A fairytale castle towers above a glistening river and quaint little town. This is Vianden, a gem of a place in the North of Luxembourg. Known as ‘Veianen’ in Luxembourgish, Vianden is located in the Diekirch region of Luxembourg and was once home to Victor Hugo and ancestors of William of Orange.
Situated close to the German border, the town is most famous for the impressive castle which dominates the mountainside and is popular with both tourists and locals alike. This is not only because of the fairytale nature of the town but also because the region surrounding Vianden is populated by green walking trails and plenty of mountainside hiking. There are also plenty of camping and cycling opportunities in the surrounding countryside.
History of Vianden
The area surrounding Vianden has been settled since at least Gallo-Roman times. Where the castle now stands was probably a Roman Castellum and is often the case with such fortifications, a town sprung up above the Our River below.
The town’s original name was Viennensis and the first reference to it was in 698 when the vineyard of ‘Monte Viennense‘ was gifted to the abbey at Echternach (the town surrounding the abbey remains the oldest settlement in Luxembourg to this day).
Over the years, the town became known for its various skilled workers and the industries they worked in. The most prevalent of which was leathermaking. Vianden remained known for its tanneries right up until the 1950s. You may also recognize the town’s name because it was the last place in Luxembourg to be liberated from the Germans during the Second World War.
Situated to the North of Luxembourg, Vianden is one of the largest castles lying alongside the river Rhine. It is also one of the best castles in Luxembourg. The site was once home to a Roman ‘Castellum’ and was probably used as a Carolingian refuge during the 9th-Century.
From the 11th-Century, details of the first Count of Vianden emerged. The Counts of Vianden were some of the most powerful nobility in the Rhine area, and as such formed one of the largest castles. These counts had a large sway over the German Court and were some of the most powerful men in the area. It was from this point for which we have the most information on Vianden. Over the years, the castle was then home to various nobles and royals.
In the 17th-Century, a Renaissance home was added to the castle, keeping it up to date with the current trends of the era. The castle remained flourishing for the decades that followed. However, by 1820, the castle had fallen into ruin, poor management the leading cause. Fire and many of the counts fleeing to start afresh in the Netherlands were also factors in the downfall of the castle.
The ruins of Vianden Castle, circa 1834, Via Wikimedia
In the late 19th-Century, the castle was finally restored to its former glory, albeit with some Gothic additions. Today you can visit both inside and out of the heavily restored castle, though I much preferred the exterior to the cool, dark interior. That being said, much of the original castle is still standing, including the 12th-Century chapel and many of the original outdoor balconies.
From the top of the viewpoint next to the Chairlift, you’ll see the quaint town of Vianden stretching out below. Candy coloured houses, narrow winding lanes, and architecture that is reminiscent of much of the rest of the country.
There are numerous cafés, shops and brasseries to be found dotted around the town. There are also various medieval churches, and the chance to stroll along the sparkling River Our. Many of the main bars in the town are focused along the main stretch of the street along the river. Offering views up to the castle, these bars are the perfect place to relax with a local beer, or enjoy a cool ice cream.
Just outside the town, you’ll find the restored remains of the city ramparts. Once upon a time, when sieges were commonplace throughout Europe, the entire town would have been fortified. The ramparts offer views over the town and a place to escape the busy streets below.
Vicor Hugo and the French Connection
Victor Hugo, the author of Les Misérables and the Hunchback of Notre Dame, may have been French, but he absolutely loved Luxembourg. Hugo loved the town of Vianden so much that he was an early proponent for tourism in the local area. He stayed in the town on numerous occasions between 1862 and 1871 and recorded these visits in sketches, songs and plenty of writing.
The house where he stayed whilst in Vianden is now a museum dedicated to the great author. Here you can find manuscripts, sketches penned by the author himself and plenty of other history, just waiting to be discovered. The address for the Victor Hugo House is Musée littéraire Victor Hugo, 37, rue de la Gare.
Getting around Vianden
I’ve always said that one of the best ways to see a city or town is from above… And Vianden is no exception! If you don’t feel like hiking up to where the chairlift ends (and I don’t blame you, the hike is rocky and strenuous), then taking the chairlift up to the top is a great alternative.
From the top viewing platform, you can get some of the best views of the castle the town has to offer. It’s also possible to see the little houses and people moving on the streets below. Hundreds of meters up, they look like little ants and the view is really quite spectacular. Close to the chairlift viewing platform, you’ll also find washroom facilities and a small café serving light refreshments and cool drinks.
The easiest way to navigate the small lanes and cobbled alleys of Vianden is by foot. The narrow nature of the streets makes it hard to navigate by car or even bike. The rough stones and crevices that are common on the roads, mean that I highly suggest wearing strong and sturdy footwear!
If you’re planning to see and do multiple activities while in Luxembourg, then I can’t recommend the Luxembourg Card enough. (You can purchase it on the Visit Luxembourg Website Here.) If you’re in Luxembourg City, the cards can be purchased at the tourist office. (Address:30 Place Guillaume II, 1648 Luxembourg). The chairlift and Castle are both free to visit with the pass.