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Luxembourg - Eating and sleeping
For those with deep pockets, the good news is that Luxembourg has more Michelin-starred restaurants per head (11 in a nation of half a million) than anywhere else in the world, with truly outstanding cuisine and wine lists to die for. But you don’t need to break the bank in order to eat very well anywhere. Most places, even the top ones, offer a special menu du jour at lunchtime on weekdays, which may include up to three courses sold at a fraction of the à la carte prices.
The biggest influences in Luxembourg restaurant food tend to come from the south, and many dishes are French-inspired. Despite the proximity to Germany you won’t find sausage very often (apart from at festivals), although a central European influence is visible in the regular appearance of veal in tourist areas – particularly in the triumvirate form of veal cordon bleu (stuffed with ham and cheese, and fried in breadcrumbs), veal escalope with cream and mushrooms, and escalope viennoise, also known as wienerschnitzel. These latter dishes pander to tourist rather than local demands, however, so can’t really be classed as ‘typically Luxembourgish’.
(Photo: Mettwurst are a popular snack at Luxembourg's festivals © Tim Skelton)
One thing Luxembourg shares with its neighbour Belgium is that while food is prepared with French finesse, it’s often also served in huge portions to suit Teutonic appetites. Brace yourself: one thing you’re unlikely to do here is go hungry. Luxembourg City’s restaurants cover every aspect of world cuisine, but countryside eating options are sometimes more limited. Smaller villages may only have a brasserie serving a combination of French/Luxembourgish/tourist fare, and perhaps a bar for snack foods such as croque monsieur (ham and cheese toastie) and burgers. Most towns also have pizzerias, and maybe a Chinese outlet with a couple of Japanese or Thai choices.
Vegetarians face a tougher time. In many traditional restaurants, meat-free is still an alien concept – you might have to develop a taste for warm goat’s cheese salad, or choose somewhere with a pasta and pizza menu. The availability of meatless dishes usually improves the further upmarket you go. There are several dedicated
vegetarian restaurants in Luxembourg City. The range of salads on restaurant menus, available either as starters or mains, is regularly excellent, although even most of these contain meat. And an example of the Italian influence on the country is that even in non-Italian restaurants, carpaccio has become a standard item – some places offer half-a-dozen variations involving diff erent meats and fish.
The national dish is judd mat gaardebounen (the ‘j’ is pronounced like the ‘s’ in measure): smoked neck of pork, served on a bed of stewed broad beans and accompanied with potatoes sautéed in bacon. It’s hearty, tasty, and the portion sizes oft en verge on the titanic. Another favourite is bouchée à la reine, also called paschtéitchen – chicken and mushrooms in a puff -pastry case. A large vol-au-vent in other words.
Grilled sausages appear on restaurant menus in the form of the slender weinzossis, served with mashed potatoes and a mustard cream sauce – the Luxembourg equivalent of bangers ‘n’ mash. Chunkier mettwurst and grillwurst are sold from outdoor stalls during festivals and other events. You may encounter the latter billed as Luxemburger grillwurst, Lëtzeburger grillwurscht, Luxringer, and other regional alternatives such as Ouringer (in Vianden), but all are essentially the same thing: variations on the classic Germanic bratwurst.
As Luxembourg is landlocked, freshwater fish have had a greater impact on national cuisine than seafood. Trout (truite) is seen everywhere, cooked in a variety of ways, often au Riesling, with a wine/cream sauce. Near the Moselle, two regional specialities to look out for are pike (brochet) in Riesling sauce, and friture de la Moselle: a plate of Moselle river fish of various descriptions and sizes, deep-fried. Eat the latter with your fingers: with larger specimens, chew the flesh off the bone; smaller ones are designed to go down whole in the same way as whitebait.
Luxembourg’s home-produced Moselle wines are frequently excellent and several of the larger wineries have caves (literally cellars) that can be visited on a tour for a small fee, usually including a tasting. Almost every café and restaurant stocks at least a small selection alongside its imported (predominantly French) choices. The only exceptions tend to be upmarket Italian restaurants, which may stock only wines from that country.
(Photo: The Riesling Open is one the biggest wine festivals in the country © Tim Skelton)
Local wines sold by the glass in traditional bars and cafés cost €2–4 depending on grape variety (Elbling and Rivaner are cheaper, Riesling more expensive) and location. The vessel in question is often the distinctive 20cl engraved bowl with a green stem that’s common in the nearby German Mosel. I’ve also come across a curious unwritten rule that appears to stipulate that each and every one of these must have a small chip out of its base (restaurant glasses and those in more upmarket bars are always posher and usually arrive intact).
Surprisingly perhaps, given that Luxembourg is wedged between Belgium and Germany – two of Europe’s greatest brewing nations – their influence hasn’t really rubbed off. Beers are widely produced and drunk, but the vast majority are lager-style Pilseners created for the mass market and without much attention paid to flavour. If you just ask for a beer in a bar, this is what you’ll end up with – the strength of most offerings hovers in the 5% abv region. Ordering a mini will get you a 25cl glass of draught beer; a humpen is a 33cl glass; and a grande bière 50cl.
There’s accommodation to suit every pocket in Luxembourg, from simple campsites, youth hostels, holiday apartments and gîtes, to the most luxurious of five-star hotels. The one thing that’s relatively unknown here is the bed and breakfast concept as you might understand it: a family house with two or three rooms let out to overnight guests. There are a few, but most places that advertise bed and breakfast accommodation are actually small hotels. The national tourist office produces separate brochures containing listings of campsites, hotels (and some restaurants) and holiday apartments. These are available from tourist offices or can be ordered online at www.visitluxembourg.com.
Gites and self-catering apartments
For economic stays of a week or more, consider renting a holiday apartment. These usually sleep two to eight people and have kitchens for self-catering. Often they are former farmhouses, while some are found in unusual locations such as the medieval watchtowers in Echternach’s city wall. Get hold of the national tourist office’s free brochure for a full list.
For those on a budget Luxembourg has a superb system of youth hostels (www.youthhostels.lu), which between them provide around 1,000 beds. Non-YHA members are welcome, but must buy a guest card costing €3 per day. Many of the nine countrywide locations are either new or recently refurbished, and the facilities in all are excellent. Prices always include breakfast and bedding, meaning you don’t need to bring sheets or sleeping bags. In some establishments, two people can rent out smaller dorms as doubles for a slight premium. Th e hostels also have cafeterias offering daily menus, which can be a real bargain. Advance booking can be done online, and is recommended as they do fi ll up.
There are good clean campsites all over the country, offering great value for money. Sometimes they may be large-scale sites geared up to receive caravans, with electrical hookups, supermarkets, tennis courts and swimming pools on site. Nonetheless many are also in idyllic riverside or wooded spots, and may have a quiet corner where individual campers can pitch their tents away from the mêlée. Fees are usually charged per person and per pitch. By and large you avoid the latter if all you have is a small tent.