LUX­EM­BOURG

Los Angeles Times - - TRAVEL - Claudia Ca­pos

In the Old City, cliffs whose tun­nels shielded de­fend­ers over­look the for­mer prison Neumün­ster Abbey in the Grund, now a trendy cul­tural area.

LUX­EM­BOURG CITY, Lux­em­bourg — Our re­quire­ments for a Euro­pean city in which to celebrate a mile­stone birth­day were sim­ple: It needed to be walk­a­ble. Old­world charm was a must. And a sense of history and cul­ture was im­per­a­tive.

The Old City of Lux­em­bourg, named a UNESCO World Her­itage site in 1994, checked off all the boxes for my part­ner, Doug, and me.

We booked a three-night stay at the Hô­tel Vauban on Place Guil­laume II, or Wil­liam Square, and asked for the Vauban room, over­look­ing the Cathé­drale Notre-Dame of Lux­em­bourg.

Sébastien Le Pre­stre de Vauban, a 17th cen­tury French mil­i­tary engi­neer and mar­shal, ex­tended and re­in­forced the im­pos­ing for­ti­fi­ca­tions sur­round­ing Lux­em­bourg City, a.k.a. the Gi­bral­tar of the North, so we felt im­mersed in history from the mo­ment we un­packed.

Church bells awak­ened us ev­ery morn­ing, and we threw open our French win­dows to see what was hap­pen­ing on Wil­liam Square.

When we ar­rived, the city’s Por­tuguese com­mu­nity was host­ing an all-day fes­ti­val, with cou­ples in tra­di­tional cos­tumes danc­ing the vira and bois­ter­ous ven­dors serv­ing fried dough fil­hóses and beer. On Wed­nes­day morn­ing, lo­cal farm­ers ar­rived with crates of or­anges and fresh pro­duce to sell at the weekly mar­ket.

Ev­ery af­ter­noon, we stopped at the Palace of the Grand Dukes on Rue du Marché-aux-Herbes to watch the chang­ing of the royal guards, who strut­ted with a stiff mil­i­tary gait and pre­sented arms with ri­fles held in white­gloved hands.

We al­ways looked to see whether the palace flag was fly­ing, which sig­naled Grand Duke Henri Al­bert Gabriel Félix Marie Guil­laume, Grand Duchess Maria Teresa and their chil­dren were in res­i­dence. His royal high­ness, who be­came grand duke in 2000, is quite a celebrity, and for­mal pic­tures of the grand ducal fam­ily ap­pear on post­cards sold at gift shops.

We dis­cov­ered the city’s breath­tak­ing views on the Chemin de la Cor­niche, dubbed the “most beau­ti­ful bal­cony of Europe.” From the ser­pen­tine walk­way along the edge of the up­per Old City, we gazed down at the Grund, once an in­fa­mous pe­nal colony and now home to trendy bars and restau­rants as well as arts and en­ter­tain­ment venues.

To the north­east, we ad­mired the Bock promon­tory, the nat­u­ral for­ti­fi­ca­tion where Siegfried, count of Ar­dennes, erected his castle of Lu­cil­in­burhuc in 963, lay­ing the corner­stone for the coun­try. The rugged cliffs har­bor the Bock Case­mates, a net­work of man-made tun­nels and cham­bers that shel­tered the city’s mil­i­tary de­fend­ers and res­i­dents dur­ing wartime.

Af­ter shop­ping at posh bou­tiques along Grand Rue, we joined the evening crowd on his­toric Place d’Armes, also called the Par­lor of the City, to lis­ten to con­tem­po­rary bands per­form­ing in the cen­tral pav­il­ion.

On our last night, we splurged on a gourmet French din­ner at Le Bou­quet Garni, a fa­vorite of the grand duke. Seated at a ta­ble be­neath 500-year-old wood beams, with a win­dow over­look­ing the palace, we felt a lit­tle like roy­alty our­selves.

Claudia Ca­pos

A VINTAGE CANNON sits near an ar­tillery open­ing in the Bock Case­mates, a cen­turies-old sys­tem of man-made tun­nels in the cliffs of Lux­em­bourg City.

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