The road running out of Contz-les-Bains is one of those lovely minor lanes that are so common in rural France. It follows a gentle valley: two low hills to the left, the Rosenberg and the Kleeberg, and a much grander hill called Stroumberg on the right. If you have good legs and good lungs you can climb up to the top of the Stroumberg, where the surface is pitted by the remains of old gypsum mines. From the heights there is a tremendous view of the meandering Moselle river as it snakes lazily through a deep valley cut into the landscape. Clearly the Moselle is a river in no great hurry
To the south is France. To the north Luxembourg. And across on the other bank of the river Germany. The territories of the three countries meet on an island in the middle of the Moselle — a thin strip of land next to one of the giant locks that have helped tame the river. Below the Stroumberg is the little Luxembourg village of Schengen, a scatter of houses around the church of St Sauveur and a riverside château. A slip of a place, Luxembourg’s swan song before the Grand Duchy surrenders to Germany and France.
Borders don’t count for much in most of modern Europe, do they? Drive that road around the Stroumberg from Contzles- Bains into Schengen and where once officials checked passports, now motorists cross from France to Luxembourg without let or hindrance. A peep from your mobile phone as it switches to a new network is the greatest formality encountered at this border. The international frontier is marked by an ancient border stone on the road to Schengen, but that surely goes unnoticed by most motorists. True, there is a sign announcing Luxembourg, and the road surface changes slightly, but otherwise nothing of note.
Luxembourg is everything its two bigger neighbours are not - a tiny constitutional monarchy that in Schengen abuts onto two great republics. And Luxembourg’s attitudes towards its borders and bigger neighbours has always been shaped by the knowledge that those two republics have not always been the best of friends.