This trip is part of a 14th birthday treat for Jamie, one of my three sons, who has a love of all things historical. It will be his first time in Luxembourg, but strictly speaking not mine. I’d driven through Luxembourg 14 years before on a mammoth 1400 mile road trip from Hertfordshire in the UK to Lake Balaton in Hungary. I still recall having to force myself to keep my eyes on the road, whilst driving along fast highways and viaducts constructed above the city, with fleeting images of some wonderful architecture – spires, stone streets and historic battlements – forming a seemingly integral part of the surrounding hills and ridges and the valley floor below. I only discover some time later that it’s actually a world heritage site.
Heathrow to Luxembourg (40 Tier Points)
Working back from the 7:25am Saturday morning departure time of BA416 from Heathrow Terminal 3, adding an hour to drive from my home to the airport, a buffer in case of any delays, and the unwelcome sound of the alarm is being heard at 3:30am in North Herts. Fortunately there are no delays, but the M25 is still surprisingly busy at 4:30am. We park up on the top floor of the short-stay car park at T3.
Arriving at the terminal building just before 5:00am, and annoyingly fast-track security is not yet open, so we’re directed through the regular slower channels. The Qantas lounge is also not an option, not opening until 8:00am, so we default to the Cathay lounge. As well as all things historic, Jamie has a love of Asian food, and he’s in his element in the noodle bar in the Cathay lounge. Even at 5am, the kitchen is producing a steady stream of pork fried rice, prawn dim sum and wonton noodle soup.
The aircraft flying us to Luxembourg today is G-EUUN, one of the A320 workhorses of the BA short-haul fleet. Delivered in 2003, it was one of a large batch of A320’s purchased by BA as they pivoted away from the Boeing 737 for short-haul. Even ignoring the issues with the current MAX8 variant, I’ve always found the A320 a more pleasant aircraft to fly. Its fuselage diameter is slightly larger meaning a tiny bit more interior space, and its ground up fly-by-wire design seems to ensure greater comfort, as well as instil greater confidence in safe operations.
The flight to Luxembourg is a short one, with a flight time today of just 55 minutes. It’s a small airport, and quiet at this time of the morning, so we’re straight through immigration. As a double nice surprise, the bus to the city centre is ready to depart the minute we board, and is also free of charge.
It’s about a 20 minute bus ride to the old town centre. When we arrive there’s a deep and slow, but recurring, ringing of a solitary church bell, and despite the crowds, the atmosphere in the old town is somewhat sombre. Today is actually the funeral of the Grand Duke of Luxembourg. The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg was established in 1815 by the Congress of Vienna, and whilst its strategic location and terrain in Europe has meant it’s been the focal point of numerous confrontations, it remains an autonomous and independent state.
Exploring some of the battlements, and the views are fantastic, adding real colour to the 14 year old fleeting images in my head.
After wandering around the streets of the old town and enjoying lunch, we head to our hotel to checkin. We are staying at the Novotel which, as the crow flies, is not a huge distance from the old town, but the shortest route there involves traversing one of the valleys; my watch is telling me “floor climb target reached” a way before we reach the other side.
The floor target moves from exceeded to a personal record later on Saturday. After a rest in the hotel we decide to head back to the old town and explore “Casemates du Bock”. These are a labyrinth of historic tunnels and old fortifications built into a ridge. They permeate the ridge something like a Swiss cheese, with some of the lookouts affording great views of the city and beyond.
Sunday and it’s a day for more walking and exploring. Again, both the step count and floor count on my watch are getting a workout. First destination is Grund, a part of the city nestled in a valley with a small river running through. The buildings are pretty with a distinct medieval charm, and today there are numerous stalls selling hand made art and craft.
The walk rises steeply out of Grund up onto some more towers and battlements, down into another valley, and across a river.
Climbing again, initially by road and then suddenly by steep wooded path we make our way up to the fortress of Drai Eechelon, now a history museum. The museum explains how it now exists as a remnant of the old fortifications; the city was demilitarised as part of the Treaty of London, signed in 1867 which forbade its subsequent use as a military site and required it to remain neutral in perpetuity.
Luxembourg is home to several institutions which form part of the administrative bodies of the EU, including the Secretariat of the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice. Some of these buildings are just five minutes walk on from the fortress on the plateau of Kirchberg.
Heading down from Kirchberg and back into the old town, we’re able to visit Note Dame Cathedral, off limits the day before because of the state funeral.
Sightseeing done, it’s time for some dinner and souvenir shopping before heading for the airport.
Luxembourg to Heathrow (40 Tier Points)
The return flight is scheduled for 21:30. Combined with the early Saturday arrival it does mean that we’ve been able to pack an awful lot into just two days, and have seen all of the key city sights. Staying longer would probably mean heading out of the city and exploring other parts of the duchy. Taking the free bus to the airport, we head to the lounge, which for the size of airport is quite large and comfortable, presumably catering to the number of business travellers visiting this wealthy Duchy.
Sitting watching the aircraft movements on the tarmac, and there are a surprising number of 747 freighters taking off and landing, many more than I’d expect for an airport of this size. Checking this out, and it seems Luxembourg is home to the 6th largest airfreight platform in Europe, handling almost 1 million tonnes of cargo in 2018.
Eventually our comparatively tiny A320 lands and taxis to the gate.
It’s another short and smooth ride home, both by air and car, with most of the weekend M25 traffic having dissipated by the time we hit it. A great trip, and unlike Helsinki, the 80 tier points earned were definitely a nice side effect, rather than the raison d’etre for this one.