x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Luxembourg is the Grand Duchy full of surprises

My Kind of place: One of Europe's best-kept secrets is a highly appealing haven for pleasure as well as tax.

Neumünster Abbey, a public meeting place and cultural centre, can be found in the Grund district. Hans Georg Eiben / LOOK / Getty Images
Neumünster Abbey, a public meeting place and cultural centre, can be found in the Grund district. Hans Georg Eiben / LOOK / Getty Images

Why Luxembourg?

The capital of the world's only Grand Duchy takes the breath away of first-time visitors; it is perched atop a series of rocky hills that tumble down into steep ravines and gorges. Most people do not know that Luxembourg has its own language - just say "moien" when you arrive, it means "hello" - and will make these welcoming people even more friendly. But this is just the tip of the iceberg of surprises offered by one of Europe's best-kept secrets.

Renowned as a tax haven, Luxembourg's government has pledged to end the secrecy around its financial sector. The administrative offices of the European Parliament may be based here but smokers are still free to light up and puff away in bars and cafes. Luxembourgers are a minority in their own city; according to the news website wort.lu, the population now exceeds 530,000, with the number of non-nationals standing at 44.5 per cent. Expats enjoy a vibrant lifestyle when it comes to eating out and shopping. There is also a busy cultural calendar that takes in major art exhibitions, classical concerts and summer jazz and music festivals.

A comfortable bed

Businessmen will be tempted to check in at the ultra-modern Hotel Sofitel Luxembourg Le Grand Ducal (www.sofitel.com/luxembourg). Prices are €185 (Dh890) for a double room including taxes, and the hotel boasts breathtaking, panoramic views from its hip penthouse Coco Manga bar. But for a truly romantic stay, nothing beats Le Place d'Armes (www.hotel-leplacedarmes.com; 00 352 274737), which is housed in a sumptuous row of 18th century houses. A double room costs from €350 (Dh1,680) including taxes. Luxembourg has not yet discovered designer B&B accommodation, but one original address is Hotel Simoncini (www.hotelsimoncini.lu, 00 352 222844), the ground floor of which is occupied by the owner's respected modern art gallery. Prices for a weekend double room start at €120 (Dh575) for a double room including taxes.

Find your feet

Take the Chemin de la Corniche that runs along the battlements of the mountain fortress, which has defended the city for 10 centuries. Down below are the picturesque medieval neighbourhoods of Clausen and Grund. Up above, the historical town centre is compact and walker-friendly, from the opulent Grand Ducal Palace to the buzzing Place Guillaume II. If you want to continue on foot, be warned that there are a lot of steep up-and-down streets. A solution is the two-day Luxembourg Card, which, for €19 (Dh90), includes all transport, museum entry and a one-hour guided city tour. A short bus ride away is the Kirchberg quarter, home of the European Parliament Secretariat, global banks and Mudam (www.m3e.lu), the modern art museum.

Meet the locals

Every Saturday morning most Luxembourgers arrive at the lively farmers' market that fills Place Guillaume II to shop and have coffee at one of the square's sunny terraces. Luxembourg city is the perfect destination for people with a sweet tooth, and each afternoon, the genteel salons of cake shops such as Namur and Oberweis are packed with elegant ladies tucking into Black Forest gateau. There is a lively after-work scene on Thursdays and Fridays, with three bars on rue du Marché aux Herbes forming a Bermuda Triangle of partygoers from 6pm until the early hours. Choose between the chic Go Ten and Cafe du Palais, or the fun Irish-run Urban Cafe.

Book a table

To serve its high-powered financial and Eurocrat community, the city boasts plenty of top-class restaurants. The top table, specialising in Italian cuisine, is the romantic Mosconi (www.mosconi.lu), where a tasting menu costs €130 (Dh620). For more relaxed dining, there are plenty of atmospheric brasseries. Down in the lively Clausen area, La Mousel's Cantine (www.mouselscantine.lu) used to be the workers' canteen of an ancient brewery, and each evening is like a party, with waiters balancing huge portions of spit-roasted spring chicken, lamb chops and entrecôte steaks.

Back in the centre of town, the art deco Brasserie Guillaume (www.brasserieguillaume.lu) is an institution and is renowned for its copious seafood platters and a dozen variations of steak tartare. Main dishes in these brasseries are priced €18-25 (Dh85-120). For lunch, try traditional Luxembourg dumplings accompanied by juicy mushrooms at Kniddelkinnek (www.kniddelkinnek.lu).

Shopper's paradise

Forget mega shopping malls. Luxembourg specialises in discreet boutiques conveniently concentrated around the main shopping drag, La Grande Rue. Apart from the haute-couture "usual suspects" - Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Cartier - check out stores such as Swimming Pool and Cape Cod (www.smets.lu).

For jewellery, Grewenig-Sauerborn (www.grewenig-sauerborn.de) is a local designer who creates irresistible earrings, rings and bracelets. Alternatively, wander into Bonn (www.bonn.lu), a traditional department store.

What to avoid

Asking locals for directions, as most "locals" are not from Luxembourg and invariably end up sending tourists the wrong way.

Don't miss

Luxembourg city sits atop a towering rocky outcrop, and hidden inside the cliffside are the Bock Casemates (www.lcto.lu/en/acd/84/) - 23 kilometres of tunnels, galleries and cannon outposts that were built in the 17th century to defend the city. Today, they comprise a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Getting there

Lufthansa (www.lufthansa.com) flies from Abu Dhabi to Luxembourg via Frankfurt in around 10 hours. An economy-class return costs from Dh3,075, including taxes.

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