Vianden – castle ramparts, a chairlift and museums on Hugo and Dicks
This Eislek medieval town has been charming tourists for more than 100 years with its cobbled streets, gothic churches, castle and medieval ramparts.
Today the population of the town is 2,190 people, but in the 15th century Vianden was filled with artisans and craftsmen, and with 3,000 inhabitants, was the third largest town in Luxembourg.
A bit of history…
During the Middle Ages, Vianden as a county was bigger than the Grand Duchy is today, incorporating 136 villages from Prum to Bitburg. The fortified town at the foot of the castle had five entry gates and was surrounded by ramparts and 24 semi-circular towers. The present belltower “Hockelstour” that stands between the castle and the town was originally a watchtower.
The town’s wall was destroyed in 1679 and between 1835 and 1850 the last remaining gates to the upper town and the bridge were pulled down to ease congestion. A centre for craftsmanship, the town was known for its tanners, drapers, coopers, masons, tailors, locksmiths and goldsmiths. So prolific were the latter craftsmen, that the entire region is dotted with private and religious golds works.
Vianden had a mayor, councillors who doubled as magistrates, three main courts of justice, plus a feudal court and one for the nobility.
More recently, Vianden was one of the last town’s to be liberated during the Battle of Ardennes (12 February 1945).
Vianden Castle & fortifications
Considered by many to symbolise the fortunes of the town, the castle was constructed between the 11th and 14th centuries on the foundations of a Roman fort. Until the 15th century the palace and medieval fortress was home to the Counts of Vianden, who were connected to the royal family in France and the German imperial court.
In Carolingian times it was originally a decagonal tower, which was transformed later into the castle chapel. The Great Palace was erected in the first half of the 13th century, whilst the Juliers quarter dates from the beginning of the 14th century, and the Nassau quarter was built in the early 17th century.
Today it remains one of the largest feudal residences of the Romanesque and Gothic periods in Europe. It was also defended by strong fortifications, gates and towers including the White Tower on the northwest side and the Black Tower on the northeast side.
Visitors entered the castle through five gates, the first of which had a drawbridge. At the fifth gate you arrived at the Little Palace by way of a staircase and a door. The Little Palace has a vaulted hall that is divided into two rooms – the Captain’s Hall and the Armoury. Keystones are decorated with the emblem of Vianden and Nassau, but since it was considered a minor possession of the Nassau dynasty, who inherited it in the 15th century from the counts, they did not live in it, but merely administered it through bailiffs.
Upstairs the Byzantine hall has beautiful trefoil windows, whilst the Great Palace to the right, is the largest part of the castle, and contains the 30m-long Knights Hall. The chapel has a double oratory, consisting of two separate floors, with the higher level for the nobles. The count sat even higher up in a small balcony. The upper chapel is built in Rhenish style and allows for much light, whilst the lower chapel is in Romanesque style.
Under French occupation, the county of Vianden was abolished in 1794 and 42 villages were surrendered to Prussia at the Vienna Congress of 1815.
The rest of the county was returned to William I of Orange-Nassau who in 1820 sold the castle for 3,200 florins to a Vianden merchant, Wenceslas Coster, who promptly dismantled it and sold it piece by piece from the tiles, panelling and ironwork to the masonry, doors and windows. He moved the entrance staircase, panelling and some furniture to his own house in the town. Following angry protests from the townsfolk, William I re-acquired the castle for 1,100 florins and began reconstruction, starting with the chapel in 1851.
Today the castle is owned by the state and you can visit its exhibitions of ancient wepaons, armoury, furniture, photographs and portraits from 10.00 to 16.00 from November to February, 10.00 to 17.00 in March and October and from 10.00-18.00 April to September. You can find more information here.
The ramparts and fortress wall are now a cultural trail with several information panels. The fortress wall originally had two gates, a watch tower and several shell towers (open to the gorge) which were typical for 13th century fortifications.
Income from a wine tax introduced in 1453 was used to maintain the walls until 1787, when the first towers were sold. You can walk the ancient walls that once would have passed the Count's hospital and local monastery. The watchtower is all that remains of the former hospital, together with an old riverside passageway that was unearthed by archaeological excavations.
Churches and religious places
The Trinitarian Church
The Trinitarians were summoned to Vianden by Count Henri I whose father had been freed from Saracen captivity by them. This gothic vaulted church was consecrated in 1252 and above the door is a statue of the Virgin Mary and Child that dates back to the 14th century. It also houses the tomb of the last of the counts – or rather the Countess of Vianden, Maria von Spanheim, who died in 1400.
Restored after a fire in 1498, the sacrament alter, built in Renaissance style to the left of the church, is the work of 15th century Trier artist Ruprecht Hoffmann. The main alter, built in Rococo style in 1758, is the work of local artists Daleyden and Goldschmit.
Church of St Nicolas
Before the Trinitarians came to town, Vianden was ministered by the Order of the Templars, and this church near the bridge was built by them in 1260 (possibly in defiance of Count Henri I). A simple but sturdy church, the interior consists of a single nave and a ribbed vault. The apse houses a Baroque-style alter, enriched with Rococo elements and dedicated to St Nicolas, who is represented on the exterior of the church above the door.
This Church of St Roch and its cemetery were built in 1770 in Baroque style. Unlike the other churches in the town, St Roch has two bell towers. The high alter dates from 1722 and was originally in the Trinitarian church. The Chapel of Sodality was also founded by the Trinitarians, in 1761. The Bildchen chapel is located in the forest above the lake and Our dam, and was built in 1848. Inside the alter dates back to the 13th century.
Monuments and museums
Monument to Dicks
Commemorating Edmond de la Fontaine, the Luxembourgish poet who went by the pen name “Dicks”, is a monument above the Trinitarian Church. He wrote the first guide to Vianden in 1885, and died in the town in 1891.
Vianden City History museum
Taking you on a 1000-year journey from the Celts to the present day, this museum will show you what life was like for the citizens of Vianden in the 18th and 19th centuries. Housed in an old merchant’s house, also the final residence for the poet Dicks, the bakery museum includes a bakery from the 1950s and there is a section dedicated to the life and work of local poet Dicks. It’s open from Easter to October from 11.00 to 17.00.
Victor Hugo’s house
The famous French poet and author came to Vianden four times, latterly in 1871 when he was expelled from Belgium. Whilst his family stayed at Hotel Koch (more of an inn in those days), he lodged on the first floor of a neighbouring house near the bridge, which today is home to a museum dedicated to Hugo’s time in the town. The museum holds his letters, furniture and reproductions of the drawings he made during his stay. Open from Tuesday to Sunday 11.00 to 17.00 from November to mid-April, and the rest of the year from 12.00 to 18.00, you can pick up audio guides in French, German, Dutch, English and Chinese.
Rodin’s famous bust of Hugo is on display on the bridge. For more art, you can check out the Veiner Konstgalarie which is housed in a hangar that has been used by local artists since 2013, but formally became a gallery in 2017. It’s open from March to October. There's also a small caricature museum displaying cartoons on Grand Rue.
You can find information on entry prices for each museum here.
Chairlift and Tree Climber Adventure Park
For panoramic views of the town and surrounding countryside, the chairlift, the only one in Luxembourg, carries you up the hill adjacent to the castle, and there is a footpath you can take to the castle. It’s open from Easter to October. Alternatively you can explore the yellow, blue, red and green circuits of the Tree Climber Adventure Park nearby which offers high ropes courses that vary in difficulty and challenges (currently still closed for 2022).
The nut fair or Nessmoort started in 1935, but in the 1900s, Vianden had 2551 or one-fifth of the country’s walnut trees. The town had regular wholesalers and small traders in the nut business, with nuts sold by 100 pieces, or the kilo. Traditionally held in October, the nut market stopped in the late 1950s due to poor harvests, but was resurrected in 1970. Nëssdrëpp or nut schnapps, is made from young nuts with green skin and is thought to be good for the stomach.
Fishing and swimming
You can get a fishing permit for the River Our or the Our reservoir from the tourist office. If you prefer to dunk yourself, then Vianden has a heated open air pool up on a hill overlooking the town which is open from the end of May to early September.
Walking, hiking and biking
The Ourdall promenade follows the river for 8.5km from Vianden to Stolzembourg. From here you can join longer hiking trails including Nat’Our Route 4, with a rating of difficult, that traverses 17km (starts at the car park near the bridge). Alternatively start near Stolzembourg cemetery for a 12km hike on Route 5.
There are two auto-pedestre blue circular walking routes in Vianden. Route 1 starts at the parking lot of Engelmann Platz and travels through the forest above the city before coming down into the Our valley. Route 2 starts at the tourist office (or you can pick it up from the bus station) and takes in the forests behind Vianden before returning to follow the river back to town.
You can hike in the footsteps of Victor Hugo on a 27km trail that traverses the surrounding scenery that Hugo captured in the 60 or so drawings and sketches he did of the region. The trail is linear and finishes at Ettelbruck.
A 22km mountain bike trail starts at Vianden bus station and passes by the Our hydro-electric power station. There are two narrow climbs, slippery in the rain, but also affording great viewpoints. You must get off your bicycle for some steps before heading to the Bildchen Chapel and returning via the castle.
Hotels and camping
There are several hotels offering varying degrees of comfort, luxury and price, some with indoor pools and spa centres in addition to in-house restaurants. There is also a camping ground and campervan park, a youth hostel and cottages for rent.