Unusual winter mini-break destinations
Fancy a winter mini-break to somewhere in the greater region that won’t be full of other tourists. Here’s a few spots that hit the mark.
If you prefer to stick to the main cities, read our article Cities to visit near Luxembourg, which includes Maastricht, Brussels, Strasbourg, Dijon, Bonn, Cologne and Dusseldorf.
Forget Bruges, often overrun with tourists, and head instead to Ghent, just 3 hours' drive from Luxembourg City. This pretty medieval city, university town, and cultural hub lies at the confluence of the Rivers Leie and Scheldt.
The 12th century Gravensteen Castle, known as the Castle of the Counts, is one of the only remaining medieval castles with a moat and intact defence system in Flanders. The gatehouse, ramparts, keep and the count’s residence are open to visitors and you can take an audio or a Visio (with tablet) guided tour. It’s open daily from 10.00 to 18.00.
In the city, you can also take in the Gothic St Bavo’s Cathedral with its majestic tower, converted from a church in the 15th and 16th centuries by the Bishops of Ghent. Inside you’ll find a Rubens, gothic chandeliers, a Rococo pulpit, and Van Eyck’s Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. It’s open every day from 8.30 (13.00 on Sundays) to 17.30.
Get good views of the city and its architecture from St Michael’s Bridge and stroll around the Grass Quay (Graslei) and the Corn Quay (Korenlei) to see the old guildhalls in all their glory.
Where to stay
Boutique Hotel de Flandre is located in the heart of the medieval centre in a listed building dating back to the 18th century with an original Napoleonic staircase. It has 63 rooms, and the higher up you are, the better view you’ll get. Alternatively you can stay in a monastery dating back to 1278 complete with stained glass windows, or the “Boatel”, a floating hotel set on canal boats. For something more family-oriented the Hotel Orion has quadruple and family rooms (up to five people) with access to a heated pool.
Dinant and Durbuy
Head to the Belgian gorgeous towns of Dinant and Durbuy, about 1.5 to 2 hours drive away (depending on weather conditions).
Perched on the banks of the River Meuse, with an amazing rock promontory and the Citadel towering over it, Dinant is a great place to spend the day. Climb the 408 steps to the top of the Citadel or take the gondola for spectacular winter views and a self-guided tour explaining it’s history (pamphlet provided in English). Built in the 11th century and then rebuilt by Vauban in the late 17th century, it was more recently the scene of conflict during both World Wars. It’s open at weekends and school holidays in January and then daily (except Fridays) from November to March from 10.00 to 16.30.
The other imposing building, the church of Notre Dame, a 13th century Gothic affair with an onion dome, is open daily 9.00 to 18.00. Nearby you can visit the tiny museum dedicated to Adolphe Sax, the creator of the saxophone, open daily and free from 9.00 to 18.00.
Also nearby, you can visit the wonderful caves “La Merveilleuse” discovered in 1904 and filled with stalactites and stalagmites. Tours last 1 hour and are in English, French and Dutch. In winter months they are open at weekends only or daily during the holidays from 11.00 to 15.00.
You can combine it with a visit to the Maison de la Pataphonie - an instrumentarium in an unexpected setting of a tropical jungle, aquaplayful river and a cave, designed by Max Vandervorst to wake up the musician in you. You'll be guided through musical regions including Saxofolly, Metalody and Xylomania in a fun and interactive way. Open Sundays during term time from 14.00 to 16.00, but also in the school holidays.
Just 45 minutes’ drive away, you’ll find Durbuy, another fascinating medieval Belgian town. It’s modern and art and history museum is housed in a listed 14th century building and features the work of Belgian artists including Marcel Lucas. You can reserve an historical audio guide to the city or a visit to the art exhibitions here, and the museum is open daily 10.30 to 17.30 until mid-November, then until 16.30.
Durbuy’s narrow streets are also home to some fantastic local cuisine from trout with nettles, to a quiche made with blue Adele cheese, Ardennes ham and walnuts, and Marckloff beer brewed at the Ferme du Chêne, where you can take a guided tour and tasting.
A family friendly 10.5km walk takes you around the region, with panoramic views of the Barvaux. Starting in Juliénas park in Barvaux-sur-Ourthe, and taking about 3.5 hours, you’ll wander by the banks of the Ourthe past the Devil’s Tower that overlooks the river.
Where to stay
Stay at La Merveilleuse spa hotel located in an old convent with unique views of the river and the town of Dinant. Rooms vary from standard to luxury and there is an apartment for six people.
Located in the heart of town, Le Vieux Durbuy is set in a listed building with 12 rooms. Sister hotel The Victoria has 13 rooms, and The Guest House has 2 suites. You can find information on all three here. Families might like Adventure Valley Durbuy which has chalets, and numerous activities from climbing and zipwires to laser games, fast tag, bowling and escape rooms.
The Black Forest
A popular destination, there's a lot you can do that’s off the beaten track.
For starters you can visit the Alternative Wolf and Bear Park in Schapbach (open in the winter months from 10.00 to 16.00, then 10.00 to 18.00 from March). Most of the bears have been rehabilitated from captivity and the keepers provide insight into their recovery and their life at the park.
You can also visit the Mundenhof animal and nature park for free (donations welcome). Near Freiburg its open year-round, with plenty of cycle paths nearby.
Freiburg itself has a great cathedral with a Gothic tower, a history museum, picturesque squares and the Augustinermuseum which houses a renowned art collection of works ranging from the Middle Ages to the Baroque period.
You can also take a trip to a Grimm fairy-tale castle Berg Hohenzollern open 10.00 to 18.00 daily. The ancestral seat of the Prussian Royal House and of the Hohenzollern Prince, it sits high atop a hill. From 25 November to 8 January it will host Royal Winter Magic, with festive decorations, illuminations, and a court jester blowing bubbles.
You can also ride Germany's longest cable car from 9.00 to 17.00 (stroller and wheelchair accessible).
Where to stay
For a bit of luxury and a spa centre close to Freiburg you can stay at the Hotel Dorint which has rooms but also suites. A little further out of town the guesthouse/farm Walter has two and four person apartments, whilst the Schwatzwaelder-Hof has double rooms and a family suite.
The Saar region
So close it's easy to make a day trip, but why not relax and take longer?
The town of Saarburg provides a lovely setting for a relaxed lunch. Stroll past the waterfall or take a cable-car trip to the nearby hilltop and an all-weather toboggan ride. The castle was built by Count Siegfried of Luxembourg in 946 and you can still walk around its ruins on a hill overlooking the town.
In nearby Merzig, the free Wolfpark Werner Freund is home to several species of wolves from Europe and the Americas. It offers numerous hiking paths through the forests. Close by, Mettlach is where you’ll find the Villeroy and Boch museum (closed until Autumn 2023 due to refurbishment). The Treetop Walk Saarschleife is open in the winter months (January to March) daily from 9.30 to 16.00 daily (last entry 15.00). Running 23 metres above the forest floor the platform meanders some 1,250m through beeches, oaks and Douglas firs to the observation tower, with activity stations along the way.
Völklinger Hütte’s old blast furnaces are now a UNESCO heritage site in Völklingen, and feature an art gallery and science centre, Ferrodrom, focusing on the four elements of earth, water, fire and air. It’s open daily in winter (except 24, 25 and 31 December) from 10.00 to 18.00.
Despite the cold weather you can see lemurs and meerkats at the Saarbrucken Zoo which is open during the winter months from 9.00 to 17.00.
Where to stay
Families should consider the Landal Warsberg chalets that overlook the town of Saarburg and link to it with a cable car. The Hotel Haus Schons is a charming small hotel by the River Saar located on a cycle and walking path near the famous Saar loop and close to Mettlach. It also has a separate five-bedroom, two bathroom holiday home available for rent.
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