Sunday, November 3, 2013

Adventures in BeDeLux: les Châteaux de Luxembourg

Dimanche, 3 novembre.

As you probably noticed, I fell absolutely in love with Luxembourg within our first afternoon there. But the fact is that, for a tourist, the city is rather small. We were able to see everything we wanted to in one afternoon! And so, after a day of trying out city life, Molly and I were ready for a change -- and what better change from city life than a day full of countryside and castles?

Before heading out on our adventures, we made one more stop in Luxembourg City at the weekly market at Place Guillaume II. It was a pretty typical French market -- fruit and vegetable stands, trucks with cheeses and meats -- but with a German twist that we don't get in Montpellier. My favorite truck belonged to a German bakery: the Prümtaler Mühlenbäckerei. The woman was selling breads, pastries, aaaaaaand miniature loaves of Stollen! (My favorite Christmas dessert OF ALL TIME.) At only two euros, they were a steal (get it?) and I bought one for lunch. But I'm not going to lie: if I hadn't been limited to just a tiny purse, I probably would have bought out the truck!

We headed back to the train station, where we hopped on an eastbound train. Our billets "longue durée" allowed us, for only four euros, to take any and all of the buses and trains in Luxembourg all day long! (Not that it would have mattered, as our tickets were checked exactly once ... I guess everyone is just very trusting.)

A train, a bus, and about an hour later, we arrived in the small town of Vianden, located right next to the Luxembourg/German border. With under two thousand residents, it's a pretty sleepy little town. In fact, we only saw a handful of people the whole time we were there!


After a quick visit to the Office of Tourism (a must-do for maps and other scrapbook-worthy paraphenalia), we decided to walk up to the castle. We had been told it was quite the hike and, after a couple minutes walking through the town, were worried we were headed in the wrong direction. We decided to take a break and eat some stollen at a bench up ahead ... only realizing upon turning around that the Château de Vianden had been right above us the whole time!

Still, a little bit of Stollen hit the spot -- and we couldn't have picked a better location to snack if we had tried!

It only took a few more minutes to hike up to the castle. Although it rests on the ruins of an ancient Roman fortress, Vianden is a medieval castle built primarily between the 11th and 14th centuries. It was basically abandoned in the 16th century and fell into ruins for several centuries. It was during this time that Victor Hugo -- yes, that Victor Hugo -- arrived and lived briefly in Vianden. He sketched the castle ruins a few times and even wrote about it:
"Vianden, embedded in a splendid landscape, will be visited one day by tourists from the whole of Europe, attracted both by its sinister but magnificent ruin and by its cheerful and happy people."
A+ for Victor Hugo's prediction: Vianden is now a major tourist site! However, it's no longer a "magnificent ruin" -- the castle has in fact been almost entirely restored. The view from the outside however? Definitely magnificent.


Like I said, the castle is in the midst of being restored. (Or at least, that is what I think is happening. Otherwise, there's just a lot of mess everywhere.) Some of the rooms have been updated and turned into museums -- like this one, that displayed cannons, guns and, of course, suits of armor. (Molly had fun imitating this little guy.)


Some rooms had been restored to their original medieval state, while others had been left completely untouched. Signs in the room below explained how the walls revealed the history of the castle, from the ruins of ancient Roman walls to the various castles constructed on the site throughout the 12th - 15th centuries. Also ... old pottery! Nifty.

Still other rooms had been totally modernized -- turned into, for example, a gallery of paintings and sketches of the castle or a banquet hall for fancy state dinners and concerts.

To be honest, I wasn't crazy about the restoration of the castle. Maybe I have just weirdly high standards for historical renovations, having spent the past two years in Colonial Williamsburg, but I thought the whole thing was just so-so. Although some parts of the castle -- like the restored medieval dining room and kitchens -- were neat, I didn't get much out of the other rooms. (Although I'm sure having a benefit in a medieval castle is amazing, I didn't think the folding tables added much to the tour ambiance.) The best part of the castle was, hands down, the views from outside. You could peer down into the little village below, which was fun, but I preferred the beautiful views of the mountains!

Of course, there's no way my photos will do it justice -- they just can't come close to capturing the scope and the colors. It's times like these that I wish I had some crazy expensive professional camera with me and that I wasn't making do with an iPhone! (Although, you've got to admit -- for a cell phone, it's doing a pretty fabulous job.) If you want to see more photos of Vianden, just go to Google Images: there are some amazing shots of the castle from all sorts of angles and during all times of year.

View of the town and the old city walls.


I could have stayed at the top of the castle forever, but unfortunately we had places to go. Luckily, the breathtaking views continued, even as we left the castle and made our way back down through the village. I love this shot of the castle, taken from the old city walls on the opposite side of the town!

It really and truly looks like something right out of a fairytale! I just can't get over it. In fact, we loved Vianden so much that we decided to squeeze in another château visit before leaving Luxembourg. Our next stop? Le Château de Beaufort. It's another medieval castle in eastern Luxembourg. Unlike Vianden, it's still in ruins. (As you can tell.)

At one point, my camera lens blurred and things got a little trippy...

Because we had to make our bus back to Luxembourg City, we only had about twenty minutes to explore the whole castle. It ended up making the whole experience even more fun! Because we had the whole château practically to ourselves, we had a blast running from room to room and playing our very own touristy version of Marco Polo. "Keep going, there's nothing in here -- just an empty room! Have you found something exciting?"

We even got to go down into the old torture chamber, which housed replicas (at least I hope they were replicas!) of the equipment used to torture prisoners during the Middle Ages. I didn't really think about it as I ran around snapping pictures, but to be honest, I can't decide if I thought it was cool or just absolutely disgusting. What do you think?

After our rushed visit to Beaufort, we headed back to Luxembourg City before packing our bags and moving on to our next destination. Although it was time to move on to Belgium, I could have spent a week meandering around Luxembourg and exploring castles! As it is, I'm already wishing I had taken more pictures to better remember the incredible day. Luckily, both castles are really popular tourist destinations for whatever other crazy people decide to visit Luxembourg and so there are tons of great photos and even videos of both! This one was my favorite and totally captures the magic of the two châteaux as well as the beautiful Luxembourg countryside during the fall. (Warning -- it does move a little quickly: if you're prone to motion-sickness, hold onto your seat!)

I feel like I've seen a really interesting range of castles over the past few months: from family follies to grand palaces to local ruins. I have loved visiting each and every one, but I'm tempted to say that Vianden and Beaufort were my favorites so far. Maybe it was the beautiful weather or the crisp fall air or the significant lack of fellow tourists, but there was just something so magical about exploring the two.

All in all, it was a wonderful day ... and gave me the perfect opportunity to practice my chateau pose!


  1. Amazing! I cannot believe your pictures are from your iphone! I thought you were taking your camera along with you. Those are great photos! Loved the Marco Polo story because it reminded me of when you were little and running around through ruins with your sister. Aw!

    1. I usually take my camera on trips, but I brought a SUPER tiny backpack with me on the plane and there just wasn't any room!