Here’s a test. Get a map and try to point to the tiny European nation of Luxembourg.
Chances are – unless you’re from one of its neighbouring states, or are just really good at geography – you won’t manage it.
That’s because Luxembourg is one of the smallest countries in the world, occupying just 998 square miles of the European continent. That’s smaller than Rhode Island, the smallest state in the USA.
Situated right at the heart of Western Europe, Luxembourg borders France, Germany, Belgium, and is ideally placed for a short trip from pretty much every major capital city in Europe, particularly London and Paris – both of which are less than an hour by plane from the country’s capital, Luxembourg City.
For about two years a Luxembourgish friend of mine, and former Business Insider author, has been trying to convince me of the merits of her tiny, very rich country, largely to no avail. Last weekend I finally relented, dropping in to the country for a 48 hour stint.
I was, to put it lightly, very surprised. Here’s what I found.
Luxembourg is utterly beautiful
Imagine the perfect medieval town, replete with spectacular fortresses, quaint churches, and a warren of tiny back streets.
Well that’s pretty much what you get in Luxembourg’s capital, which is called Luxembourg City.
Built in the middle ages, the city center is full of small, old buildings and remnants of its medieval past. The valley in the middle of the city boasts a river surrounded by greenery.
Leave the capital and things only get better, with rolling hills, dense forests, numerous castles dotted around the place.
It’s not as expensive as you might think
As the richest country in the world by GDP per capita – around $US105,000 each – you might expect Luxembourg to be a wildly expensive place, but it really isn’t.
Sure, it’s not cheap, but as a tourist it’s no worse than places like New York, London or Paris. In bars, drinks tended to cost €6-8 ($US7-$US9.50), while a main course in a decent restaurant was about €15-20 ($US18-24) depending on what you ordered.
Tourist attractions are reasonably priced too, with entry to Vianden Castle – one of the country’s most recognisable sights – costing just €7 each ($US8.30).
The country’s infrastructure is superb
As you might expect from the world’s richest country, everything is in pretty good condition. The streets of Luxembourg City are immensely clean, and its roadways are immaculately maintained.
As someone who lives in London – where potholes rule – it was great to visit a place that takes such good care of its infrastructure.
For such a small country, Luxembourg also has many highways, making getting around the 60 mile by 30 mile country a breeze. You can drive from one end of it to another in roughly an hour and twenty minutes.
The one downside in the regard was the country’s airport, which was afflicted with delayed planes and slow moving passport control lines during my visit.
The food and drink is phenomenal
Sandwiched between Germany and France, Luxembourg’s dining culture is something to behold.
Local specialities I tried during my time included Kniddelen, a kind of wheat-based dumplings served with bacon and cream sauce, Rieslingspachteit, a pork pie with a jelly made from Riesling wine, and Kachkeis, a runny cheese similar to Camembert. All of them were delicious and super filling.
Drinks were also pretty great. Not counting microbreweries, Luxembourg produces five beers: Mousel, Battin, Diekirch, Bofferding, and Simon. From my experience, Diekirch was the most widely available, and was pretty good as mass-produced beers go.
Luxembourg also produces wine, something I was entirely unaware of before my visit. The Mosel river, which forms part of the Luxembourg-Germany border is famous – on the German side at least – for its Riesling, an off-dry, often floral tasting white wine.
It’s also produced on the Luxembourgish side of the river, and if it’s to your taste (it’s not for everyone) is just as good as the German wine.
Another widely consumed drink is the Kir, a mix of white wine and blackcurrant liqueur.
The drinking culture is civilised and convivial
Not only does the country produce excellent booze, but it also has a great drinking culture. Most bars in the centre of Luxembourg City are open until 1am and have large outside spaces, making summer drinking very pleasant indeed.
Some bars are open until later, with Cafe des Artistes (pictured above) a popular late night haunt for many Luxembourgers.
Historical and political intrigue aplenty
Luxembourg has a rich history, aided by its location between Belgium, France, and Germany.
Luxembourg is the last remaining Grand Duchy on earth, meaning it is ruled by a head of state called the Grand Duke or Duchess, who is similar to a monarch. The current Grand Duke is Henri. The Duchy system remains from the country’s time as part of the medieval Kingdom of Germany, and later the Holy Roman Empire.
It also played a major role in the Second World War, and was the location of large parts of the Battle of the Bulge – the final major German offensive on the Western Front of the war. Such is the country’s connection to the war, and particularly to the US Army divisions who were stationed there, that there is a museum and monument to famed us general, George S. Patton in the country’s northern region.
If you like European politics, you’ll love Luxembourg
More recently, Luxembourg has been one of the most active members of the European Union. It was a founder member of the euro in the late 1990s, and the current president of the European Commission – effectively the leader of the EU – is former Luxembourgish prime minister, Jean-Claude Juncker.
Perhaps most importantly given the current Brexit negotiations, Luxembourg is home to the town of Schengen, which gives its name to the free movement agreement that allows citizens from most EU countries to move between states without needing their passports.
Schengen is located at a so-called “tripoint” where Luxembourg, France, and Germany all meet. The point is similar to the Four Corners in the USA, where Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico meet.
Smoking is cheap as hell
I don’t smoke, but if I did, Luxembourg would be a real haven. Luxembourg is well-known for its low taxes, something that extends to cigarettes and tobacco, both of which are way cheaper than in pretty much all other EU countries.
A pack will set you back about €5 ($US6), compared to more than £10 ($US13.50) in the UK. Prices are so low that some shops even have posters up comparing their prices to other places in Europe.
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