COME IN NUMBER 462: A QUICK CYCLE AROUND LUXEMBOURG CITY
If urban touring is alien to you, then Luxembourg City is not a bad place to start. Stephen Dyster left the countryside behind and spent a pleasant day in the city.
Countryside, the quieter the better; that’s what I seek when cycling for pleasure. Yes, I’ve cycled in London and Rome – ending up on the ring road, by mistake, but saved by a traffic jam which enabled me to pedal along quietly to the next junction – and it can be a grand way of visiting a city. Luxembourg City, on the other hand, is not much bigger than a large town, with a population of just 107,000. Geography, the big banks and the European Union ensure that it has more than its fair share of motor traffic. The good news is that a wise government has had enough …. public transport is cheap and efficient and cycling is on the up.
Four hundred and sixty-second and no personal best
Crossing the high Pont Viaduc that links area around the railway station to the old city, an electronic display informed everyone that I was the four hundredth and sixty-second cyclist to cross that day. Whilst the crossroads ahead intimidated at first, but traffic-light control and sensibly aligned cycle lanes made it all a breeze. Four hundred and sixty-three followed quickly, mounted on a Veloh hire bike – rather akin in livery to our own dear old Boris Bikes.
The merry guide who had shown me around the city a few days before had made an important point to bear in mind. “You must not,” he declared, “compare Luxembourg City with London.” It is smaller in size - much, much smaller. “But there are similarities,” he added, “like the big financial sector.” Apart from the modern suburb of Kirchberg where the monumental glass and iron constructions pay homage to international banking and the EU, most things are scaled down; the Grand Ducal Palace opens directly onto the street and, guarded by a single sentinel, is attached to the Parliament building; the Cathedral, though grand, is sandwiched between buildings more or less grand ; one can pedal through the equivalent of Downing Street taking care not to run-down the Prime Minister, who might be popping out for a breath of fresh air.
Two kilomteres long and a metre wide ...... not a cycle lane ........
For a small, busy city, the cycling infrastructure is excellent. For a fortress town surrounded by two deep gorges; of the River Alzette and the tiny River Petrusse (as my guide had said, “You have the Thames, we have the Petrusse, two kilometres long and a metre wide – but we do open the sluices and have a duck race each year"), it has to be imaginative.
Down in the Grund, where, after 963, the first town grew on the banks of the Alzette under the protection of the castle built by Siegfried, Count of Ardenne, we had picked up hire bikes and set off for a guided bike ride with Velosophie.
With short stops, we pedalled gently along the Petrusse gorge, eventually rising gently to follow a series of residential roads – with one busier section with broad cycle lanes and traffic-light controlled junctions. We joined the steady flow of families cycling to one of the city’s most popular parks. A good spot to sit under a tree and have an ice-cream, whilst pondering why, so far from the sea, the centre piece should be a huge wooden sailing ship come climbing-frame.
Much of the route was through parkland, eventually with views across the Alzette gorge, into the very city centre. The familiar sight – on the continent – of cyclist-excepted one way streets, twenty kilometre speed limits and little bits of cycling infrastructure made for smooth running, with only the odd car struggling to navigate the narrow streets causing an obstruction.
Pausing for a while cycle-mounted police officers passed by and seemed surprised that one should think such a thing unusual enough to get out a camera. The views are worth pausing for. Be it the new railway bridge – hidden behind the old one so as not to violate the UNESCO world heritage site – or the renovation of the impressive Pont Adolphe; nest allotments and tiny vineyards by the river bank; the remains of outlying forts or the shine of glassy towers on the Kirchberg.
Return to the Grund was via a lift, available to cyclists. A second cyclists lift, linking Pfaffenthal and Parc Pescatore opened in November 2016 Don’t be a-feared of the hills, though. There could be steep bits, but even the longest are short and the steepest can be avoided (though occasional cobbles add to the interest). As in most things Luxembourgish, the scale is small.
As the Bishop sang hymns outside the Cathedral entrance after the procession that marks the end of pilgrimage week, I sat in the shade of a tree next to the Boulevard Roosevelt and watched families pedal along the cycle track with no fear of the cars. The bike parking was filled with sit-up-and-begs and several young tourers went by in a blur while an older tourer stopped to check the signs whilst his female companion pedalled away. On the back streets, there was no rush amongst the swarm of taxis even on working days. Monday morning and commuters to offices and schools had taken to the road as I sat on the bus to the airport.
Signs regarding cycle-access can be confusing. A bit of brain-power eventually worked out which streets were barred to cyclists and when and which we open for pedestrians and cyclists. With little reason to rush and an apparent respect for the rules being the order of things, I did as the local cyclists did.
“If it has bike symbol on it, you may use it and if the driver says no, then you tell him yes,” were the words of the tourist officer. On the buses bicycles are often permitted, but there’s an expectation that you are careful of other users and that tired riders would not ram a tandem into a crowded rush hour omnibus … but then, why would you? It is rarely far to go in Luxembourg. Almost all trains carry as many bicycles as can be manoeuvred into the cycle carriage – and probably more if you are nice to the Guard – for out of own travel.
Directional signs generally took the form of a white sign with green information, though there were occasional surprises. The Luxembourgers I met seem to have a good sense of humour, so it came as a bit of a surprise that none indulged in that jolly British pastime of signpost-merry-go-round.
Of course, Luxembourg City is easily escaped for rural rides or faster training – after all, the nation has a tradition of top racing cyclists with the late Charly Gaul still very much revered, and the Schleck brothers fresher in the mind. Indeed many club riders used the cycle routes to get to meets or to warm down, or up. For the rest, there is a major network of routes and quiet ways to follow, but that is a tale that has already been begun on Seven Day Cyclist.
For information regarding cycling in Luxembourg visit www.visitluxembourg.com . You may wish to order the brochure specifically on cycling and mountain biking, also on-line, which covers almost all one needs to know for whatever sort of riding you plan. Maps and other info are also there.
There is a lot of useful info to be found at www.lvi.lu the on-line home of the Letzebuerger Velos Initiativ Should you mail the LVI for help, please remember that it is a voluntary organisation of cycling advocates and campaigners.
Velosphie offers guided cycle tours of the city. Contact details at www.velosophie.lu You will also find details of their wine tours and city tours at www.feelbiketours.com We met in the Grund quarter down by the riverside, at Velos en Ville, at 8 Bisserweg, from where we hired bikes. Tel +352 47 96 23 83.
In the city, you could also hire the Boris Bike equivalent http://www.en.veloh.lu/ which operate in much the same way.
UPDATED JANUARY 2017