LUXEMBOURG ON EUROVELO 5
Twenty years old this year, the network of long distance cycle routes that comprise the EuroVelo Network is still a work in progress. The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is well ahead of the game, compared to some. So it was with high expectations that Steve Dyster set off to cycle across the smallest of the nations on EuroVelo 5, Via Romea Francigena.
Loosely based on a route followed from Canterbury to Rome by Sigeric the Serious (Honest … Archbishop of Canterbury 990-4, best remembered for advising Ethelred the Unready to pay Danegeld, with the result that the Dane did not go away), EuroVelo5 actually runs from St.Paul’s to Brindisi. Some call it “Dome to Rome.” In best European style, there have been long discussions over the name and the termini. Canterbury? London? Rome? Brindisi? Via Romea Francigena? One of our party smiles wryly. He is Jens Eric Larsen. He knows the issues; EuroVelo was largely his idea as head of the working group that developed the original proposal for the ECF.
Crossing into the Grand Duchy from Belgium at Rombach-Martelange - they share a main road with the white line marking the frontier - EuroVelo 5 is well signed here. One area of cooperation has been cross border signage; Luxembourg 64km is signed on the Belgian side; Bastogne on the Luxembourg. Jens is pleased. So is Jo, a well-traveled Belgian, who combines enthusiasm for cycling in his native Wallonia, with putting the regions best 220 routes on the web, and acting as a one man Wallonian travel bureau.
Our guide, Monique, is a cycling advocate and President of the LVI (Luxembourg Velos Initiativ). She also runs a bike shop and runs international tours.
Dome to Rome or Home to Home
Passing the site of a slate quarry - now a museum with underground trips on certain days - we are on Piste Cyclable 18. The PC network is generally traffic free, often utilising former railway lines. Growing even as you read, gaps are being filled in and signage improved. Surfaces are excellent - always; generally smooth asphalt.
The route rolls along. When the railway is left, smooth asphalt tracks carry-on. Many are closed to all motor vehicles, all give cyclists and pedestrians priority. The highest point of the route tops 500m, but your legs will not notice they’ve climbed that high. Long views of green ridges mix with shorter ones of neat villages and steep-sided valleys, as forest alternates with pasture; the Ardennes hills march away to the horizon.
We see few cyclists on this Friday, until schools finish and the working day ends. Long distance, judged by load, tourers number three, but leisure and even road-racers have a greater presence as the day goes by. “Dome to Rome” for some; “Home to Home” for more.
This railway was a rural one. More sections may become cycle track, but don’t expect to be taken through village after village with café after café. We agree that it would be handy to have facilities signed, but part of me wants to say, “Shush! Keep it to ourselves.”
Fortunately, Monique takes us to a café-cum-shop in Redange-sur-Attert. Eating well and stocking up are a big part of cycle touring. This would be the ideal spot. The owner points out that supermarkets dominate, so diversification is important to keep the business going. We suggest a sign at the point where PC17 (which we are now on) cross the road on the edge of the village.
Back on the rail path, we come across a small museum (open by appointment) and some period rolling stock. Shortly before Noerdange, where there is a bigger station museum, we join PC12 by the old junction signal. Monique makes notes as Jens points out the need for improved signage. She explains how it will probably be dealt with rapidly.
A short detour at Beckerich takes us down to a village aiming to become the greenest in the Grand Duchy. When a local councillor distributed sunflower seeds to the population, none could have predicted how far things would go. Villagers are now on the verge of being energy self-sufficient and have turned an old mill into a bistro and community hub where monthly debates on environmental issues bring an international crowd. Getting an international audience is not unusual in Luxembourg, but lets not underestimate the achievement.
Across the road from the mill, water bubbles up undramatically, but rather magically, from the rocks below. Water is bottled and the business supports a sheltered community which is increasingly self-sufficient.The route out passes its flourishing vegetable plots on the way to a beautifully wooded section of rail path to Steinfort and Kleinbettingen. Hills are anticipated without being realised; gradients remain easy.
Kleinbettingen is on the main line from Brussels to Luxembourg City. All local trains in the Grand Duchy carry bicycles for free - you’ll be charged a princely €4 for a days travel on public transport - including buses, which will also take your bike … or should provided there is space.
Ride into the City
We decide to ride and debate whether the rain will catch us or not. Joining PC13, rural peace gives way to suburban Friday rush hour in Mamer, through Strassen and into Luxembourg City.
Generally things remain traffic free, though, as Monique points out, “We need a better route for some sections.” Entry to the City is not currently helped by the construction of tram line, but things are easy enough for experienced cyclists; inexperienced riders may feel less happy., but should not be put-off.
At the Park Inn hotel, not far from the railway station, there was not enough space in the bike stores for my machine. Bed & Bike accreditation has been licensed fro the ADFC (Union of German Cycling Clubs) and is increasingly common amongst Luxembourg’s tourist accommodation. To the Hotel’s credit, the staff solved the problem.
Our bikes were hired from Bike Hire Miselerland. Typical trekking hybrids, solid, dependable, and comfortable; take the basket off if you like. A small network of bike hire businesses - including Miselerland and Bike Hire Diekirch - is developing. Hire in one location, drop off at another. The network still in the developmental stage, but strongest in the south and east. Bike hire is cheap compared to the UK and may beat the cost and demands of air travel
A small click developed on my bike. Slight slackness in the bottom bracket? Failing bearings in the pedal? Jens and I debated. Annoying, rather than dangerous, it seemed to be driving Jens potty. Closing in on him with a steady tick, tick, tick, he felt compelled to flee, much as Captain Hook fled from the tick-tock of the approaching crocodile. We agreed to get the bike swapped if it went on. He was wary that I might switch bike overnight. Magically, the annoying tick did not accompany us next day.
Luxembourg City owes its UNESCO status to its fortifications, but the historic Grund area - now full of bars, cafés and a bike hire business - is the start of an attractive route out of town. An additional line is being added to the railway on the precipitous slopes of the gorge, so there’ll be a few years of diversions, but the way is a spectacularly easy traffic free ride by the side of the pretty River Alzette, all the way to suburban Hesperange. By the way, if it is your thing, Andy Schleck - retrospective winner of the 2010 Tour de France - has a bicycle shop with café in Itzig, just off the route. A shop, that by all accounts caters for all cyclists, not just the lycra-clad.
Amongst the vines
For the next few miles, Eurovelo 5 is a matter of conjecture. A temporary route, signed as the SaarLorLux - and none too prominently at that - is the current way through pleasant agricultural country. Disputes over passage through a nature reserve and delays in finishing PC6 are holding things up. However, when these difficulties are overcome, Eurovelo will probably move south. Hopefully it will still make use of the smashing PC7 which follows a dramatic former railway line from Ellange to Remich, on the Moselle.
Curving gracefully along dramatic woodland slopes to emerge in vineyards, this is a classic piece of railway riding and should not be missed. As ever the asphalt surface was impeccable. On this day, a helicopter was swinging low over the rows of vines. Although it turned out the spray was harmless, we decided to shelter, Viet Cong-like, in the woods, just in case.
Closer to the Moselle-side town of Remich, views began to broaden as a steep descent down a narrow street took us down to riverside cafes and the sight of traffic queueing up to cross the bridge.
Rolling down the river
I’d been told that the cycle track on the German side of the river was preferable to that on the Luxembourg side. The latter was as well-made as ever, but runs close to the main road - none too busy, at least on this Saturday. There’s much more in the way of tourist infrastructure than on the western border of the Grand Duchy, with a water park close to the route, places to picnic and more in the way of distractions from cycling.
Of course, a visit to a vineyard is almost de rigeur in this neck of the woods. There’s even a wine region discovery map, though not specifically for bicycles. We went off route to visit a small producer, consume excellent local food and, savour some wines.
“I decided to have a go at wine-making just for fun, but friends said it was very good, so I began to produce more and more, the owner told us, “Mind you, I only do this part-time.” There are many like him. Producing, crisp white wines and a rosé, my personal favourite was his Gewurtztraminer, though all were very good. “We call that a ‘lady wine’ around here,” he said. The ‘Vignoble’ label described the contents of each bottle perfectly. Of course, there was a Cremant, a speciality of Luxembourg, too. Some may call it a young Champagne, but little seems to escape the Grand Duchy’s borders, which says a lot for its local popularity.
A mere couple of miles later, we reached Schengen. A little village with a worldwide reputation. A guided-tour later and it was time to hand the bikes back. The boat on which the tourist information centre isn located, is one of the Rent-a-Bike locations. Tomorrow someone else would hire them and end up somewhere different.
And that, in some ways, is Luxembourg; somewhere different, with much the is unexpected. Having ridden from north to south, explored the Luxembourg Ardennes and now, crossed from west to east, the standard of cycling infrastructure is excellent. Signing is generally very good, and with the available maps is more than adequate for a cycling tour. Cross-border cooperation is making things even easier.
On this trip, the tourist infrastructure of cafés and hotels was, on the western border, less well-developed than in the north. Things are none the worse for that - just be aware. Luxembourg City, on the other hand, is one of Europe’s gems - and not just for officiandoes of military architecture. There is so much beneath the surface, metaphorically and literally! Love the new panoramic cycle lift, for example; see a thousand years of history and avoid cycling up a steepish hill. Equally, once you get to the Moselle, you’ll find no shortage of places to refresh, linger and sleep.
This trip was paid for by Tourism for Luxembourg. Their website visitluxembourg.com is the starting point for planning and contacts.
I stayed at The Park Inn by Radisson parkinn.com
I ate at the Brasserie du Cercle, in Luxembourg City www.brasserie-du-cercle.lu ; at Rédener Spennchen in Redange-sur-Attert www.spennchen.lu; and at Café Fabiana in Luxembourg City http://www.casafabiana.lu
We sampled wine, and at well, at Le Vignoble, Schwebsange www.levignoble.lu
We visited the European Museum, Schengen www.schengen-tourist.lu
Bike were rented from Rent-a-Bike Miselerland Who also arrange baggage transport, should you wish.
Our guide, Monique, is a cycling advocate who runs Velopsophie - Cycle tours Made in Luxembourg www.velosophie.lu
On sunday morning, I had a guided tour with a qualified city guide. We hired bicycles from Velo en Ville http://www.visitluxembourg.com/en/place/bicyclerent/bicycle-rental-velo-en-ville-luxembourg
Lëtzebuerger Vëlos-Initiativ is a volunteer run cycling advocacy organisation. www.lvi.lu
The Luxembourg Card
Excellent value for the touring cyclist, valid for up to three days, this provides free entry to numerous attractions - reductions on many others - and free travel on all public transport - and includes Bike Hire. If you plan to use the trains and pa visits, it is excellent value. Prices range for thirteen Euros for an individual for a single day to sixty-eight Euros for a family of up to five for three days. Details at www.visitluxembourg.com
En route, we met ..... Katerina, from Dresden ... her annual major cycle tour for 2017 was the Moselle Cycle Route. Diverting to Luxembourg city for a night, she was not too bothered about the varied signage on EV5. "I am confident with just a map," she told us, pointing at the Bikeliner guide to the route on her bar-bag. Excellent maps.
Being waylaid by a bunch of journalists may be a downside of solo-touring, but as she said, "Alone I can ride as I want, stop when I feel like it and relax in my own company."
And away she pedalled at a steady pace, through the fields and away on the next 250km to Koblenz where the Moselle metres the Rhine. Bon voyage!
PUBLISHED AUGUST 2017