On our tour of Luxembourg, we become more cosmopolitan by the moment. We’re soon used to being in a country at ease with three languages in its daily life (French, German and Letzeburgesch). So it doesn’t seem too much of a leap to visit the part of the country known as “La Petite Suisse” – “The Little Switzerland”. One more country for our collection will not go amiss.
Vianden has taken its pseudo-Swiss connections very seriously, with copious Swiss-style chalets nestling alongside its riverbank. Heidi, come out, come out, wherever you are!
Soaring above this little riverside town, reaching even above the spectacular mountain-top castle, is a chairlift, echoing Swiss ski resorts. The effect is charming, if surreal.
On the evening of our arrival, which happens to be our eleventh wedding anniversary, we eat out at one of thse chalets, a Tyrolean-themed restaurant called Das Heisses Stein (The Hot Stone). Not surprisingly, it serves dishes associated with Switzerland such as cheese fondue and – something new to me – a hot stone cooking system. My husband and I (but not our vegetarian daughter) are each provided with an oiled, heated slab of granite and a raw steak. We are instructed to slice the steak and set it atop the stone to sizzle to our preferred degree of doneness.
Our very helpful waiter, attired in authentic Swiss lederhosen, turns out to be Portuguese, speaking exellent English. What brings him all the way from the Algarve to La Petite Suisse? I enquire. His sister was already working here, it turns out. We find further evidence when we visit the town’s two souvenir shops next day.
In the first of these shops, alongside the badges and mugs bearing “Souvenir of Vianden” slogans and images, are handbags made of cork, cigarette lighters bearing the Portuguese national flag, and, for balance, a selection of Spanish and Portuguese flags on plastic sticks.
The second souvenir shop is unexpectedly called The Finn Shop. Once we step inside, all becomes clear. Here we find Moomin-themed gifts and badges emblazoned “I love Finland”. Not the obvious souvenir of Vianden.
Surprisingly, there are very few souvenirs of Vianden itself. My daughter has to work hard to spend her holiday money on this trip, eventually settling for a plastic doll in national costume (phew!)
The multinational connections do not end there. In the Hotel Victor Hugo, named after the great French writer who spent some time in exile here, we are served by a young boy apparently of African descent, possibly with Belgian Congo connections.
You Say Orange, I Say Orange
Touring the castle next day, we come across a large room lined with photos of world leaders visiting Vianden, from my own Queen Elizabeth II to Russia’s Gorbachev, from the Japanese Emperor Hirohito to President Allende of Chile. A family tree fills one wall of the room, explaining the direct blood relationships of the local lords with the Dutch and French royal families – but not close enough, it seems, to prevent the eventual Dutch owners dismantling the castle in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and selling stones for scrap. Shame on you, House of Orange! It’s taken the Luxembourgeois most of the twentieth century to restore the place to its former glory.
Such a cocktail of nationalities is bewildering. I’d expected this country to be cosmopolitan, but this complexity is beyond all my expectations. And all offered with such good, tolerant grace by these proud people who “woelle bleiwe wat mir sin” (“we want to remain what we are”).
And then it occurs to me: if ever there was a venue tailor-made to host the Eurovision Song Contest, surely Vianden is it? Luxembourg, I’d give you douze points any day.
If you enjoyed this post, you might like some others about our Easter trip to northern Europe: