Why You Should Hop Over to Luxembourg This Summer
Squeezed in among France, Germany and Belgium, Luxembourg is easy to overlook, but it is well worth seeking out. It maintains a distinct identity while absorbing influences from its bigger neighbors, resulting in a lush, rolling landscape of forests and valleys dotted with Germanic and Latin castles, perfect for exploring in a rental car. One of the most affluent populations in the world enjoys an exciting food scene (13 Michelin-starred restaurants) and excellent Moselle wines, but there is a quirky side to the Luxembourg character too.
Centuries of foreign dominance, conflicts, and disease have failed to stop Luxembourgers from hopping. And no, this has nothing to do with Easter rabbits: The city of Echternach is home to Europe’s largest traditional dancing procession, staged every Whit Tuesday and held in honour of St. Willibrord, the so-called Apostle of Benelux, an 8th-century Anglo-Saxon missionary who is said to have eliminated paganism in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany in the 8th Century. The procession is believed to have begun as a penance march inspired by the diseases rampaging through Europe in the Middle Ages.
Some 10,000 hoppers of all ages converge early in the morning in the courtyard of the abbey founded by Willibrord and are divided into 45 groups of rows of five dancers. They wear plain white tops and black trousers or skirts and link with the dancers beside them by holding onto white handkerchiefs. The handkerchiefs are key to staying balanced as the participants hop from one side to the other to an infectious polka tune, which is played repeatedly until the procession ends several hours later in the abbey’s crypt.
You might think that all the dancers look the same, but if you watch closely, you will see that, whereas the Luxembourgers perform a simple hop, the German pilgrims swing their legs more vigorously, and any Belgians present adopt a more relaxed approach, taking two steps.
The Catholic Church attempted to ban the procession, as did Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, and, much later, the Nazis. Despite the German ban, a group continued to hop within the abbey from 1941 until the end of World War II, when the residents of Echternach hopped through the rubble of the basilica, which had been blasted by the Germans just prior to Luxembourg’s liberation. The importance of the tradition was finally recognised universally in 2010, when the hopping parade was included on Unesco’s list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
If you miss the hopping procession in June, don’t worry: There are still many other attractions that will make you glad you included Luxembourg on your itinerary this year.
Luxembourg’s capital is a city of two halves, with the Old Town balanced on a rocky outpost overlooking the emerald valleys weaving below it. It developed from a 10th century fortress and grew across the network of gorges, which have since been linked by an impressive bridge system. A great way to see the city is via a marked two-hour wander along the Wenzel Walk, which brings you along the city’s ancient ramparts and through cobbled streets past turrets, palaces, and churches. Don’t miss the busy Place d’Armes, a square in the heart of the pedestrian zone; the Bock Casemates, an incredible labyrinth of tunnels carved out of the stone cliffs; and the Chemin de la Corniche, a walkway above the valley that has been described as Europe’s loveliest balcony.
Situated at the crossroads of Europe, Luxembourg’s strategic position fostered a defensive instinct that is evident today in the preponderance of impressive castles and fortresses. Many survive, popping up from rocky outposts virtually everywhere, but the most impressive of all has to be Vianden. Flanked by deep woods and anchored to the top of a dominant hill some 60 metres above a river, Vianden is the typical fairy-tale castle, bristling with turrets and ramparts. It was built originally between the 11th and 14th centuries on the foundations of a Roman castellum, and it has been meticulously restored since. Take the cable car to the castle gate for the best experience.
Wine & Beer
The Moselle River is more than just a very pretty boundary between Luxembourg and Germany: It also feeds one of the most beautiful valleys in Luxembourg, home to exceptional wineries. Indeed, D’Musel is famous as the birthplace of Luxembourg wines, predominantly white varieties including Riesling, Auxerrois, and Pinot Gris. The hinterland of the Moselle is lined with orchards that yield exceptional fruit for the production of liqueurs and schnapps.
Just beyond the bridge to Germany, you’ll find Caves Bernard-Massard, a particularly grand establishment that is arguably Luxembourg’s best-known producer of sparkling wines. And if you prefer grain to grape, beers to quaff include Diekirch, Bofferding, Simon Pils, and Mousel.
If you have a thirst to check out Luxembourg, don’t forget to arrange your car hire well in advance. Nova Car Hire has several locations in Luxembourg for you to pick up and drop off your rental car.