Tiny Luxembourg, nestled between Germany, France, and Belgium, has been a pawn of world powers for much of its 1,000 years. Today it looms large as a world financial powerhouse and one of Europe's most scenic countries. Come here for rambles through medieval villages and hilltop castles, strolls along riverbanks and through deep forests, and hearty meals in country inns. From sophisticated Luxembourg City, with its ancient fortifications and modern skyscrapers, to the Ardennes plateau, site of the World War II Battle of the Bulge, to the wineries along the Moselle, Luxembourg is 999 square miles of beauty, history, and good times.
The capital of Luxembourg greets visitors with an awe-inspiring view: up and down the length of the Alzette River stretches a panorama of medieval stonework—jutting fortification walls, slit-windowed towers, ancient church spires, massive gates—as detailed and complete as a 17th-century engraving come to life. Then you abruptly enter the 20th century. The boulevard Royal, little more than five blocks long, glitters with glass-and-concrete office buildings, each containing a world-class bank and untold anonymous, well-sheltered fortunes.
Luxembourg, once sovereign to lands that stretched from the Meuse to the Rhine, was reduced over the centuries to being a pawn in the power struggles between its many conquerors. Until recently little more than a cluster of meager farms and failing mines, Luxembourg today enjoys newfound political clout and the third-highest per capita income in the world.
The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, one of the smallest countries in the United Nations, measures only 2,586 square km (998 square mi). Smaller than Rhode Island, it has a population of 512,000. It is dwarfed by its neighbors—Germany, Belgium, and France—yet from its history of invasion, occupation, and siege, you would think those square miles were filled with solid gold. In fact, it was Luxembourg's fortresses carved out of bedrock, its very defenses against centuries of attack that rendered it all the more desirable.