Monday, 28 July 2014

Luxemburg City Running Route

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Length 5.8 km (3.6 miles), terrain: a few hills, total gain 133 meters

Luxemburg City (also spelled Luxembourg, or Lëtzebuerg in the local dialect) has one of the most unique and dramatic locations in the world: throning on the cliffs over the serpentine Alzette River gorge below, with arched viaducts connecting it to the other sides. It was once one of the most heavily fortified places on earth, called the "Gibraltar of the North," with the fortifications gradually extended by Spanish, Austrian, French and Prussian occupiers. The cliff faces are still holed with openings for canons, connected by a maze of tunnels. The panoramas from above are breathtaking, and the views from below are equally impressive.

This route tries to capture some of that visual drama, from above and below. It follows the old city walls, by either running along the ramparts themselves or through a park where a section of walls used to be, or running along the foot of other walls, as they go over the river at different spots.
Running along the valley bottom, beneath the old town
The town itself is a pleasant, wealthy place that comes across as a prosperous regional market town rather than as a capital city. The main square, Place d'Armes, is a nice, leafy public square centered around a bandstand, with lots of shade-trees, and filled with restaurant tables and relaxed customers during good weather.

Luxemburg is a place with an identity problem, because the country is basically German-speaking (the other -- French-speaking -- half of Luxemburg was swallowed by Belgium long ago, a place with its own identity problems), but the public life in the city and all the street signs are in French.

We'll start the run in the heart of town, at the Grand-Duke's palace, on Rue du Marche-aux-Herbes. Luxemburg is the last grand-dutchy surviving in Europe. The reason it exists as a separate country is mainly because France and Germany both wanted it, and didn't want the other to have it (it's such a great spot for a fort, after all). So they agreed to let it be a separate country, out of the control of each of them. And after fortified castles lost their military importance, everyone just sort of forgot all about it.
Start of the run at the Grand-Duke's place
Standing there at the palace, turn west to run directly into the town's biggest (but not very charming) square, Place Guillaume II, with its statue of the mounted Guillaume. The town hall is on the left and the cathedral is further off behind it, tucked-in among various small government ministry buildings. The nearby Ministry of Agriculture building barely has room to park a tractor.
Empty Place d'Armes in the early morning
Run diagonally towards the right, through the square, and exit via the arched walkway. You'll come out to the next square, the Place d'Armes, with its bandstand. Also run diagonally towards the right here, and then turn right on the next cross-street, Rue Philippe II.

Now just run down this pleasant shopping street for four blocks until you come to the Luxemburg town park, Parc de la Ville, on the left side. Turn in there, to the left.
This park was once the outer earthen defensive walls of the fort. It curves towards the south, as you pass all those normal, wonderful things that make up a nice public park: flower beds, benches, pigeons, a great playground, a couple of museums and a pond with fountain.
Fountain in the Parc de Ville
You'll cross two cross-streets that bisect the park, and pass the museums. When you get to the south end of the park, you also reach the south end of the plateau upon which the town sits. You are right next to one of the main car bridges, Pont Adolphe, a breathtaking arched viaduct that connects to the cliffs on the other side of the Valée de la Pétrusse. Actually, there are two bridges here: the new, ugly, blue bridge is just temporary, I think. At least all the construction activity around it gives me that impression.

Now cross the street from the park, Avenue Marie-Thérese, and take the winding footpath that serpentines down below the blue bridge: we're headed to the valley floor! Continue following the serpentines of Rue de las Semois as far to the right side as possible, taking the path that goes towards the bottom of the valley.

There is construction work as I write this, as I mentioned, and some parts of the path are used by the construction team, but they have provided boardwalks for pedestrians to get around it all. Normally, you can take one of either trail lining each side of the stream at the bottom, heading east.

You'll run under a second viaduct bridge.
View from Grund, at the riverside
At the bottom, the trail connects into the lightly used car street, Rue St. Ulric, which turns to the left to go through the lower town, called Grund. But this running route will keep going straight at this point: take the path that leads up onto the ramparts next to the third arched viaduct bridge ahead on the right.
Running along the ramparts next to the third viaduct bridge
The trail now runs atop the walls over the river and then leads to some steps up to the plateau on the far side, called Rham.

Now follow the path to the left, with the ravine down below your left side as it curves around the small plateau. The buildings on your right formed an old barracks for the former fort garrisons. Now they have been nicely restored around a green square, but the security guards are eager to tell errant joggers that they aren't welcome there, so just stick to the path around the perimeter.

Leave the barracks area by running out through the gate-tower at the northeast corner of the neighborhood, and turn left to follow the street downhill towards the river again, the Rue de Treves. But don't follow the serpentines: at the first curve, continue straight through the next gate in through the fort walls and immediately turn right and take the steps down to the next ramparts that cross the river.

You are now running towards the castle area, which sits on the cliffs right in front of you. The big holes in the cliffs are called the Bock Casemates, all connected with tunnels to the castle above.
Running below the Bock Casemates
When you cross the river, turn left onto the narrow cliff-side path and run below the castle until the bridge connecting the town to the castle appears on your right. This red-sandstone bridge replaced an older drawbridge a few hundred years ago.

Turn right and run below the bridge and now follow the trail as it heads downhill below the cliffs on your left. The town center is above you as you run northwards downhill along Rue Weis. You will soon come to the next lower town, Pfaffenthal.
View upwards, on the way to Pfaffenthal
Run between the houses on narrow Rue Laurent Ménager until you come to the gate-tower on the far- (north) side of the lower town. You'll see a giant modern car bridge crossing the valley above, just past the gate tower. The bridge connects the town center on the left side with the European Union buildings on the right side.
Running through Pfaffenthal: turn left at the tower ahead
Now we'll circle back to a spot a block behind us: turn right and take the path crossing the river (called Beim Beinchen -- the little leg) along the walls to the gate tower on the other side.

NOTE: The hillside across the river is covered with other fortifications, and if you follow the roads up there to the top of the Kirchberg, you'll be in the modern quarter full of European Union buildings.
Running across the Beim Beinchen ramparts, over the river
Here you turn right and run back south the one block to the church and then cross the bridge there, on Rue du Pont. You are now back at the same street in Pfaffenthal, Rue Laurent Ménager, where you were just a couple of minutes earlier.

Turn left and then run southwards out of Pfaffenthal.

This time, though, when you pass the last house, don't continue along asphalted Rue Weis, but take the cobblestoned street to the right that climbs more steeply back towards the cliffs above, on Rue Montée de Pfaffenthal.
Take the right-hand cobblestoned street back up to town
This is the hardest bit of the run, with a 60-meter climb. Sorry about that. But it's doable enough. You'll re-enter the city by going through the gate of the Three Towers. Take a good look around you before going through the gate: there's a great view here!
The Three-Towers gate
When you run through the Three Towers, take the first real street to the right, Rue Wiltheim, and run two short blocks to Rue de la Boucherie.

Then just turn left to end the run at the Grand Duke's place again a block ahead. Hopefully, the duke has put some coffee on, otherwise you'll have to wander back towards the Place d'Armes and pay for one there.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Port Louis, Brittany, Summer Fun Running Route

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Length 3.5 km (2.2 miles), terrain: flat

NOTE: This is the latest of our Summer Fun-Run routes, in vacation towns in Europe.

Port Louis, on Brittany's south coast, is a town that grew up inside a citadel, on a peninsula, surrounded by water on every side. The old walls (or most of them, anyway) still stand, and make a great course for a run around town: there is the main fort, further walls around the town on the coastal side, a harbor and a promenade walkway outside the walls, and the amazingly quiet old-town itself.
The fort at low tide
This route starts at the Notre Dame church in the old town, heads out to the fort, then continues clockwise around the town before looping back to the church.

So, ready to go? Then get yourself to the little square in front of Notre Dame on Rue des Dames, and then turn your back to the church and start running west along the little lane called Rue Notre Dame.
The street in front of Notre Dame church
In just two blocks, you'll leave the town and come to an area of fenced-in sports fields, with the citadel visible in the distance.

The city walls stretch out between the citadel on the left side and the town on the right.

Now turn left to run past the bus-stop, then turn right to take the footpath heading towards the citadel, with a little park-like area along the walls to the left. At the little parking lot, you'll see a gate in the walls leading out to the beach on the other side, with its beach-side restaurant: a place to come back to later.
Approaching the drawbridge
Keep running until you come to the drawbridge at the main gate of the fort, at the 0.5-m mark.

Now turn right and follow the waterside, with the water to your left, running past a war memorial to the Resistance fighters.

You'll run eastwards, past a little cove where some Hobie Cats and windsurf-boards are stored, then you'll re-enter the town, at the 1-km mark.
Hobie beach, looking back towards the fort
Follow the waterside road as it goes down to the harbor-side and turns right (the sign direction that says "Port la Pointe"), running southeast along Boulevard de la Compagnie des Indes. If you like boats, like I do, you'll enjoy running past this spot. The old town is up above the wall to your right.

Stay on the same road after the water ends, and it curves to the left past some garages and a soccer field.
At the harbor
The road turns to the right and comes to an intersection that looks almost like a plaza, crossing Avenue Marcel Charrier. Keep going straight here (south) into the little street called Boulevard du 14 Juillet, still running south.

At the end of this street, at the 2-km mark, you come to the water on the southeast side of town at a bay with boats moored out in the mud flats. At low tide, many of them are sitting on dry land.
Start of the Promenade du Lohic at the bay
Now turn right to run along the water's edge, going past the boat ramp and some benches, along the gravel path of the waterside park. This is the Promenade du Lohic, a short waterside trail. You're going past the ruins of a little fort at the beginning.

The trail makes a right turn at some rocks and continues outside the town walls past some wall-towers. There is a beautiful view here, with rocks and fishing boats and the towers.

At the third tower, at the 2.8-km mark, the promenade ends, and you run through the gate in the walls, where you turn left to continue running westwards on the inside of the walls, along the street called Promenade Henri Francois Buffet.

The street curves to the right, heading northwards, past a school, then comes out to the athletic fields that we saw at the beginning of the run. Now just follow the way straight past the bus-stop and then to the right, back along Rue Notre Dame to the starting point at the church.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

St. Leon, Dordogne, Summer Fun Running Route

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Length 5 km (3.1 miles), terrain: one hill of 80 meters

NOTE: This is the latest of our Summer Fun-Run routes, in vacation towns in Europe.

The Dordogne in western France is truly the home of The Good Life (TGL). TGL starts with a few basic staples: the food and wine are wonderful, the restaurants are relaxed and affordable, there are castles on every hilltop, there are great spots to canoe and camp, and the whole area is steeped in fascinating history.

Much of what we know about prehistoric man comes from finds along the Vézère River, a tributary of the Dordogne. The whole river is lined with cliffs and caves, where people have lived since Neanderthal- and Cro-Magnon-days, leaving behind beautiful cave paintings and carved utensils. The Lascaux cave paintings are just up the river. There are still houses lining the cliff-faces where people live to this day.
Dordogne scene in La Roque Gageac
It's also a great area for running and mountain biking. Here's a route that takes you along the Vézère at one of its most interesting spots, without any car traffic close by. It starts near St. Leon, a village about half-way between the somewhat bigger towns of Les Eysies and Montinac. It actually starts at Le Paradis campground, which is where I was staying, and is the most wonderful place to stay in the area (with its botanic-garden-like landscaping).

So go to the canoe dock right on the river, in the middle of the campground, and turn south to follow the little river trail between the campground huts and the water.
Running between river and fields
Soon, you'll be out of the campground and running along farm fields to your right. It's nice and quiet here, just us and the path. The river is a slow-moving, pleasant river, lined by woods, fields and castles.

After 1.5-kilometers, the river will curve to the right, as the cliffs on the other side rise above the fields.

Now run through the little woods and past the canoe let-in spot. 
Looking ahead from the canoe-let-in spot
Right across the river you'll now see the impressive site of St. Christophe, a cliff village that was the home of people from prehistoric days (17,000 years ago) till just a few generations ago). You can see the ledges within the cliffs where people built their stone houses, and the little cranes used to pull up supplies from the riverside since medieval times.
St. Christophe cliff village across the river: those are tiny people in the crack on the right side
You'll soon come to the stone-arched car bridge, where you run under the bridge and along the pasture on the other side.
The trail heading under the bridge
When the pasture ends, turn right and follow the trail as it heads into the little village of Moustiers.

You'll hit the main (and only) street, where you turn right and run through the village for a couple of blocks, past the church.

Where the side-road heads uphill, just after the grocery store, follow it.
Turn left here at the store to head up the hill!
You will now have a fairly long -- 800-meters -- but gentle uphill section, leaving the village and heading into the fields and woods. 
Countryside along the hilltop
You'll pass a Buddhist meditation center on the left, at the top of the hill. Now continue for a few hundred meters over the gently-rolling road until you see the little round stone building on the right, in front of two houses, now used as the Buddhists' library.

Turn right along the right edge of those houses, at the 4-kilometer mark, and start heading downhill directly towards the campground along an old gravel road.
Turn right just before this round-house to head back to the campground!
The road curves to the right as it goes by a little farmhouse. Keep to the right here, following the gravel trail down the hill.

It will wind through more woods and fields until it comes out at the farm directly across the street from Le Paradis. A nice little river-and-hill run in the heart of the Dordogne! And when you've taken a shower and jumped in a pool, you can head off to any of the nearby villages for a great dinner and another taste of TGL.