Raise your hand if you can point to Luxembourg on a map. Europeans, put your hands down. Ok, who’s left?
Don’t feel bad, Luxembourg – most Americans can’t point to Rhode Island on a map either.
It’s simply a fact that small countries tend to get overlooked. To put things in perspective, Luxembourg’s country borders encompass an area slightly smaller than the city of Osaka, Japan, or Yosemite National Park in California. (Imagine Yosemite smushed between Montana and Texas and you can imagine how it might feel to be Luxembourg, sandwiched between France and Germany.) Yet these three land areas couldn’t be more different – Luxembourg’s population of just over 525,000 is a stark contrast to Yosemite’s virtually uninhabited wilderness, while over 16 million people live in Osaka. Because the majority of Luxembourg’s population is concentrated in the capital, Luxembourg City, the rest of the country is mostly covered with pretty green forests, fields, and rolling hills.
Because of its geographical location and modest size, Luxembourg has historically been repeatedly drawn into conflicts when international disputes have erupted between France and Germany, including during both world wars. But despite its diminutive size, Luxembourg survived, rising like a phoenix from the flames to become a global powerhouse. Like Switzerland, it values secrecy in banking and is a well known tax haven. It’s consistently ranked as one of the best, and richest, countries in the world. As a truly trilingual country speaking French, German, and Luxembourgish (the official national language, similar to German), Luxembourg City is one of the three capital cities of the EU, along with Brussels and Strasbourg.
On our road trip back to Germany from Paris, we decided to swing through Luxembourg for a visit to the Bock Casemates, undoubtedly the capital’s most popular attraction.
The Bock Casemates are a series of tunnels, military fortifications that were chiseled deep in the rock walls of Luxembourg City. Stretching for 17 kilometers, they’ve been open to the public for exploration since 1933.
Though some semblance of a settlement has existed on the same site for over a thousand years, the Bock fortifications weren’t created until the 17th century when the region was dominated by the Spaniards. The fortress tunnels were later modified with the tunnels reaching depths of up to 40 meters, extending down several levels and connected by stone stairs.
“Windows” were also added in the rock face to allow artillery and soldiers to protect the fortress.
I found it was these openings that made the casemates so interesting. We could tiptoe up to a window and peer out north to the Alzette River, then turn and take a few steps to the opposite bank of windows to see – well, the Alzette River again. Blocked by the tremendous width and height of the Bock promontory, the river had chosen a natural course east and north to flow around the Bock before neatly doubling back west.
For a couple of hours, we explored the casemates, descending down several tightly bound stone staircases.
At the lowest point, we reached a long corridor, eerily lit with purple light. Rooms branched off the main corridor, at one time intended to shelter the town’s citizens during attack or to store food or munitions.
Though we would have loved to stay longer to explore Old Town, we also now know what a quiet, hidden gem the city is. The entire country is a nature-lover’s paradise. With its expansive green spaces and lazy, scenic rivers, we’ve officially added Luxembourg as a place worthy of further exploration.
- Price – €4 per adult to tour the Bock Casemates, €2 for children.
- The casemates are closed from December 1 – February 28.
- Official site of the Casemates du Bock
- Folks speak French, German, and/or Luxembourgish. Because Luxembourg City is quite international, a large number of folks also speak English.
- The country currency is the euro.
- If you’re traveling by car, driving in Luxembourg is comparable to driving in France, though with less traffic. Paid parking is available very near the casemates.
- The city is small and it goes to bed early, so plan accordingly!