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The castle
The castle
Little Luxembourg
Hotel Oranienburg

Luxembourg

Thursday, March 25, 2004
David has stumbled across a fairytale town which so happens to be the smallest town in Europe.

Luxembourg is the world’s only Grand Duchy. Grand Duke Henri is Europe’s youngest monarch. His father actively participated in the D-Day landings and his grandfather was a British Brigadier. The Luxembourg army trains at Sandhurst in Britain and the duke is entitled to ride immediately behind Queen Elizabeth II during the Trooping of the Colours.

The country, which is tucked between Germany, France and Belgium, is just 84km long and 52km wide, with a population of around 445,000. It has a higher number of residents with foreign passports than any other EU country. It is proud of being known as the green heart of Europe — more than one quarter of the capital is covered with greenery, streets are lined with towering trees and grassy verges and the deep Petrusse Valley through the heart of the town forms a peaceful retreat.

Luxembourg is clearly defined as two regions. Oesling in the north forms part of the Ardennes and Rhine Slate mountain ranges. It was the site of one of World War II's bloodiest confrontations, the Battle of the Bulge. The region is thickly forested, dotted with medieval castles and has great scenic beauty. Its boundaries are not fast and firm, but spread from Belgium's south-east into Luxembourg and the Eifel region of Germany.

The Gutland in the centre and south is mostly rolling farmland and woods. In the east is Moselle, the wine-producing valley, and in the extreme south-west is a narrow strip of red earth which forms an iron-ore basin.

In the north-east is the Müllerthal region, called Little Switzerland. Sand-rock formations litter the many woods. It is popular for easy rock-climbing or walking along hundreds of well-marked hiking paths, criss-crossing in all directions.

Luxembourg's written history begins in 963, when Siegfried, Count of the Ardennes and founder of the Luxembourg dynasty, built a castle on the site of Luxembourg's capital city, Luxembourg.

This developed into a formidable fortress known as the Gibraltar of the North and at its most impenetrable was girded by three ring walls studded with 24 forts. These were necessary when the tiny country was being besieged by the Burgundians, French, Spanish, Dutch, Austrians and Prussians.

In 1644, the Spaniards carved out the first of a series of tunnels, known as casemates, beneath the fort. With 23km of subterranean passages at their disposal, entire armies could be encamped safely beneath the ground, making Luxembourg a favourite of imperial overlords. They have since been used as bakeries, slaughterhouses, garrisons for soldiers and bomb shelters for 35,000 locals during the two world wars.

The tall stone walls were divided into the Pétrusse and the Bock and can be followed around the entire city.

Despite its neutrality, Luxembourg was twice occupied by German troops during WWI and WWII. In 1948, it surrendered its neutrality to join various economic, political and military organisations of Europe.

It plays a major role as a prominent international financial centre. Banks and investment trusts have settled in the capital, as the fiscal legislation, which dates back to 1929, favours banks and holding companies.

There is plenty of evidence of Luxembourg's foreign incursions. Much of the city's older architecture is from specific periods of occupation. Spanish turrets, once used as spy-posts, adorn city walls. Spectacular Art Nouveau buildings in the Bourbon area remain and the ancient convent on the cobbled streets of Grund is a cultural centre. It was once used as a prison.

Luxembourg exudes stability and order, neatness and prudence and most citizens prefer to stay close to their homeland. Ninety-nine percent of the population is Catholic. The native language is Letzebuergesch, a Moselle-Frankish dialect, but from six years of age, everyone learns German and the following year, French. Many speak fluent English as well, but the entire population handles at least three languages with ease.

The city centre has markets and monuments. Place d'Armes and Place Guilliaume are gathering places with cafes and restaurants. Local food is quite heavy, concentrating on sausages, hams, hearty soups and cheese.

Restaurant Speltz is refined and atmospheric and serves traditional favourites, as well as superb fish and lobster. The owners are real food enthusiasts and when the weather is mild, meals are served on the outside deck of the wood-panelled town house.

Luxembourg has numerous hilltop chateaux. Vianden, just an hour from the capital, is the best example. It was Victor Hugo's home during his exile from Belgium in 1871. Now just 1600 people live there.

Vianden's marvellous old castle's oldest parts date back to the ninth century. It was built on Roman fortification remains and was the seat of the Counts of Vianden before going to the Orange-Nassau dynasty in the 15th century. In 1978, Grand Duke Jean handed it to the state and it underwent major reconstruction.

The Hotel Oranienburg in Vianden is a charming, old-fashioned hotel. Many of its rooms offer views of the castle. The highlight is the view from the terrace. The family-run hotel is very traditional and Le Chatelain, its restaurant, is highly regarded.

Location

Smallest of European Union Member States

Cost

Hotel Oranienburg rooms start at $130 a double. Breakfast is included.
Qantas flies daily to London, with connections to Luxembourg operated by British Airways. Return economy airfares to Luxembourg start from $2498 from Melbourne, $2485 from Perth, $2487 from Darwin, $2488 from Brisbane, $2494 from Adelaide and $2496 from Sydney, per person. Prices include charges/taxes and are current at time of writing, but may vary at time of booking.
Please note prices are valid at time of filming.

More information

Hotel Oranienburg
126 Grand Rue, Vianden 9411 LU
Ph: 352 83 41 53
www.tourist-info-vianden.lu

Restaurant Speltz
Coin 8, rue Chimay and rue Louvigny L1333 LU
Ph: 354 47 4950
www.restaurantspeltz.lu
info@restaurantspeltz.lu

Qantas: 13 13 13

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