Thursday, 27 May 2010

Luxemburg and the Moselle

Rob –

Next door to the Belgian Ardennes lies Luxemburg.  This little country was rather a blank in my map of Europe,  being surrounded by much bigger neighbours and not really on the route to anywhere, but it was the natural next place, and the chance for me to add the last one to my ‘been to’ list in Western Europe.

Our route through Luxemburg - with bike ride (and return by train)

The border with Belgium was unmarked, except that the roadside trees suddenly started to sport white rings at headlamp height.  The same high rolling countryside and thick woods continued, making northern Luxemburg a most attractive area.  It is a linguistically confused country though, where officialdom writes in French – including all road signs and public notices - while newspapers write in German with random articles in French, and the populace almost all use a strong dialect of German – known as Letzebuergisch – amongst themselves.
The Lëtzebuergisch language

The small town of Clervaux had a large castle and a nice location but not much else, whilst in Wiltz, Garmintrude began to go mad, trying to send us up no-entry streets and dead-ends, and then directing us up ever steeper and narrower alleys when we refused to obey.   Maps and signposts proved far safer, but she wouldn’t have it and kept telling us to U-turn or take farm tracks for miles as we progressed down the correct and obvious route.

We stopped for two nights on a campsite by the river Sûre (French name) or Sauer (German name) near the pretty castle-topped village of Esch-sur-Sûre.  This is a popular holiday area, and the lovely wooded valley was lined with campsites.   Ours, which had been so quiet on a Thursday night, suddenly filled with German, Dutch and Luxemburger campers on Friday, as people took advantage of the scorching weekend weather.
Camping by the Sure

Summer arrived in earnest during our stay by the Sûre/Sauer, as the wind dropped and the sun reigned unopposed.  Out came our shorts, and we had the first barbecues of the trip, in the little fold-away brazier we’d bought just as an afterthought the day before we left the UK.

I went out on my bike one day to visit Luxemburg city, some 50km away.  It was an up-and-down ride, but along good and (mostly) low-traffic roads.  Unfortunately the city itself didn’t impress me much – it smacked too much of modern international blandness, many pavement cafes but little that was really unique, and even its buildings were unremarkable.  The one point in which it was notable though was its 18th century ramparts, towering massively above a deep gorge.  At their foot lay a small neighbourhood called Grund, now somewhat bohemian in character, which, from its narrow cobbled streets below, offered a fine perspective of the fortifications.
Luxemburg city ramparts from Grund

On the third day – Saturday 22nd May – we moved on, crossing Luxemburg (it doesn’t take long!) to the Moselle valley in the east, and stopped for the night on a carpark by the river in the village of Ehnen, in the heart of Luxemburg’s vineyard area.  This carpark had become a sort of unofficial aire for motorhomes.  A Dutch couple were here when we arrived, and by nightfall we were six vehicles.    The two of us sampled local Luxemburg white wines at a nearby bar.  I for one had never suspected that Luxemburg had any wines !
The Moselle wine route

Lesley’s bit –

Another day – another car park! One with an impressive aspect though, beside a large park right on the banks of the Moselle, with its massive barges, cars parked on their roofs, sailing past all hours of the day and night, carrying coal, scrap metal and sundry other heavy loads.
Charlie dog watching a barge on the Moselle - he's impressed - we can tell!

Rob was woken up around dawn to an apparently loud noise, which failed to register with me at all. Fearing a Luxemburg SWAT squad come to move on the merry band of motorhomers parked up for the night he got up to investigate, only to find it was an incredibly low flying helicopter going about its morning acrobatic crop dusting of the vines. Like a mad man he got up to take photos.
Spraying the vines

As it was Sunday, families soon began to set up camp in the park, staking out areas with BBQs, awnings, tables and chairs. Many of the groups seemed to be Portuguese. We are not sure why this particular area has pulled its migrant workers from Portugal, but they seem pretty settled. Portuguese can be heard in the streets in every town we passed through. In fact, the local patisserie in Ehnan was Portuguese and we breakfasted on typical bolos filled with sugary custard and coated with icing and almonds.
Morning on the Moselle

Boy was it a hot day. We hate driving on hot days. Rob behind a wheel, watching cyclists out on the roads, gets into a sour and resentful mood on hot days. So why on earth did we move on? We’d kind of hoped to do a bit of wine tasting, but the vineyards offering tastings were not open in Luxemburg. Probably just as well – a downside of being in a van is passing all the dégustations and knowing you’re just not going to be able to partake. Now if only we could manage to spit out the wine into the buckets provided... The trouble was that Rob had set his heart on a mini wine tour of this region, having once met a cycle tourist who recommended a bike as the perfect way to make a wine tour of the Moselle. All we could really do was decide to make a determined effort to plan for a proper wine tasting on our return through this area in a few weeks time. Maybe I could hire a bike for the flat stretch and we could do a mini wine cycle tour for just a few miles? Charlie could trot sedately by my side until I fall off drunk.
A perfect cycle route alongside the Moselle

Nothing was open in Luxemburg, but it was Sunday. However, nothing much had been open on Saturday, or on Friday for that matter and it begged the question of where do they buy their food? We hadn’t seen much in the way of food shops at all – small or large. Lots of incredibly clean streets, lots of smart clothes shops, masses of petrol stations serving lengthy queues of Germans filling up on much cheaper fuel (€1 a litre here for diesel)- but no food shops. Are they disguised?

We had seen no campsites on the Luxemburg side of the Moselle, but sprawling along the German bank there were loads, so we had headed that way, ending our brief affair with Luxemburg.

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