As we started putting the pins on our map to plan our trip to the Western Front we noticed we were getting closer and closer to Luxembourg, a country neither of us had visited before and it had a UNESCO site with the Old Quarters and Fortifications in Luxembourg City. So, of course, without any hesitation we said ‘Heck yes, let’s go!” and we left room in our itinerary for a little taste of Luxembourg.
Luxembourg is a small landlocked country surrounded by France, Belgium, and Germany. Most of the country is rural with a dense forest in the north, rocky gorges in the east, and the Mosel river valley in the southeast, and then a fortified medieval old town in its capital city. Any medieval town is right up my alley so we booked our night in Luxembourg which wasn’t actually as easy as we had expected and was a bit more expensive than our average nightly rate. We started looking on our favourite, Airbnb, but after an unsuccessful search we branched out to hotels and found the Hotel Parc Plaza that was in our budget and within walking distance of the old town and other sights we wanted to see.
We arrived late in the afternoon so wasted no time getting out to do a little exploring on foot. The only major sight we had on our itinerary was the Casemates du Bock which we were visiting in the morning, otherwise we just planned to do a little strolling to see what we saw.
Our first stop along our stroll was Gëlle Fra (Luxembourgish for ‘Golden Lady’) which is the nickname the Monument of Remembrance in Constitution Square. This war memorial is dedicated to the thousands of Luxembourgers who fought alongside the Allied Powers during both World Wars and the Korean War. The centerpiece of the monument is the 21 m tall granite obelisk upon which the Golden Lady stands holding out a laurel wreath as if ‘placing it on the head of the nation’. At the foot of the obelisk are two bronze statues representing soldiers that volunteered to serve for France. One soldier lies at the base, having died in service, while the other sits beside him, mourning his dead compatriot.
From here we wandered on a little further looking at the castle across the river…which as it turns out isn’t actually a castle. It’s a bank! The Spuerkees Bank to be precise. If my bank looked like this the tellers would be tired of seeing me! Oh well, it might be just a bank but it sure was pretty as the sun was setting on the city.
Our next stop was the National Monument of the Solidarity that commemorates the dead of WWII and remembers the resistance and solidarity of the people of Luxembourg in the face of Nazi occupation. It was closed for the evening when we arrived so we didn’t get to go inside to see the paved inner courtyard that symbolizes prisons, concentration camps, and barracks. We did however see the eternal flame that burns outside, in front of which a wreath had recently been placed.
Onward we strolled as the city lights started to come on, through little alleys, to overlooks over the old town and the casemates, and past the Grand Ducal Palace. Originally the city hall from 1572 to 1795, it is now the official residence of the Grand Duke of Luxembourg and where he performs most of his duties as head of state of the Grand Duchy. And what a pretty building it is. Really though, much of the area we saw of Luxembourg was. So clean and meticulously maintained, Luxembourg is a clearly a city of means in this tiny, but wealthy country.
Our last stop of the evening was a quick bite of dinner on the Place d’Armes centrally located in the old town. This square is surrounded by restaurants and cafés, many of which have outdoor eating areas, and which hosts concerts in the summer and a Christmas market in December. But on a cool evening in early March it is simply a quiet and delightful place to stroll hand in hand and take in the ambience of the city before calling it a night at the end of another great day out seeing the world.
Casemates du Bock
Up bright and early (we’re always up bright and early when we’re out exploring) we walked back in to the city centre for some breakfast and then on to the main sight we had come to see- the Casemates du Bock.
Beneath the Montée de Clausen, once the cliff-top site of Count Sigefroi’s fort (back in the 10th century), the Casemates du Bock are an impressive maze of galleries and tunnels with lots of scenic look-out points over the city. The tunnels were initially carved out of the stone by the Spaniards between 1737 and 1746 and over the years have housed everything from garrisons to bakeries to slaughterhouses. In both World Wars they sheltered thousands of local people.
The casemates of today were once part of a much bigger structure of 23 km of casemates, three fortified rings with 24 forts and 16 other defensive works that earned the Luxembourg the nickname the “Gibraltar of the North“. In 1867, after a declaration of neutrality, the military withdrew from the fortress and about 90% of the defenses were demolished. The remaining part was only left intact after it proved too difficult to demolish without destroying part of the city and it’s fortuitous that it was because they are great fun to explore and learn a little about the history of Luxembourg.
Today 17 km of the tunnels remain, several kilometers of which you can explore. We hardly bothered with a map and just followed long tunnels, poked our heads out the entrances to look over the city, climbed up and down stairways (that sometimes led to nothing- or at least nothing you can get to now), and just enjoyed wandering through, sometimes without seeing anyone else for quite a good little while. One review I’ve read on TripAdvisor likened it to a “historical playground for adults” and I think I’d have to agree with that as it really was good fun to explore the tunnels and just see where they led.
We’d definitely recommend it as a stop on a visit to Luxembourg. If anything its a very inexpensive (it was only €4 for each of us ) way to get GREAT views of the old city quarters which make up the UNESCO World Heritage site.