There are several candidates for the title of Luxembourg’s prettiest village. Esch-sur-Sûre, improbably squeezed into a picturesque bend of the Sûre river, is definitely on the shortlist. Vianden, with its long history and spectacular castle, cannot be ignored either.
But for a perfect harmony of nature, history and culture, Bourglinster is perhaps my favourite of them all. Despite being situated only a few kilometres from the main route between Luxembourg’s two most celebrated tourist destinations – the capital city and the Mullerthal – the village remains a well-kept secret, and a great destination for a sunny Saturday afternoon hike.
Separated from Luxembourg City by the enormous “Gréngewald” forest and surrounded on three sides by imposing sandstone rocks, Bourglinster feels a million miles away from the bustling capital. A roughly cobbled street and a jumble of elegant old dwellings clustered around the foot of a medieval castle immediately testify to the ancient credentials of the village, but, in fact, people were living in Bourglinster long before the cobblestones were laid…
Our hike around Bourglinster started in the Iron Age, so to speak. The fortified Celtic settlement of “Beddelsteen” is thought to have been built some 2,500 years ago and would have been rather large in its day, covering 1.5ha. However, rather little of it remains to the casual hiker’s eye today except some still-obvious stone fortifications flanking the neighbouring plateau, and an incredible viewpoint over the village below.
From here, the path rises up to an area popular with dog-walking, fresh-air loving locals from Bourglinster and the neighbouring villages of Junglinster and Gonderange. The variety of paths and walks on offer is really quite staggering…
The signposts may be new, but one of these paths has been here for thousands of years: an old Roman “Rennpad” cutting its characteristically arrow-straight north-south axis over the Eechhêlz plateau. We followed it for a while before ducking downhill into the quiet cobbled streets of the village.
The focal point of Bourglinster is, of course, the castle. Initially built in the 12th century, this strangely elegant hotchpotch of a fortress has elements of just about every mid-millennial architectural style going: romanesque, gothic, renaissance, baroque; it’s all there if you know where to look.
The castle has dominated village life in this village for centuries, and – rather wonderfully – it still does. I often feel that the castle in my home village of Beaufort – larger and more celebrated than Bourglinster – is somewhat peripheral to the life of the village itself; an enclave almost exclusively for tourists, and closed entirely to locals and tourists alike for five months each year. As a welcome contrast, the grounds of Bourglinster castle are free to enter, a pleasure to explore, and directly accessible from the village centre.
Inside the main keep, the castle buildings are used for a variety of purposes benefitting the whole community, not just tourists. Two award-winning restaurants front the main courtyard and it’s a regular venue for classical music concerts and other events.
Just on the other side of the drawbridge and moat, some elegant annexes have been converted into artists’ studios. It is unlikely, however, that any of these artists were responsible for the bizarre sculptures found in the nearby forest – small overhangs on a sandstone rock crafted into several ghostly faces. In fact, not much is known about these sculptures at all, except that they were created “fairly recently” by an unknown genius. The visages themselves may not be smiling, but they are sure to put a smile on the faces of those lucky enough to discover them.
Even more recently, some local wisecracks have attempted to add their artistic stamp to this quirky collection of rock art… and failed. Hilariously.
Our hike continued up to another plateau and along the southern edges of the rocky outcrops buffering the village from the busy masses streaming out of Luxembourg City on the N11. In the rapidly cooling air of early evening, I wondered how many of those people zooming through the countryside in their shiny cars have taken the short detour into Bourglinster; how many have slowed down to explore and savour this little Luxembourgish village brimming with nature, culture and history?
Practical information on visiting Bourglinster
- Bourglinster is located 13 km north-east of Luxembourg City.
- Bus 100 runs regularly from the city centre (“Badanstalt” bus stop, journey time is around 20 mins).
- If arriving by car, Bourglinster is well signposted from the N11 / E29 between Luxembourg and Echternach; free parking available near the castle.
- For hikers, the village is at the southern end of the celebrated “Mullerthal Trail” (“Extra Tour D”).
- Information on the restaurants in the castle can be found here.
- Right in the heart of the village, “D’Autrefois” is a rather exquisite tea room often frequented by Mrs Daisy the bus for special treats. Also sells high-end foods and gifts.
- Kids need to let off steam? There’s a very nice (newly renovated) playground in the park between the Rue de l’École and Rue d’Altlinster.
All photos and text (c) 2017 Jonathan Orr
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