Difference between revisions of "Luxembourg"
Revision as of 09:43, 8 January 2011
The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg  (Luxembourgish: Groussherzogtum Lëtzebuerg, French:Grand-Duché de Luxembourg, German: Großherzogtum Luxemburg), is a landlocked country in the Benelux bordered by Belgium, France and Germany, lying at the crossroad of Germanic and Latin cultures. It is the only Grand Duchy in the world and is the second-smallest of the European Union member states.
With a successful steel, finance and high technology industry, a strategic location at the heart of Western Europe, more natural beauty than you might expect given its size, and as one of the top three richest countries in the world, Luxembourg enjoys a very high standard of living and has prices to match!
The city of Luxembourg proper was founded in 963, and its strategical position soon promised it a great fate. Luxembourg lied at the crossroad of Western Europe and became heavily fortified, and you can still see today the extensive city walls and towers that are its most distinctive cityscape. Due to its key position, Luxembourg was raised up to a Duchy that included a much larger territory that stretched in present-day Belgium, Netherlands, Germany and France. The powerful Habsburgh family kept its hand on it until the late Renaissance times.
After the Napoleonic wars, the Duchy of Luxembourg was granted to the Netherlands. It had a special status however as "member of the German confederacy" and the citadel was armed with a Prussian garrison : Luxembourg was still a strategic lock that everybody aimed at controlling. It was granted the title "Grand Duchy" in 1815 but lost some territories that are today parts of France and Germany.
During the course of the XIXth century, developments in warfare and the appearance of artillery made Luxembourg obsolete as a stronghold, and it became little more than a rural territory of no strategic interest whatsoever. The Germans relinquished their rights over it and moved out their garrison, its western half was granted to Belgium in 1839, and finally the Netherlands granted it complete independence in 1867. Since then, Luxembourg arose from a poor country of fields and farms to a modern economy relying on financial services and high-tech industries.
Overrun by Germany in both World Wars, Luxembourg was one of the major battlefields of the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944-1945, a story well documented in the museum at Diekirch. The state ended its neutrality in 1948 when it entered into the Benelux Customs Union and when it joined NATO the following year. In 1957, Luxembourg became one of the six founding countries of the European Economic Community (later the European Union) and in 1999 it joined the euro currency area.
Modified continental with mild winters, although January and February can get very cold and temperatures can fall to as low as -15°C. The summer can be very hot in Luxembourg, with temperatures in July and August reaching around 30+°C.
Mostly gently rolling uplands with broad, shallow valleys; uplands to slightly mountainous in the north; steep slope down to Moselle flood plain in the south.
Luxembourg is a member of the Schengen Agreement.
There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented this treaty - the European Union (except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom), Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. But be careful: not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen members are part of the European Union. This means that there may be spot customs checks but no immigration checks (travelling within Schengen but to/from a non-EU country) or you may have to clear immigration but not customs (travelling within the EU but to/from a non-Schengen country).
Please see the article Travel in the Schengen Zone for more information about how the scheme works and what entry requirements are.
Luxembourg-Findel International Airport (IATA: LUX) (ICAO: ELLX)  is located 6km outside Luxembourg-City. It is served by Luxair , the national airline, which flies to many EU countries (including Milan and London Gatwick and City), and Air France (Paris; actually a Luxair codeshare), KLM (Amsterdam), Swiss (Zurich), Lufthansa (Frankfurt; actually a Luxair codeshare) and British Airways (London Gatwick). Another airline to consider is CityJet, often a cheaper option than Luxair. A completely new terminal opened in May 2008, the airport site  has information about all flights .
Alternative airports, especially for low-cast carriers, include Ryanair hub Hahn (aka "Frankfurt-Hahn"), about two hours away by direct Flibco bus , Zweibrücken Airport  and Brussels-South Charleroi, served by bus company charleroiexpress.com .
Luxembourg train station can be reached directly from Paris (2 hours), Metz (1 hour), Brussels (3 hours) and Trier (43 min). Both international and national timetables can be found on the website of the national railways company CFL .
If you want to enjoy a nice view to the city, "Grund" and Kasematten, leave the motorway coming from the East (Germany) at exit "Cents". Enter Cents and drive down the hill. Don't let yourself be stopped by signs that the route is blocked via "Grund".
Luxembourg being a landlocked country, it's extremely hard to get in by boat. But if you really want to there are boat links form the German side of the Moselle river to the Luxembourg side, but it is easier walking over the bridges.
Luxembourg is a compact country and it's possible to reach most any place in the country from the capital in under an hour. The central railway station has a handy Mobiliteit  office that will help to plan your trip with bus and train.
The Chemins de Fer Luxembourgeois (CFL)  train network is either comprehensive or spartan, depending whether you want to go south or north. While the south is reasonably well covered, the north is limited to one main line (Ligne 10) which runs from Luxembourg City via Mersch, Ettelbrück, Wilwerwiltz, Clervaux and Troisvierges. The line continues north into Belgium towards Liège. Diekirch has a branch line from Ettelbrück, and Wiltz has a branch line from Kautenbach. To the south you can reach Bettembourg and Esch-sur-Alzette. There is also a line to the east which crosses into Germany over the Moselle River at Wasserbillig.
The same tickets are valid on trains as buses, and the same rates apply: €1.50 for two hours (unlimited transfers) or €4 for one day. A €40 month ticket can be purchased at the CFL office under Hamilius, at some newsagencies or at the station. Trains in Luxembourg generally run very much on time and are modern and comfortable. As the fares are so cheap this is a good mode of transport to use when possible.
From an aesthetic view, perhaps the best way to approach Luxembourg City is by train from the north via Ligne 10 as this is a beautifully scenic route past some of the most well-known Luxembourgish sights.
Within the city, the comprehensive bus service is more than adequate for the average tourist. Buses numbered 1-25 serve the Ville de Luxembourg, with the most useful being the 16 (Town to the Airport via Kirchberg) and the 18 (Town to Kirchberg and Auchan). Almost all buses include the central bus station Hamilius (centre of town) and the Station (Luxembourg Gare) in their routes at some point. Any bus pointing stationwards from Hamilius will probably take you there (the 3 being a notable exception). Bus tickets (which are also valid on trains) are available from the driver. A standard ticket costs €1.50 and will be valid on any bus up to 2 hours after its purchase.
The bus service out of town is also extensive. Every village has a convenient bus service which runs at least once every hour. Buses numbered 100 upwards will take you out of the city. Useful routes to the north of the country include the 100 (Diekirch via Junglinster, every hour), the 120 (Junglinster, every 30 minutes) and the 290 (Mersch, frequent). However, Mersch and the south are more easily reached by train (see below).
Town buses experienced a reduced service on Saturdays (including those used mainly by shoppers), and many routes are barely existent (if at all) on a Sunday. This doesn't matter, though, since most shops and attractions are closed on a Sunday.
Almost all national buses run the same on Saturdays (which count as working days in this instance) as during the week, but the Sunday service is usually reduced or non-existent.
Luxembourg's road infrastructure is well-developed if not always very well thought-out. Anywhere that happens to lie along the major motorways is easily accessible via these (including Grevenmacher in the east, Mamer to the west and Bettembourg to the south). Esch-Alzette, the country's second city (more like a small town by international standards) has its own motorway link, the A4. In addition, a new motorway is being built towards the north of the country (Mersch, Ettelbrück), but this won't be completed until 2010 at the earliest. However, the current North Road provides easy access to these areas for the moment.
Current national speed limits are 50km/h in towns and villages, 90km/h on open country roads (110 in some places on N7 and N11), and 130km/h on the motorway (110 in the rain). 70km/h also exists in some places. Speed limits are enforced by random police checks. Be aware that if you have a right-hand-drive car then you are very likely to be singled out for a customs check on the way in. Police are also very keen on stopping drivers for having the 'wrong' lights on in town, i.e. side lights instead of dipped headlights.
Finding parking in Luxembourg city centre on weekends can be difficult. Most spaces are quickly taken and some parking garages close early. The best option is to find somewhere near the station and then walk around the city centre. Traffic wardens are also numerous and vigilant.
The streets and landscape in Luxembourg make for good biking territory; highly recommended. Be wary, though, of small-ish bicycle repair shops in rural corners of the country -- they may quite well charge you quite some money for fixing your bike when they actually break it, more or less subtly. For bicycle repairs, neighboring Trier (with a considerable University student population) is usually a safer bet.
Luxembourgish ("Lëtzebuergesch") is the national language, while French is the administrative language. German is also widely used and almost universally understood. That means outside of large cities where French is spoken on the street, the national language of Luxembourgish is spoken at home. Luxembourgish is a separate and unique language, having previously evolved from a German dialect ("Moselfränkisch"). German (Hochdeutsch) enjoys official status and appears in some media and is used in the court system and is taught in schools. However, everything from road signs, to menus to information in stores will appear in French. French therefore is clearly the most useful of the three languages to know, essentially making Luxembourg a Francophone country for the visitor with the exception of places close to the German border such as Diekirch or Echternach.
Over one third of Luxembourg's overall population is made up of foreigners, and this figure rises to around 50% in the cities. Hence, again knowing French is your best bet if you want to converse with most people, especially as people working in shops and bars usually come from France or Belgium and don't bother to learn the local native language. English is widely understood by such personnel as bus drivers, but many shop assistants will only respond if addressed in French or German. Educated Luxembourgers are fluent in all four of the above languages; it is the "frontaliers" (workers who live across one of the borders) who may not speak English well or at all. Apart from the more elderly inhabitants, virtually every Luxembourger understands and speaks fluent standard German and French. Luxembourgers are the polyglots of Europe, perhaps making even the Swiss jealous!
Luxembourg has the euro (€) as its sole currency along with 24 other countries that use this common European money. These 24 countries are: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain (official euro members which are all European Union member states) as well as Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and the Vatican which use it without having a say in eurozone affairs and without being European Union members. Together, these countries have a population of more than 330 million.
One euro is divided into 100 cents. While each official euro member (as well as Monaco, San Marino and Vatican) issues its own coins with a unique obverse, the reverse, as well as all bank notes, look the same throughout the eurozone. Every coin is legal tender in any of the eurozone countries.
The general price level in Luxembourg is noticeably higher than in France and Germany, especially in central Luxembourg. Even cheap hotels tend to cost over €100 a night and you won't get much change from €20 after a modest dinner and a drink. Basing yourself in Trier (or other cities across the border) and daytripping to Luxembourg might be a good bet.
On the upside, cigarettes, alcohol or petrol are comparatively cheap, making the small state a popular destination for long-haul drivers.
Traditional dishes are largely based on pork and potatoes and the influence of German and central European cooking is undeniable. The unofficial national dish is judd mat gaardebounen, or smoked pork neck served with boiled broad beans. A must to try if you do get the opportunity are Gromperekichelchen (literally, Potato Biscuits) which are a type of fried shredded potato cake containing onions, shallots and parsley. Typically found served at outdoor events such as markets or funfairs they are absolutely delicious and a particularly nice snack on a cold winter's day.
In most restaurants however, the typical local food would be French cuisine coming in bigger portions. Italian food has been popular since the 1960s. Home cooking has been very influenced by the recipes of Ketty Thull, apparently the best-selling cooking and baking book in Luxembourg since WW II.
The Luxembourg white wines from the Moselle valley to the east of Luxembourg include Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Rivaner and Elbling to name just a few and are good. In autumn, many villages along the Moselle river organise wine-tasting village festivals.
Young people tend to drink local or imported beer. Luxembourg has a number of breweries, with Diekirch, from the village of the same name, Bofferding, Battin, and Mousel being the most popular. Despite the fact that you would be hard pushed to find any of these outside of the country, all are excellent lagers.
As an after dinner digestive, Luxembourgers like to drink an eau-de-vie . The most commonly available are Mirabelle and Quetsch. Both are made from plums and are extremely strong! Sometimes these are taken in coffee which may be a little more palatable for some.
Thanks to the heavy banking and EU presence in the city, hotels in central Luxembourg are quite expensive, although there is a good youth hostel (see Luxembourg (city)#Sleep). It may be more cost-effective to stay across the border in eg. Trier and "commute" into Luxembourg, as a day-ticket valid for a return trip and free run of the entire country is only €8.40.
The Association of Independent Hotels in Luxembourg operates a booking service at hotels.lu  for a number of smaller hotels, mostly in the countryside but including a few in the city.
Luxembourg is a major player in the financial service sector. Many thousands of people commute from neighbouring Belgium, France (Les frontaliers) and Germany on week days, considerably swelling the population of the capital city. The majority work in the numerous financial institutions based in and around the capital (particularly in the Kirchberg district) and are drawn across the borders by the excellent salaries on offer. Luxembourg City has a very international flavour as in addition to les frontaliers, it attracts young professionals from all over the globe. In this area, business is done predominantly in English, French or German and it is necessary to be fluent in one of these as a minimum although many jobs will demand proficiency in at least two.
In many surveys, Luxembourg has been named "safest country in the world".
The food and tap water supply in Luxembourg is perfectly fine and the country's healthcare system is first-class. The climate is average even though the summers can get hot. However these temperatures only rarely rise much above 30°C.
Try to show respect for the local language and make some effort to say a word or two of it even if it's just the standard greeting "Moien". Avoid calling "Luxembourgish" a dialect of German or think that the country itself is merely an extension of France or Germany.