Afternoon out: Mondorf-les-Bains
A thermal spa town with beautiful gardens, public squares and landscaped paths, Mondorf and its surrounds get 530,000 visitors each year. The commune also incorporates the pretty villages of Ellange and Altwies.
A little bit of history
The origin of the name Mondorf dates back to the Carolingian dynasty and Frankish kings. Charlemagne’s niece, Muomina, offered all her possessions to the Abbey of Echternach, and amongst these was a small village which took the name Muomendorf. Charlemagne, was also married to Hildegarde of Thionville and had a residence in Mondorf. The town was called Muomendorf in 960, but by 1440 was known as Moyndorff, and by the 1572 as Mundorf. It’s current name was first used in 1681.
Prior to Dutch domination, the town was mostly given over to agriculture and wine-growing. The Dutch taxed salt heavily, and slightly salty water was found in Mondorf in the 19th century. Drilling started in 1841, on the initiative of a local notary, Ledure. No rock salt was found over the next five years, but a mineralised spring was discovered, which Ledure decided to use for curative purposes.
A thermal spa was established in 1847, and an application for a casino made in 1852. Three years later, Guillaume III, the King of the Netherlands and Grand Duke of Luxembourg, stayed at the Hotel Grand-Chef in Mondorf. By 1864, there were eight hotels, and in the same year, the spring was sold to a group of investors who created the anonymous society of the baths of Mondorf.
In 1878, the town was given the title of a spa town by royal grand-ducal decree, and became known as Mondorf-les-Bains. Four years later, it was linked to Luxembourg City and Remich via the Jangeli railway line.
Notable natives to the town include strong man John Grün (1868), Auguste Leisch (1874), creator of the famous Maus Kätti, and Frantz Clément (1882), journalist and editor of Tageblatt. A great critic of the Nazi regime, he was sent to Dachau and later transferred to Austria where he was killed in 1942. Mondorf is also the birthplace of cycling brothers Andy and Frank Schleck.
In 1945, the Palace Hotel was famously converted into a prison camp for Nazi leaders before they were transported to face trial in Nuremberg. In 1952-3, Jean Monnet, the President of the European Coal and Steel Community, stayed in Mondorf for eight months, and received the heads of state from France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Luxembourg.
A tour of the town
Left of the modern town hall you can see a monument to John Grün who emigrated to the USA in 1889. St Michael’s church was constructed in 1764 and combines Baroque and Rococo styles, with paintings inside by Weiser, and statues by local sculptor Jean Decker. If you take the stairs to the right you’ll get great view from the Nicolas Ungeschick climb (he was the architect of the church). There’s a little chapel a the top that was erected in 1930.
The tower of the former commune building was originally a prison in the Middle Ages, then later the mansion of Ledure, who first sourced the mineral spring. At the end of the 19th century it became the Hotel de Metz.
Around the town are “Stolpersteng”, stones dedicated to the memory of the victims of Nazism, including the Bonem family who ran the Hotel Belvedere and who were deported in 1942. The synagogue at rue de Moulin was originally constructed in 1907 but damaged in 1941. Restored now, outside is Place George Marx, dedicated to an Auschwitz camp survivor from Mondorf.
Of course one of the main reasons to visit the town is the Domaine Mondorf. The wooded park of the Domaine covers more than 42 hectares and was first established 160 years ago.
It has magnificent flower beds in summer, and a wonderful sculpture trail with 21 sculptures by famous local and international artists. There is an orangerie, the old thermal baths, and marked trails as well as an easy golf 18-hole course, and you can hire boats for 2-4 people for 30 minutes or longer.
The thermal spa
The thermal water contains a high concentration of sodium, calcium, magnesium and sulphate with a pH close to that of skin, and is both soothing and has anti-inflammatory and decongestive properties. The water is heated to 36°C, and helps to relax muscles, improve mobility in joints, and stimulate blood circulation. It’s also thought to be good for the digestive and respiratory systems (because it contains magnesium and sulphur). You can find out more about treatments at the Domaine here.
If you prefer a freshwater swim, there’s an outdoor swimming pool with a sunny bar terrace, plus saunas and hammams, and a summer beach area with a brasserie for a bit of summer fun.
The aviation museum houses Luxembourg’s flight heritage, has free entry, and is open Wednesday to Sunday afternoons.
Spread over two floors of a glass building, you can see everything flight related from parachutes, ballooning, model aircraft and the history of aviation together with stamps dating back to 1909, and of course aircraft, including many used in the Second World War. A commercial sector has exhibits from Luxair and Cargolux, and you can discover a weather station, radar station and aircraft engines, and listen to real recordings of conversations between pilots and the airport control tower.
About halfway between Mondorf and the village of Altwies is a rocky outcrop on the banks of the river (French side) crowned with a chapel, known as the Castel. A refuge for Celtic people some 2,500 years ago, the rock was reinforced by a castellum by the Romans in 119. A convent was established there in the times of the Merovingians, and in 1237 the Countess Ermesinde donated it to the church of Sainte Madeleine. A place of pilgrimage the frame of the door is dated 1611, although all that remains is the choir of the old church.
Trails, hikes and cycle paths
You can take a short walk in the town to discover 175 years of hydrotherapy through photographic panels that cover a distance of 2.5km starting at the town hall.
There are also six marked trails in the area. The 10.9km blue flag circuit in Mondorf starts at the town hall and travels along the French border past the municipal park, the spa, and through fields to Altwies, taking in the ruins of a Roman fort and the rococo St Michael’s Church.
There’s a 9.6km pedestrian circuit at Ellange, which starts at the village train station and follows a former railway line into the woods on a circuit that also takes in some of the beautiful historic houses.
There are two historical walks in the town of Mondorf, or if you’re feeling energetic you can take the 4 hour, 12.4km walk to Schengen, passing the Biodiversum and Haff Reimich nature reserve along the way.
You can find a list of these walks featuring maps and pocket guides for walks in the Moselle region here.
You can take a local 13.5km bicycle circuit that starts at the town hall, and travels to the nearby villages of Ellange and Altwies. The Jangeli cycle path PC7 takes you through forests and vineyards along a 12.5km path to Remich.
You can rent bikes from the town’s tourist office at 26 avenue des Bains, by the hour for €2 or for the day for €10. Child seats are available on request.
There are several playgrounds in Mondorf and surrounds, if you fancy a stop for children to play.
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