financial center and home to the European Investment Bank, off I went to discover this gem that combines fine wine and fabulous food into a perfect weekend break destination.
If I didn’t think Luxembourg grew wine, I certainly didn’t think the country had an airport. Of Europe’s 10 smallest countries, only three have an airport. Even with my connection in Germany I had landed, gotten the bus the short ride in to the Old Town and checked in to my hotel all in time for lunch.
Landing in Luxembourg you fly low over the Old Town and my glimpse already wasn’t at all what I expected. For a city that is home to the European Investment Bank and Skype’s Global Headquarters, I was expecting a mini Manhattan in Europe. What I saw instead were fairy tale spires dotting a village set atop a promontory and a gorge running right through the middle of it. Was this real life?
There’s no better place to begin a tour of Luxembourg City than standing on what is said to be one of the most beautiful balconies in all of Europe. Here I could take it all in while Sandy, our lovely new friend from the Visit Luxembourg tourist office, explained how the city came to be what we were gazing upon today.
Originally Luxembourg City was just a small castle built on a nearly inaccessible rock in the 10th century. As Luxembourg changed hands from the House of Burgundy, the Habsburgs and the French and Spanish kings, each expanded and reinforced the fortifications making it one of the largest fortresses of modern Europe in the 17th century. It became known as the Gibraltar of the North.
It was under the Prussians that the fortifications were dismantled, but many gates, bastions, casemates and forts remain. Between the important history Luxembourg has bared witness to over the centuries and the significant remains of the original fortifications, the Old Town and Fortifications earned a place on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
We followed the zig-zagging streets down in to the valley below. It’s surprisingly longer of a walk than you’d expect looking down from above. The fortifications were built so high that the street has to descend over a couple of kilometers. But once down in the valley with weeping willows drooping lazily over the riverbank of the and charming houses curving along with the river, you have to agree that the trek down is worth it.
It’s also down in the valley where we find the neighborhood of Clausen. It’s calm and quiet in the afternoon, but Sandy tells us that this the place to be come nighttime. Luxembourgers will drink and dance the night away before pouring themselves in to bed at dawn.
We wound up way through the Grund and thankfully modern Luxembourg has installed elevators into the fortifications. We’re whisked effortlessly back up to the top.
Back up in Haute Ville, the Luxembourg City’s heritage buildings and grand squares all lie within a few minutes’ walk of one another. The Grand Ducal Palace is the city residence of the Grand Duke and, like Buckingham Palace, it’s only open for guided tours from mid-July to the beginning of September. Even without getting a peek inside, I can appreciate the beautiful Flemish Renaissance facade.
The Place Guillaume II, a short walk from the Grand Ducal Palace, is host to Luxembourg’s Wednesday and Saturday markets. I love visiting markets and along with all the vendors selling fresh produce and flowers, I find spices, cheeses from France, lavender from Provence and much more.
If museums are your thing, you can find seven of them all within one mile and the Luxembourg Card allows you free entry to each. I’m not much of a museum goer, but the Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean (MUDAM) was designed by I. M. Pei and I’m personally a fan of the Louvre Pyramid. The MUDAM is worth a visit alone for its lovely sunlight-flooded cafe and I found the modern exhibits interesting enough.
An International Foodie Scene
The thing that bores me most about living in Italy is the lack of any other cuisine. My taste buds need variety and the Luxembourgers agree. “Why would we want to go out to eat traditional Luxembourgish food?”, Sandy answers me when I note the variety of cuisines available in the city.
There are so many options we could never even put a dent in them in just a weekend break, but Sandy ensures we try some of the best. It’s no surprise then that we paid a visit to Oberweis, a family-run business known for their chocolates and pastries. Oberweis proudly displays a crown-topped coat of arms at their entrance; the symbol means they supply the Grand Duchy’s court.
The ground floor has glass counters filled with tarts, macarons and other drool worthy pastries. Forget lunch, I think, as we pass by on the way to the stairs leading to the first floor restaurant. But the moules frites sound too good to pass up. I was sure to save room and the key lime tart I’d eyed up on my way in was the perfect sweet finish to the meal.
Another spot not to be missed is the Chocolate House. They are famous for their Hotchocspoon, which is a wooden spoon with a chunk of chocolate on it. It’s served with a hot mug of milk and you stir your Hotchocspoon until it melts and makes hot chocolate. They sell about 20 or so different flavors, though I highly recommend the lavender. The Hotchocspoons are available for purchase in their small shop and make a great gift or souvenir to bring home.
You also can’t pass up dinner at Restaurant Chiggeri, who has received the Wine Spectator Best Award of Excellence for the largest wine menu in the world, when you’re on a wine themed weekend in Luxembourg. The eclectic restaurant has several rooms on two floors, each decorated differently. It’s a bit dark at nighttime in the restaurant, which made photographing my meal nearly impossible. You’re just going to have to take my word for it that dinner here is a delicious affair and each course can be paired with wines from Luxembourg at the sommelier’s suggestions. Or browse the telephone-book sized wine menu with wines from all across the globe.
While Luxembourg City is a great introduction to Luxembourg’s beauty and fascinating history, the Moselle is unexpected in an entirely different way especially since it’s just a 20 minute drive from Luxembourg City. It’s here that more than 50 different small producers are located along a 25 mile route that you could easily bike along in just a day.
The tiny wine growing region is part of the much larger Moselle Valley, most of which lies in neighboring Germany, and has been a near constant producer since Roman times. From the very “end” of the country, you could actually try wines from Luxembourg, Germany and France.
We started our visit to Luxembourg’s wine region with a visit to the Wine Museum in Ehnen. The small museum is in a historic wine house from the 18th century and you can see a variety of equipment used for viticulture over the centuries. I always think it’s fascinating how now a whole lot has changed in the wine making process and any museum visit that ends with a wine tasting is a winner in my book.
Luxembourg does produce both red and white wines, but white is best. You might also be as surprised as I was to learn about Crémant, a style of sparkling wine that is produced in the traditional method used to make Champagne.
I nearly turned my nose up to even trying Crémant. I was quick to assume it would just be another sparkling wine inferior to Champagne and give me a headache like Italian Prosecco does. But we popped in to Domaines Vinsmoselle, a cooperative where wine growers who do not produce under their own label can sell their grapes, and tried both Crémant de Luxembourg Brut and Crémant de Luxembourg Pinot-Noir Brut. It was actually my first experience with a sparkling red wine and I loved it. Not at all surprising since I’m much more of a red wine drinker than white.
At around €8 – €10 per bottle, Crémant de Luxembourg is a high quality wine accessible to everyone. Like Champagne, the grapes are all picked by hand and only the highest quality grapes are used. Any grape varietal grown in Luxembourg can be used to make Crémant, but there are limits on the volume of juice that can be pressed from grapes harvested for the purpose of making Crémant.
A complete contrast to the large cooperative, we also visited the small producer Pundel. It was a shame that the skies had opened up and were pouring big, fat rain drops on us just as we arrived because the modern architecture of this winery combined with its setting up the steep hill from the Moselle River in Wormeldange-Haut are a stunning combination.
Pundel hosts a calendar of events throughout the summer and we were lucky to ensure their end of season barbecue. On the terrace a cook was grilling up a variety of Luxembourgish sausages, skewered meat, baked potatoes and shrimp on the barbie. A buffet of various salads and sauces accompanied it all. And of course, you could enjoy it all with Pundel’s wines. Perfect with barbecue and really probably the last acceptable time to drink it until next summer, I chose Pundel’s Rosé de Luxembourg.
Our day discovering the wines of Luxembourg quite literally ended with a bang. The rain had stopped just in time for us to have a glass or two more, watch the parade of the Grape Queen and get a spot along the Moselle River for the 66th Grape and Wine Festival’s fireworks in Grevenmacher.
Know Before You Go
- Hôtel le Place d’Armes is Luxembourg City’s most stylish and luxurious hotel located right in the heart of the city.
- A quieter option is Hôtel Le Châtelet and Wine Bar in a residential neighborhood walking distance from the city center.
- Mondorf-les-Bains offers modern luxury and a world class spa in the heart of wine country.
My trip to Luxembourg was provided by Visit Luxembourg in order to bring you this story. However, Luxe Adventure Traveler maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. As always, all thoughts, opinions, and enthusiasm for travel are entirely our own.
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