The city has more to offer than just tax efficient financial districts.
As the smell of sulphur still hung in the air from the fireworks celebrating Luxembourg’s National Day, a band enters on stage in a small square near the centre of the town.
I watch as a masked Belgian rock group perform alongside a burlesque act in what can only be described as a cross between Slipknot and Dita Von Teese. The square is packed with revellers – I easily forget I’m in a city frequently dismissed as ‘just’ a major financial hub.
Yes, some of the clichés are true – the capital of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is home to the European Investment Bank and 11 other EU institutions, alongside countless other international banks and law firms. Yet, there is so much more to the city than their home in the modern business district of Kirchberg.
Luxembourg comes alive during the summer months for the annual Fete de la Musique and the National Day.
My first experience of what was going on beneath the city (quite literally) was a concert in the Bock Casements. These caves were previously used to fortify the city in times of war and are the world’s longest underground passageways. Descending into the caves and into the darkness I get the feeling of anticipation. Various musical instruments sit in nooks and crannies, illuminated by pink and purple lights.
The performance, ‘The Dark’ was unique and haunting. I can safely say it was the first time I had seen musicians include the sounds of rubber ducks as part of a concert. The sopranos voice was so evocative it didn’t matter in the slightest I couldn’t understand a word she was singing.
I ate at L’Osteria an Italian restaurant at the edge of Place Guillaume II. The square was already full of people eating and drinking from the various pop-up vans and eagerly awaiting the performance by Grammy award winner Angélique Kidjo. After dinner I grabbed a Cemant (the Luxembourger equivalent of sparkling wine) and joined the crowd.
She took to the stage accompanied by the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra and, my, did I realise why she has won a Grammy – this woman’s voice shook you and moved you to the core. At one point she had the entire crowd – about 3,000 people – singing Afrikia, a truly powerful moment.
One of my excuses to return is to see the orchestra perform in their home on the Kirchberg Plateau. The 1,500 – seater concert hall is an ode to a forest. The white pillars that surround the concert hall are designed to represent trees. Christian de Portzamparc, the designer, originally imagined that visitors would walk through the doors and enter the realm of music.
Leaving my own realm of music, I resisted the temptation of various night establishments to retire to bed. I was staying at the Hôtel Le Royal, which gets the thumbs up from me for having avocado toast as part of their breakfast offering and, oddly enough, a heated Japanese toilet seat – don’t knock it until you have tried it. I decide to fill the morning of my second day in Luxembourg with a spot of culture. There are various museums dotted around the city but I choose to head out to the MUDAM (Musée D’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean) for some contemporary art and lunch.
The MUDAM is where old meets new. It was built on the site of an ancient fort and designed by Leoh Ming Pei, famous for the Louvre pyramid. As luck would have it, I bumped into Belgian artist Wim Delvoye. He gave me a guided tour of his controversial permanent installation, Chappelle – it involved an x-ray and a dildo, and spoke about his new exhibition at the MUDAM, a celebration of 25 years of his work.
He explains why he choose the MUDAM over a museum in his home city: “I think the people who live in Luxembourg are more liberal and more open minded. I like that about them.”
After lunch in the café (a tasty meat salad, the largest slice of apple pie I have ever eaten and a glass or two of wine) we get a sneak preview of the exhibition and I understand why Delvoye is considered controversial. The exhibition contains one of his works, Cloaca – the famous mechanical digestive apparatus that produces, well, shit.
Luxembourg evolved from a giant old fortress, a plateau protected by giant cliffs and wandering back into town that afternoon I became enamoured with its natural beauty.
The Old Town is filled with idyllic cobbled streets that lead you from quaint squares around to the fairy tale-like Palais Grand-Ducal and past fancy food-filled independent shops.
I visit a coffee shop housed in a vintage store – the sort of place that would be filled with hipsters in London. There are standard tables in the front of the shop, but the owner encourages me to sit back on the comfy patterned chairs. The wine I order is served on an antique silver tray with a side order of crisps. Declining the offer of a second glass of wine on the house, I amble down what is arguably the most scenic part of the city, the corniche promenade. It has been described as the most beautiful balcony in Europe where you can look over the lower town Grund.
My favourite part of the trip was exploring the lower town of Grund, which sits on the Alzette River at the base of the former fortress surrounding Luxembourg City old town. The views along the river are stunning and the views up to the old town are even more spectacular. I was lucky enough to enjoy dinner further down on the banks of the river at Brassiere Mansfeld. It’s an upmarket restaurant set in a historical building. I ate alfresco on the terrace and devoured the best steak I’ve had this year.