"This place looks like it came straight out of a fairy tale!"
That was my first thought as I drove down the hill toward Vianden and spied the scene in the first photo out my car window. There were a lot of trees along the road, so I only caught a few glimpses before I realized that I had better pay more attention to my driving! It was about the most captivating and enchanting first looks I've ever had in a town, and rarely have I ever been so excited at going to a new town or city. What a rush!
More importantly, Vianden kept me captivated the whole time, for the better part of the afternoon and early evening. The gorgeous castle above and the medieval Grand Rue below were only part of the town. The center was invisible, off the photo to the right and behind the hill where the Our ("oor") River flowed. As I wandered around, I kept finding things to do and see, and places to eat were plentiful. This was one town I could have turned into a full day's tour.
The medieval qualities of the town hit me immediately, and it was far more than the fairy-tale Vianden Castle, which I'll talk about more in a minute. Somewhat visible in the first photograph at far left are a series of gray objects that appear to be an old city wall. Indeed, it is -- and Vianden had not just one, but two parallel city walls along the hillside. These were the Ringmauer, and up close they looked like classic middle-aged fortifications.
The little town below was absolutely beautiful, lavishly decorated with summer flowers of reds, whites, and pinks. The Grand Rue wrapped around the hill and descended sharply toward the Our. There were several fabulous buildings to look at. At the top of the Grand Rue was the Hotel Oranienburg and its adjacent restaurant, perched directly below the bus parking lot (that sat at the entrance path to the Vianden Castle). The second photo shows the Auberge du Chateau, one of many hotels on this tight cobblestone "main" road. Just a couple buildings down was the Holy Trinity Church, the city's main church. The Holy Trinity had a number of props from the recently completed annual Procession of Corpus Christi inside. The church's own decor was fabulous, with a huge marble tomb of a past king in the aisle, and a fabulously gilded altar. Across from the Holy Trinity was the Stadhous (town hall), a huge oddly-shaped manor with a tall white tower in the middle.
After a few more lovely restaurants and hotels, the Grand Rue made a big left bend toward the Our River, shown in the third photograph. The stone bridge in the distance marks the foot of the Grand Rue as it reaches one of Vianden's famous monuments, a copper-green bust of the famous writer Victor Hugo who made himself a hero of the town by telling of it to the world. Expectedly, there were a few streets and businesses that use Mr. Hugo's name in vain.
In this part of town, the tourist district was mostly confined to the area around the bridge. Several restaurants had patios directly overlooking the river. Nearby was the very old Church of Saint Nicholas (shown in the fourth photograph), which was old packed stone on the outside but brilliant white and red sandstone block on the inside with very simple decor. I explored the river district quite a ways in both directions to find that it was mostly residential, but the poshest (and largest) hotels were out there also.
The next part of my tour was on a chairlift to the top of the mountain to get a great panoramic view. In the deep background of the first photo, there was an observation deck near the top of the mountainside. That's where the chairlift went -- for 4.50 Euro roundtrip. The chairlift hugged the side of the mountain most of the way up, so I didn't get many great pictures on the way, but the view from the top was fantastic, as the fifth photo shows. Also readily visible from there was the popular outdoor heated swimming pool facility located on the opposite ridge along the Our. Judging from the vast numbers of people up there, it was the most populous spot in the town that day!
The final stop on this tour was of the Vianden Castle itself, a fabulous museum containing the history of the castle, reconstructions of life in the castle, great works of art, and armaments. There were 22 marked rooms, the first being a small arms museum containing weapons and armor from the castle's heyday in the middle ages. The next room was a very easy to follow history of the castle from its Roman origins before Christ through its various additions and changes. Other highlights included the incredibly bright white and orange castle Chapel that had the strangest design I'd ever seen -- that of a pentagon with a huge well in the middle overlooking dark spike-shaped passageways below. On one of the upper floors was a tapestry room, with about ten different massive tapestries depicting famous historical or Biblical events. Descriptions of them were written on tablets in multiple languages (usually four).
Vianden also had a robust network of walking trails through the forests and out to the surrounding farming villages. I walked on a couple a short ways, finding some more great views of the Our Valley, and passing some interesting novelties like a cave chapel -- literally a tiny cave in the rock decorated with just a crucifix, a couple candles, and a handful of roses. Clearly someone was maintaining that chapel...
I was so excited about this town, I had to tell everyone about it and had to show everyone the first pic in this travelogue. Vianden, without question, is the best place I've visited in Luxembourg thus far, and ought to be a must-see location for anyone visiting the Grand Duchy!
Trip taken 21 June 2003 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2003 Tom Galvin