National Geographic : 1970 Jul
The scenery: It was raining when I started, but in half an hour the clouds rolled away, the sun came out, and the autumn leaves, shiny and wet, were green, purple, brown, gold, and yellow. The over-all effect was unex pected, since I knew from reading that the mountains of the Ardennes are not particu larly lofty-the highest is 1,834 feet. Yet the vistas were magnificent, and the mountains looked far higher and more rugged than they should. There is a reason for this. The northern and western two-thirds of Luxembourg con sists of high, convoluted plateaus of rock, and these plateaus are interlaced with wandering rivers, small and not so small: the Blees, Sfire, Our, Eisch, Clerve, Wiltz, Woltz, Alzette which is a lot of rivers for a 35-by-51-mile country. By reason of the fast runoff and the nature of the rock, the streams have carved themselves steep valleys 500, 600, or even 1,000 feet deep. Castles Tower Above Walled Towns Combine this geology with a heavy coating of forest-and add a local habit. Along the rivers the people of Luxembourg have built little villages, ranging in population from a few hundred to a thousand or so; some of them date from the Middle Ages, and they are walled. Inside the walls are steep-roofed houses and the small, high-steepled church. And atop the cliff, with round towers and battlements, stands the castle. The effect was hypnotic, even though I had been forewarned. An American photographer I met in Luxembourg City told me: "The whole place could have been dreamed up by the Grimm brothers, or maybe Walt Disney." He was exactly right. My destination on this drive was Vianden, a town of 1,500 nestling in the Ardennes along the curving steep banks of the Our River. Victor Hugo lived here during part of his long political exile from France-his house is preserved as a museum-and wrote about the "splendid landscape which one day all Europe will visit." The town's charter was granted by Count Philip of Vianden in 1308, but the place was mentioned in documents as long ago as A.D. 698. The counts of Vianden built up a feudal domain that eventually included 136 villages. Along with it, starting in the ninth century, they built an enormous castle, the biggest in Luxembourg, one of the most forbidding struc tures I have ever walked through (pages 68-9). 78 To see it, I had an appointment with Jean Milmeister, a Vianden schoolmaster, writer, and historian. I met him in a little inn called the Heintz, which adjoins and was once part of a Trinitarian abbey built in the 1300's. In its pleasant dining room we ate lunch, and Mr. Milmeister talked of counts and castles. Vianden's rulers fought in the Cru sades; they reached their peak in the 13th cen tury; one of them, Count Henry I, married the daughter of the Emperor of Byzantium. Exporting sound TEEN IDOL Tony Prince signals his engi neer as he spins rock records over popu lar and profitable Radio Luxembourg. For eign firms sponsor the broadcasts on the pri vately owned station, which boasts a wide audience throughout Europe, a continent served largely by government networks. Curiously, the vibrant music of the young emanates from a nation of conservatives. The British-born disc jockey's haircut and mod button-"Love is lovely, war is ugly" and the high hemline displayed by a Belgian model in a Luxembourg boutique (right) represent trends that have come only lately to the Grand Duchy.