Saturday 1 October 2016

Luxembourg: A Grand time in the Grand Duchy

Eleanor Goggin

Published 20/07/2015 | 02:30

Magical: A view of the city and the river Alzette, in the Grund Quarter of Luxembourg city.
Magical: A view of the city and the river Alzette, in the Grund Quarter of Luxembourg city.
ELEANOR gOGGIN IN UXEMBOURG

My knowledge of Luxembourg was nil. The Eurovision Song Contest, and the pirate radio station I listened to as a kid were pretty much it.

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So when an opportunity came to visit I grabbed it. We travelled with Luxair from Dublin. When I saw it was a smaller than usual plane I had my usual panic attack. Lots of prayers and profanities. But I can honestly say it was one of the smoothest flights I ever had. And free rolls and sparkling wine on the one and a half hour journey. What more could you want? Pleasant service, and we got that too.

We were staying in the centre of the old city in the four-star Hotel Simoncini. A great base for visiting the hotspots. Paintings abound on the walls and an art gallery is incorporated into the hotel. It's a very compact city so everything is close at hand; and even though there are lots of hills and steps, a lift is there to transport you. The old city is perched high up over the river Alzette, with lush green ravines below and you can take a walk along the 'Corniche', which is said to be 'the most beautiful balcony in Europe'

Our hotel was a stone's throw from the Palais Grand Ducal which is the official residence of the Grand Duke of Luxembourg. It's bang in the middle of a main street and was the original town hall. Guards who look about twelve are on permanent duty outside. (you know you're getting old when the guards look like kids).

Our guide was Elke Begas. Unfortunately, when she introduced herself I thought she said Bigass, and was very grateful that my surname is Goggin. It would have been apt for me to be called bigass whereas she on the other hand had a very neat little bum. Anyway, she was wonderful and enthusiastic. The Bock is the city's original castle and was the stronghold for the city. In the 18th century a maze of tunnels was constructed over a distance of more than 20 kilometres. They are known as the casemates. There were horses down there, and butchers and bakers. Emplacements for canons and a garrison of 1,200 men made the city indestructible. They were used as a shelter for many thousands in World War II.

The Cathedral is right in the middle of the city and is a mixture of many styles. The spires are 20th century as is the Art Deco addition of the 1930s. The nave is from the 17th century. There's a wooden statue of the Madonna and Child and her dress is changed regularly. She was in green while we were there.

We took a trip out to the Philharmonie, a short bus ride from the city. It's an amazing building. It took three years to build and was opened in 2005. The architect, Christian de Portzamparc, had a dream to build a concert hall in a forest. This obviously wasn't possible so he designed it on the concept of a forest. There are over eight hundred columns arranged in rows. The Grand Auditorium is based on a 'shoebox' and the stage is based on the idea of an Italian Piazza with the boxes as balconies of the residents of the Piazza.

The Museum of Modern Art or MUDAM, as it is known, is next door. Another brilliant building made of glass and stone and designed by Chinese-American architect Leoh Ming Pei, it opened its doors in 2006.

There's a huge air of calm and elegance about the city. Nobody looks frazzled. Every body is pleasant and it's a very relaxing place to be. Good restaurants abound and the tiny country of Luxembourg boasts ten Michelin stars. Its food is said to have the heartiness of Germany and the finesse of France. We ate at the 'Am Tiirmschen' in the Ilot Gastronomique in the old part of the city. A delicious selection of cold meats and pates, followed by smoked pork with broad beans in a savoury cream and mustard sauce and kniddelen with bacon. Kniddelen are a kind of dumpling and a speciality along with mustard sauces, of Luxembourg. Others had pure veal sausages again with a mustard sauce and, having bummed a taste, I deemed them just as delicious as my pork. Cremant is the locally produced sparkling wine. Produced in the Moselle region, it's crisp and fresh and frighteningly easy to drink. We had lunch on our second day, in the 'Chocolate House' straight across from the Palais Grand-Ducal. Home-made quiche and a Caesar salad, washed down with more Cremant and a few purchases of the incredible chocolate concoctions on sale here, was just the break from exploring that we needed. Different coloured bars, chocolate dunking sticks, little boxes of coloured chocolates - the choice was amazing. Ideal as little gifts to bring home. On our second night we ate outside at the Brasserie Guillaume, where I quickly polished off the biggest bacon and crouton salad I've ever seen, followed by delicious cod with veg and savoury rice and fresh berries to finish made for a divine meal. The Battle of the Bulge took place here. I was now feeling my own private Battle of the Bulge.

The night life was lively. There are plenty of pubs in the old town and we sampled some of them. The other area for night life was the Rives de Clausen in the lower part of the city. Some of our gang contributed to the karaoke in King Wilmas. Some good, some not so good. But great crack. And then in my usual style nothing would do me but to continue on to a trendy nightclub where I stood out like a sore thumb. Gyrating like granny with my handbag at my feet. Shades of a wedding in Youghal.(I've nothing against Youghal, I used to go there as a kid). All in all, Luxembourg is a lovely small city with a very laid back feel. No rushing. No hassle. No department store, just classy boutiques. Some very expensive and some reasonably priced. It's a place I'll definitely return to.

Getting there

Eleanor Goggin travelled to Luxembourg on Luxair airlines.

For full details of flights, hotels, attractions and the Luxembourg tourist board, see the following websites

www.visitluxembourg.com

www.luxair.lu

www.hotelsimoncini.lu

www.amtiirmschen.lu

www.brasserieguillaume.lu

www.philharmonie.lu

www.mudam.lu

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