LUXEMBOURG

Luxembourg is so tiny -- 84x52 km, 51x32 miles -- that I half considered putting it in with Belgium. But I couldn't bring myself to do so. I have a soft spot for the Grand Duchy, and their tourist offices are among the best in the world.

For most people, of course, Luxembourg is little more than a main road south from Belgium to France, and a cheap place to buy petrol: the cheapest in Western Europe. But if you go off the main road, there's a surprising amount to see. For example, while the castle and village of Vianden may be picturesque to the point of corny, they are still well worth visiting. Some of the winding roads are superb: not on the same scale as the Swiss passes, but every bit as challenging and a lot less crowded. There's even a thermal spa at Mondorf-les-Bains www.mondorf.lu, though it looks from its publicity material to be somewhat pretentious and not aimed at simple relaxation.

I no longer care to stay in the city of Luxembourg itself, though. As a result of wholesale invasion by various offices of the European Union, prices have gone up too much, and the happily anarchic city of twenty years ago is altogether too well regulated. Now, there's the European Commission, Court of Justice, General Secretariat of the European Parliament, European Investment Bank, Court of Auditors, Official Publications Office, Nuclear Safety Administration and Directorate-General of Credits and Investment, all well staffed with sometimes overpaid bureaucrats. It's not hard to see what's happened!

There are some really good websites, including www.ont.lu (the Luxembourg national tourist office), www.luxembourg.co.uk (especially good), www.youthhostels.lu and www.camping.lu. The Luxembourg Tourist Office, 122 Regent Street, London W1B 5SA, is outstandingly helpful: call +44 (0) 207 434 2800 or fax +44 (0) 207 734 1205. The National Tourist Office in Luxembourg itself is at BP 1001 L-1010 Luxembourg, telephone +352 42 82 82 20, fax +352 42 82 82 30.

You can order brochures online from the web-sites or request them from the tourist offices. They are extremely informative and comprehensive: one annual brochure includes full listings of all hotels in the country, with prices. This even lists seven hotels affiliated to the Union Europeenne de Motocyclisme: Luxembourg, like Austria, goes out of its way to welcome notorcyclists.

Michelin map 215 covers the whole country at 1:150 000 (1cm = 1.5 km, 2.4 miles to the inch); GeoCart 64 offers 1:100 000 (1cm = 1 km, 1.6 miles to the inch), the same as Falk, and the Administration Cadastre offers everything from 1:150 000 to 1:20 000. The last is 1cm = 200m or about 3 inches to the mile.

MOTORING AND MOTORCYCLISTS

Luxembourg motorists are generally not too bad -- significantly better than their Belgian neighbours, for a start -- though they do have a habit of drag-racing away from the lights. Surprisingly many motorists don't realize that they haven't a hope in hell against a powerful motorcycle. Or you can just let them go.

Crash helmets are compulsory, as are daylight riding lights. Use of the horn is forbidden in urban areas, except in the case of emergencies.

Spare bulbs are not compulsory; nor is a first aid kit. An unusual restriction is that no child under the age of 12 may be carried on the back of a motorcycle.

ROADS AND RIDING

All motorways (and other roads) are toll-free, and most are of a very high standard; though as in any country where snow can lie for prolonged periods, frost damage is inevitable at times, and some roads can become overdue for repairs. It's in the smaller towns that I've encountered the worst roads, though.

Priority is to the right. Otherwise, drive as you would if you were in Belgium.

Speed limits are 50 km/h (31 mph) in towns, 90 km/h (56 mph) on the open road, and 120 km/h (74 mph) on the motorways -- where there is a minimum speed limit of 40 km/h (25 mph). For vehicles with trailers (including motorcycles) these limits drop to 75 km/h (46 mph) on the open road and 90 km/h (56 mph) on motorways -- though these do not seem to be scrupulously observed. With a German border, as you might expect, all limits are often treated as guidelines, though enforcement on the motorways tends to be fairly active.

If you have held your licence for under one year you are limited to 75 km/h (46 mph) throughout the country, even on motorways. It is hard to see how they can enforce this unless you have an 'A' or 'P' badge, denoting that you have recently passed your test, or unless they nick you for something else -- in which case it could be another stick to beat you with.

In theory you should flash your headlights at night to signal your intention of overtaking but not many Luxembourgeois or visitors actually seem to do so. Actual overtaking is governed by common sense.

Parking on the sidewalk (pavement) is illegal except in marked bays. On the other hand I've done it often enough, because I only found out it was illegal when I was checking the facts for this website, and no-one seemed to worry about it. Or maybe I was just lucky. Otherwise it's common sense, and not parking where it's marked as forbidden.

WHEN TO GO

The south (the 'Good Land') is drier and sunnier than the north (the 'Eisleck') in the Ardennes. In the extreme south, they even grow grapes. Rain is pretty frequent everywhere, at all times, with a minimum of 0.1mm of rain falling between 13 days a month (April) and 20 days a month (December and January). But the climate is extremely variable from day to day, and anything from April to October can be very pleasant.

Avoid the winters -- they can be cold, with snow lying for weeks, and they are also foggy in the north -- but don't worry about getting too hot in summer: temperatures in the 20s C, 70s F, are what you can look forward to for most of June, July and August, with the occasional foray into the 80s. Temperatures over 33 C, 90 F, are rare but not unknown: Luxembourg city once hit 98 in June, though the low 90s are the most that has ever been seen in the rest of the country.

PUBLIC HOLIDAYS

Other Christian festivals observed as public holidays, without fixed dates, are:

PRACTICALITIES AND PAPERS

Since 1948 Luxembourg has had a customs union with Belgium and the Netherlands (the Benelux group), and today there are absolutely no border formalities with Belgium to the north, and effectively none with Germany to the east or France to the south and west. Luxembourg is a Schengen Group member.

Almost everyone can get in on a passport alone, without a visa; even the Australians, who are so often the exception. Citizens of several neighbouring countries can even get in on an expired passport, as long as it isn't more than 5 years out of date.

Carry your national driving licence. As long as you can drive legally at home, you can drive legally in Luxembourg, but you must obey the limits on age and capacity of machine of the country in which the machine is registered.

Carry the registration document, plus a letter of permission if the vehicle is borrowed, proof of insurance, and a constat a l'aimable.

There are the usual reciprocal health agreements with other EU countries. British citizens should present an E111 to enjoy the same standard of care as Luxembourgeois themselves; citizens of other EU countries should carry the equivalent. There is however a fixed daily charge for hospital stays that is not reimbursable. Some non-EU countries also have reciprocal health agreements.

As Luxembourg is a member of the EU, there are no customs restrictions on the free movement of goods for personal use, and there are the usual allowances for those coming in from outside the EU. Apart from the standard allowance you can also bring in:

Cameras (2), cine cameras (2 more), and then one each of the following: projectors, binoculars, portable musical instruments, portable record players, recording and playback equipment, radio, TV set, video camera, electronic calculator, portable computer, wheelchair, baby carriage and portable dialysis machine. These rules will affect few if any motorcyclists but I couldn't resist reproducing them because they are so bizarre. As the tourist office in London said, "I'd like to see you get that lot on a motorcycle."

The 'other goods' limit is 175 euros. It's lower for under-15s, but I forget what it is; I can't imagine it will affect many readers.

SHOPPING AND TIPPING

Shopping hours are typically 0800 to 1800; a lunch break from 1200 to 1400 is common, except in the bigger shops. Shops may close on Monday mornings or Saturday afternoons or both, and almost always close on Sundays, though six 'Shopping Sundays' are allowed by law per year.

Bank hours are surprisingly variable, but a good average is 0900 to 1200 and 1400 to 1600, Mondays to Fridays.

Currency is the euro, which Luxembourg embraced enthusiastically: in the old days, they would take Luxembourg francs, Belgian francs, French francs and Deutschmarks at the very least, rather than miss a sale. Credit cards are widely accepted though hole in the wall machines (autotellers) are rare outside Luxembourg City.

Tipping is (as so often) a vexing question. Service is always included, but rounding up is very much the norm. Even so, 10 per cent would be regarded as fairly generous.

FUEL, OIL AND REPAIRS

As noted, Luxembourg is the cheapest place in Western Europe to buy petrol. The normal grades are 95 and 98, unleaded. All the petrol stations I have ever visited take credit cards but I suppose it is possible that some don't. Buy oil in supermarkets. I'm told that repairs are quite expensive, but I've never had to find out: I don't really see why they should be significantly above the European norm, and indeed they might even be a little below, out in the villages. There aren't that many mechanics about, I suppose, partly because it is a small country, but repairs shouldn't be a major problem.

MOTORCYCLE HIRE

For this I found three addresses, and no web-sites. They are:

POLICE, ACCIDENTS & EMERGENCIES

The Luxembourg police don't seem to be much in evidence, and I have never heard that they are either especially lax or especially fierce. Wherever possible, they prefer to warn visitors, rather than giving them tickets. They are apparently a lot more active on the motorways than on minor roads, when it comes to speeding. For webcams on the motorway, try www.sita.lu.

The police have the power to impose and collect on-the-spot fines ranging (in late 2003) from 25.79 euros to 148.74 euros; the numbers presumably make more sense in the old Luxembourgeois franc, which was at par with the Belgian franc. You are not legally obliged to call the police to minor accidents, but you are legally obliged to fill in the constat a l'aimable before leaving the scene of the accident.

For medical emergencies call 012

For fire and ambulance, call 442-244

For police, call 409 40 400

The Automobile Club of Luxembourg, 54 Route de Longwy, L-8007 Bertrange, +0352 450 04 51, apparently extends reciprocal facilities to members of foreign clubs; check with your own club to see what these may be.

FOOD

According to the Luxembourg Tourist Office there are more Michelin-starred restaurants per head of population than anywhere else in the world -- though with a population of under half a million, this doesn't actually require very many restaurants.

If you don't eat in these (or maybe if you do -- I've never tried), you'll find that Luxembourgeois food is inclined to be more solid than French but richer and more imaginative than German. Actually, it's quite similar to Belgium. For what you get, which is normally of excellent quality, it is far from expensive; but it will still cost you slightly more than eating in a provincial French restaurant.

DRINK

Luxemburg a very thirsty country: they finish late, and start early. In the morning, it has sometimes been easier to find a bar (or at least, a cafe-bar) than to find somewhere to have breakfast.

There are Luxembourgeois wines, beers and eaux-de-vie. The first are pleasant but expensive and not very remarkable; the second are very popular (there are five brewers in the Grand Duchy) and very good, though quite expensive in bars (they are a lot cheaper in supermarkets); and the last are very varied, and mostly very good: the same observations about price apply as for beers.

A leading brand of beer is Bofferding. Given the Luxembourgeois fondness for a dram, we have adopted this as a verb: "Sorry, I've got a bit of a hangover, I was out bofferding last night." Or, of course, "Oh, dear, I'm feeling a bit bofferd."

The mineral waters we have tried, especially Beckerich, are very agreeable and not Teutonically salty. The coffee is of a high standard. Tap water is safe throughout the country.

The blood alcohol limit is 0.08 per cent.

ACCOMMODATION

It's been a few years since I last actually stayed in Luxembourg, but we checked hotel prices in September 2003 as part of the research for this web site. In Luxembourg city they were disproportionately higher than I remembered, far more than could be explained by inflation: 80 or 90 euros was cheap (US $90 to 100, GBP 65 or so), and 100 euros (US $110, GBP 70) and above was nothing unusual. The dear old Hotel Bristol in the centre was still 65 to 75 euros in 2003, though.

Out in the country the prices have gone up, it was true, but nothing like as much. Even in Viand, a notorious tourist trap and very popular with well-to-do German riders from just across the border, you should be able to find a good room for 60 euros or less (US $65, GBP 40 or a little more), and there's a good chance elsewhere in the country of getting below 50 euros (US $55, GBP 35). A single room, without bath, in a decent hotel can be as low as 25 euros (US $28, GBP 18).

Breakfast is normally included, but check anyway. Prices are normally quoted per room, rather than per person. Many hotels include garage parking for bikes at no extra charge, though there may be a small charge in some.

Youth hostels are widespread, and not expensive: check their website at www.youthhostels.lu. In late 2003 a single bed was 13.60 or 15.50 euros, including bed linen and breakfast, with supplements of 2.50 euros per person for a double room and 7.50 euros for a single room. There are numerous camp sites: check www.camping.lu. 'Wild' camping is apparently strictly forbidden.

LANGUAGE AND ROAD SIGNS

The local language is Letzebuergesch, a Franco-German dialect, but as no-one but Luxemburgers speaks this, the Luxembourgeois themselves are perforce linguists. Most also speak German and French (the two official languages) and a lot speak English too. This is why I have not given a capsule vocabulary.

DISCLAIMER

This information has been verified as far as possible but should not be taken as definitive. You alone are responsible for your safety on a motorcycle (or elsewhere) and should always ride and behave accordingly. Click here for the Official Health Warning.

last updated: 08/12/03

© 2003 Roger W. Hicks