The country the size of Dorset you need to put on your bucket list: Head to historic Luxembourg for culture, fairytale castles – and FREE end-to-end public transport
Imagine being in a country where you can travel from end to end without paying a penny. Meet the first country in the world to provide public transport for everyone, to everywhere absolutely free: here’s to you, Luxembourg.
And while this was a domestic initiative designed to get cars off the road, the end result is a boon for tourists.
Luxembourg is landlocked by France, Germany and Belgium, and is such a tiny dot on the map (the country’s roughly the size of Dorset) that sometimes it’s hard to even spot. The Dutch, Belgians and French have long been coming here, but British holidaymakers traditionally have stayed away. One look at Luxembourg City and it’s clear we’ve been missing out.
The hilly capital teeters around and inside a ravine. It’s a colourful jumble of gothic steeples, turrets and pastel painted houses, which cling to the gorge’s sheer sandstone walls all the way down to the river.
There is a glass lift to whisk you up and down — free to use, naturally — so you can enjoy the view.
Luxembourg is landlocked by France, Germany and Belgium, and is such a tiny dot on the map (the country’s roughly the size of Dorset) that sometimes it’s hard to even spot. Above is Luxembourg city
‘One look at Luxembourg City [above],’ writes Jo Kessel, ‘and it’s clear we’ve been missing out’
Luxembourg has had a tumultuous past. Over the centuries it’s been fought over and ruled by the French, the Habsburgs and the Dutch and it wasn’t until 1867 that it finally gained independence, although it lost a lot of land to its neighbours. Instead of having a monarch as head of state, the country has a grand duke, which makes Luxembourg the world’s only grand duchy. The current Duke, Henri, is 68 and took over when his father abdicated in 2000.
His palace (complete with marching soldiers) is built on a plateau. ‘He’s home,’ says my guide, pointing to a parked Tesla.
It takes an hour to drive from Luxembourg’s top to bottom, so instead of dragging my suitcase about, I’ve planned day trips from the capital.
My hotel is in the hilltop Kirchberg district, next to the Mudam museum of modern art and opposite the European Court of Justice. From the airport it had been an easy bus journey and it’s a five-minute tram-ride from Kirchberg to town. But will venturing beyond the capital be as straightforward?
The first day is textbook. A tram then bus deliver me to the Moselle region, where terraced vineyards rise from the river. Schengen is the famous tripoint where three countries meet. Walk from here across the bridge and you’ll find yourself in Germany. Turn right and you’re soon in France. This builds up a thirst and the Domaine L&R Kox winery offers tastings. Their riesling and pinot noir slip down nicely, but it’s the £22-a-pop 2014 sparkling cremant which steals the show — it’s elegant, dry and dances on the tongue.
Jo visits Vianden Castle (above), a fairytale chateau perched on a hill
Above is an aerial view of Esch-sur-Sure. Luxembourg packs a mighty punch, says Jo
Imagine being in a country where you can travel from end to end without paying a penny – that’s Luxembourg
Luxembourg is one of the world’s best-ever freebies, declares Jo. Above is Adolphe Bridge and Constitution Square in Luxembourg city
To the north I enjoy visits to Vianden Castle (a fairytale chateau perched on a hill) followed by Edward Steichen’s Family Of Man photography exhibition.
My final adventure involves a hike in the east, where forests look almost extra-terrestrial. Gargantuan 200 million-year-old rock stacks soar between trees and the 70-mile Mullerthal hiking trail undulates between them.
For one of Europe’s smallest countries, Luxembourg packs a mighty punch. It has culture, castles and vineyards, as well as some of the most unique hiking terrain. Better still, it can now be explored for absolutely nothing. No paying to get on a bus, no worrying you’ve bought the right ticket — it’s one of the world’s best-ever freebies.
B&B in a double room at the Melia Hotel, Luxembourg City (melia.com) costs from £155. Return flights from London City Airport to Luxembourg City (luxair.lu) cost from £92. Further information: visitluxembourg.com.