Our final day in Luxembourg was a bank holiday back in Britain, but the city that had been our home for the weekend was going back to work as we packed for the flight home. However, before leaving we’d got a tour of the Grand Ducal Palace lined up.
After checking out of the excellent Simoncini hotel, and ahead of our noon appointment, we went for another walk around a city that, before arriving, I had known very little about. Luxembourg to me meant one of the world’s smallest nations, a collection of EU buildings and a grand duke.
It also meant 208 Radio Luxembourg, a regular stop on the dial in my early teens. Back then there was very little in the way of music radio worth listening to of an evening, so I would invariably go to bed with my small transistor radio and tune in to the English-speaking evening pop service that was beamed back from the mysterious duchy somewhere in Europe. The signal was often hopeless, fading in and out repeatedly, and I can’t believe I persevered with it for so long.
The radio station eventually died but the city of Luxembourg continues to thrive. The heart of the city is medieval and historic, mostly pedestrianised and quaint with a capital Q but walk a few streets beyond and the more modern city quickly takes over, with its office blocks and broad and busy roads. The number of cranes we saw are a testament to the amount of redevelopment going on. We walked past several older post-war blocks that were being pulled down, to be replaced by newer models, and dodged a host of roadworks that heralded the dawn of a new tram system.
We were diverted by a pleasant city park between Boulevard Joseph II and Boulevard Prince Henri, which provided shade from the intense sunshine. Just beyond was a giant funfair, known as the Schueberfouer. It’s held every August and is the descendant of a fair founded by John the Blind, Count of Luxembourg and King of Bohemia, in 1340.
Back at the palace in the heart of the old town we joined the English-speaking tour hosted by a witty and friendly guide who filled us in on the details of the palace and the family that nominally lives there.
Oddly, the building is not surrounded by giant walls and threatening fences but it was originally the town hall so was meant to be at the heart of city life. Parts of it date back to the 16th century but it’s been much added to and played with in the centuries since, and now sports a collection of gothic and regal touches. It became the official home of the royal family when the House of Nassau-Weilburg came to the throne of a newly independent Luxembourg in 1890. However, the family lives in a castle elsewhere in the country and only use the palace for official functions.
Talking of which, our guide made much of the fact that President Macron of France was due the next day to have his photo taken with the Grand Duke.
Compared to many palaces it’s modest but has plenty of gilt and splendour, fancy chandeliers, glorious ceilings and priceless furniture. The first floor, reached via a grand staircase, is light and airy with rooms that feature paintings of dukes, duchesses and their children, past and present. The only room that’s truly personal is the Grand Duke’s study, which has a collection of family photos, comfy sofas and the sort of phone you’d find in offices around the world. It’s here he might gossip with the Prime Minister about vital matters of state and who’s shagging who in the small Parliament next door.
Afterwards we stopped for a disappointing lunch in one of the average restaurants on the Place d’Armes and watched the world go by, including large crowds of ancient Americans who’d stopped off on their river cruise to do a tour of Luxembourg in about 20 minutes.
We stretched our legs on a walk to the modern viewpoint and lift near the Pont Rouge, which crosses the gorge between the old town and the Kirchberg Plateau. The views were wonderful from up top, while down at the bottom was a quieter picturesque district, more old city walls and the defensive Vauban towers either side of the Alzette river.
But that was our time up. We caught the bus from the city centre to the airport for our Luxair flight back to London City, driving out through Kirchberg, the modern city of EU, bank and other corporate HQs. They dragged on and on, a symbol of the new Luxembourg. It was soulless and the architecture by and large lacked merit.
It wouldn’t be the new Luxembourg I’d remember. It would be the old…