Situated at the very heart of Western Europe is a small country named Luxembourg, which is 80km long and 68km wide.
Luxembourg City, the Grand Dutchy's capital, founded in 963, has maintained an atmosphere of contemplative tranquility and at its historic core (declared a World Heritage) reveals a blend of contrasting styles of architecture developed over the past five centuries. The surrounding countryside of endless forests is dotted with orchids and small villages.
The phrase Dynamite Comes in Small Packages is rather fitting in this instance as Luxembourg City packs a powerful punch. She is the seat of Government and the official residence of the Grand Duke as well as home to the European Community, numerous European institutions, several Directorates of the European Commission, the General Secretariat of the European Parliament, the European Court of Justice, the Court of Auditors, and the European Bank of Investment. In fact, the country's economy rests largely on the banking sector.
Thus it was I found myself in Luxembourg. It was time I visited my money.
I had reserved a room at the Hostellerie du Grunewald which, its website claimed, was only a few kilometers outside the city.
Now, I don't know about you but I always find it immensely reassuring to find a luxury car parked in front of a hotel I'm about to book into. Call me a snob if you must but the instant my mind's eye spotted the Bentley and the very grand exterior of the Hotel, I knew all would be well.
I tumbled in through the main entrance to find a deserted reception desk. Never mind, I thought, someone will be along in a minute. It took a moment for the splendor of the room to sink in. Cameo colored walls, burgundy and cream weave carpets, fringed paisley-print rugs, lavish pieces of Rococo style art and furnishings.
The receptionist was babbling excitedly in German as she breezed down the stairs with a guest in tow. Whilst checking in Maria, as she introduced herself, took a call in Italian, gave directions to another patron in French, then effortlessly switched to English when she issued instructions on how I should reach my room. I promptly lost myself in a maze of creaking corridors but noted in my wanderings how immaculate the hotel was. Not a spec of dusk anywhere. In fact, the only fault I could find, if I wanted to nit-pick, was a single tread hanging from a lace curtain in the seating area in reception, and a pulled thread on an antique chair.
My room wasn't a room at all, but a king-sized suite, with burgundy and cream weave carpet, which evidently ran throughout the hotel, and a couple of fringed paisley printed rugs. The furnishings, in hues of honey-milk with smidgens of caramel and garnet, were co-ordinated with the curtains and pelmets. The seating area comprised two matching high-back chairs, a comfy sofa, and a coffee table. Gilded wall mounted lamps hung on either side of the king sized bed, which in reality was two single mattresses pushed together in an oversized frame. For the duration of my stay I repeatedly collided with the low-hanging chandelier. So take care if you're 6ft or over.
When I spotted the mini-bar I was immensely relieved. Then I saw the tea/coffee making facilities and uttered a small cry of pleasure as only some of the larger chain hotels have this provision, but of late, I'm pleased to say, I've not stayed in any.
It always amazed me to hear what other patrons feel is important when staying in a hotel. Some want a gym, others a good bar, wireless internet access. For me it's cups. I have yet to find a decent cup in any hotel or, should it have these facilities, in its rooms. As such I always bring my own. Here though there was no need for me to unearth my goblet as there were a couple of mugs standing at the ready. I do so wish other hotels would do this too.
So, before firing up my laptop (currently the hotel only offers dial-up access, but is upgrading to wireless soon), I relaxed on the sofa, with my cup of coffee and watched the world news on CNN.
Taking a look at the corn colored bathroom was another treat – it was bigger than some of the hotel rooms I've slept in. I was pleased to see it had good lighting and a place to sit, other than the toilet seat, when undressing. There was a welcome pack too with the usual bathroom bits and pieces one requires, and white toweling bathrobes hanging behind the door. A wall mounted hair dryer was also available, as well as a conveniently placed micro-mirror, mounted in the corner of the mirror above the basin, ideal for those close-up finishing touches.
My critical eye spotted three obvious problem areas in the bathroom. The toilet plumbing had somehow been unhinged from the wall; the ceramic tiles above the toilet were also pulling away from the wall, and finally, there was no basin plug, not to mention an unsightly cigarette burn on the linoleum flooring next to the toilet. The exposed radiator was a bit of an eyesore but it was an old hotel, so it should be expected.
One of the proprietors, Wally Brand, a petite and striking German lady, sauntered over and introduced herself. She told me that the Hostellerie du Grunewald is a family run hotel, which started off as a cafÃ© some 45 years ago. Over time she expanded the business by acquiring neighbouring properties, and eventually opened this hotel. They cater for mostly businessmen during the week; and on weekends a romantic retreat for the 35+ age group.
The Hostellerie du Grunewald has 23 rooms in total, comprising of five suites, two single rooms, with the balance being double-, sometimes triple-rooms.
I mentioned the condition of my bathroom plumbing to Mrs. Brand who apologized emphatically and explained that all the bathrooms were due to be refitted later this year.
The conversation switched to food when I enquired after the dinner menu. The daily menus, I was assured, changed weekly and the seasonal menus twice a year. The hotel's Chef, Detlef Brand, was born and raised in Germany, then moved to Luxembourg many years ago, where he attended hotel school.
Later that evening, I entered the dimly lit dining room which was filled with rococo antiques. The dÃ©cor and soft furnishing co-ordinated in shades of pearl, clay and winter berries; silver cutlery and crystal glasses sat atop layers of vanilla table linens; a single lemon coloured rose in a small iced vase sat to one side of my table.
I was surrounded by a subdued buzz of classic timelessness, complete with muted orchestral music. It was all rather splendid really.
I felt somewhat self-conscious when conservatively dressed patrons in shimmering evening dress and lacquered-down hair began milling in, but soon took comfort when I spotted a fellow guest in equally unsuitable attire. Now there were two Ford Cortina's in Luxembourg missing their front seat covers, I thought.
A few delicate finger bites appeared along with the G&T I ordered which, I am delighted to say, they know how to pour. Or put another way, they didn't hold back on the G.
The Sommelier made an elaborate show of the Pinot Gries wine pouring and was thrilled when I approved of his choice, being superbly citrusy and fresh it was sure to work well with my meal.
My starter comprised of bite sized portions of melt-in-the-mouth sardines drizzled with green dressing, delicate fillets of salmon marinated in balsamic vinaigrette, steamed lobster, fish terrine and shrimp with a subtle cocktail sauce.
Mrs. Gerhards, one of the four proprietors and well-known to the guests, went to each table and small-talked for a while.
Before the next course appeared, the Matera Dee placed a glass of pineapple sorbet before me, it was, he claimed, drizzled with Kirsch – a cherry based spirit, which cleanses the palette.
My next course was put before me, lobster in a light, sweet curry sauce. This is where things could have gone to overpowering and cloying but with the Chef's light hand it remained delicate and flawless.
The main course, delivered in the usual silver service profusion, was guinea-fowl marinated in Port, with gratinated potatoes and mixed vegetables. It was at this point that I decided I would leave my devoted husband to marry the man who had perfected the art of cooking a notoriously chewy bird to a texture which quite literally melts in the mouth.
The dessert plate was an assortment of mouth-watering micro-portions of lime sorbet, banana ice-cream, rhubarb pie, crÃ¨me brulette, strawberry flan, and chocolate moose. Again, staying on the right side of sweet and leaving one with a feeling of having indulged in pure unadulterated luxury.
Over coffee, I contemplated the question gastronomes furiously debate – whether it's the French or the Belgians who offer the finest cuisine. I urge them to sample the offerings of the Dutchy of Luxembourg, the small country cradled between France and Belgium. The Hostellerie du Grunewald's Chef has cunningly merged the best from both and peppered it with a little German influence, creating a feast which should only be savored by royalty.
I left the restaurant a happy and fractionally fatter woman, content to remain married to my husband. He does, after all, do the ironing.
Hostellerie du Grunewald (4 star)
10-16 Routte d'Echternach
Ph +352 431882
Fx + 352 420646
Room rates vary from â‚¬90 to â‚¬150, and includes breakfast.
Conference facilities for a maximum number of 18 is available