JUST US IN VIANDEN
We went to see one of Luxembourg’s most popular day trip destinations today: Vianden. This delightful village is all charming cobblestoned streets lined with typically pastel-coloured Luxembourg maisons; there are cafés on every corner, the River Our to admire, and forests to hike through. To top it all off, perched high on the rock plateau above the town, sits the stunningly restored Chateau Vianden. What’s not to love?!
Vianden is in the far East of this little nation, just a few kilometres from the Luxembourg/Germany border. Luxembourg is so small, however, that even this far flung corner of the country took less an hour to reach by bus! Keen to spend as much time in Vianden as possible we left early this morning* – so early, in fact, that the train was empty and some of the deep river valleys we travelled through were still shrouded in morning mist. The landscape we passed through was mostly flat farmland, and forested, gently rolling hills.
*We didn’t leave THAT early, but like most of Northern Europe, it seems that Luxembourg subscribes to the notion that anything before noon is practically the day before!
Unsurprisingly when we reached Vianden nothing was open yet, so we took the opportunity to walk through the town and down along the River Our, admiring the lush green backdrop of the Our Valley along the way. Our eyes were constantly, unavoidably being drawn up to the castle as well. Can you blame us?!
One of the stranger sights we saw was an old tank. The tank was part of a memorial commemorating the Battle of Vianden. Fought in February 1945, this battle was the last fought in Luxembourg; Vianden was the last town freed from German occupation by the Americans.
On our travels we discovered the Vianden Chairlft, a tiny little operation that, for just a few Euros, can whisk you 450m up the mountain. The thought of a 10 minute chairlift ride sounded far more appealing than an hour long hike up the mountain, so we took them up on their kind offer and were soon passing over the village, the river, and the forest canopy.
There’s not much at the top of the chairlift, just a café and a nice view. A number of hiking trails are accessible form there though so we chose one of the shorter walks and went for a stroll around the top of the rocky plateau.
Eventually our wanderings brought us to the day’s highlight: Vianden Castle.
Built in the 11th century on the foundations of a Roman castle, Vianden Castle was home to the powerful Counts of Vianden until the 15th century. To reflect their importance the Counts built a castle of truly epic proportions – once the largest of its kind in the region.
In 1417, the castle and its lands passed to the German noble house of Nassau; the same family which, in 1530, also acquired the French principality of Orange. A Renaissance-style structure was added to the castle in the 17th century, but over time the fort became less and less important.
By the 18th century it has been abandoned, and in 1820 the castle was sold to a merchant who proceeded to sell it piecemeal, starting with the furniture and ending up with the roof slates. As a result the castle was exposed to the elements and fell to ruin.
In 1977 castle was finally transferred to state ownership and a restoration program was undertaken. The result is Luxembourg’s best preserved chateaus, with 20 different rooms open to the public and a whole lot of history on display.
We spent a happy couple of hours exploring the castle, but as the sun hit its zenith our bellies were rumbling so we headed downhill to find some lunch. Much of the fare on offer was very similar to what we saw on menus in Germany and Austria (unsurprising given how close the border is), and as long time fans of all things crumbed and pan-fried, it wasn’t long before we were enjoying a couple of Wiener schnitzels. Mmmmm… schnitzel…
For the rest of the afternoon we continued our ambling through Vianden, stopping to visit the 13th century Church of St Nicholas, stadhuis (townhall) and the city ramparts*.
*In the Middle Ages, Vianden was a fully fortified town, surrounded by city walls with 24 half-round towers and 5 gates. Most of those ramparts are now gone, but a few restored ruins remain.
We also managed to find our way up to the town’s 17th century belfry, positioned on a small rocky outcropping above the river.
We were lucky to have the town virtually to ourselves today as most schools across the BeNeLux region went back this week. This and the glorious weather ensured we saw Vianden at its best. There were no maddening crowds to spoil the relaxed vibe, or to force us to hurry. We had an amazing day in Vianden and would highly recommend it to anyone visiting this part of the world. But only if you enjoy winding cobblestoned streets, old buildings, a crystal clear river meandering through the centre, beautiful little churches, a magnificent chateau on the hill, and cafés to sit at and take it all in….