Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Little Switzerland in Luxembourg

The tiny travel wonder of Luxembourg, precariously sandwiched between France and Germany at a European crossroads has a woven web of hiking paths that crisscross the country. While the city features excellent historic walks such as the Wenzel Walk, the northern part of Luxembourg offers a tremendous array of walking and hiking options. With maps available from tourist offices and clear signposts with blue triangles marking the paths, hiking is one of Luxembourg’s most popular leisurely pursuits (after all, one-third of the country is forested). And there is no better place to walk than the grandly named Little Switzerland. While there is nothing alpine about this lowland region, the dramatic landscape gives some credibility to its moniker.

Start from the country’s oldest town of Echternach with its sprawling abbey credited to St Willibrord (a wily Yorkshireman who the locals believed cured epilepsy in the seventh century). With little thought over a strong steaming coffee, I selected E1 (see map), a suitable sounding walk of twelve kilometres. After a short but strenuous climb, a nice viewpoint (Troosknäppchen) offers fine vistas of the abbey and town.

The path follows the Müllerthal Trail (the miller’s path named from the numerous watermills that once existed on the river) quickly leading to densely wooded forests, lush verdant valleys and spectacular rock formations. Left over from the Ice Age, roughly hewn rock steps and ladders weave a narrow, twisting path between towering 20 metre high rock walls at times only wide enough for a single file of walkers.

This ancient landscape generates its own steamy microclimate of high humidity producing vegetation unique to Europe with moss coating everything in a carpet of green and ferns sprouting from small rocky crevices.

The trail leads through the evocatively named Wolfsschlucht (the wolves’ lair - top photo) that apparently sheltered wolves in times past. Continuing along a tiny brook, through the Labyrinth and past the giant single rock of Perekop, the trail leads to Hohllay. This is an old cave where traces remain where millstones were cut. Regular performances still run at the nearby amphitheatre, a wonderful natural location for plays, theatre and music.

Sharing lunch with a couple of hikers, climbers clambered up the sheer rock walls, the occasional yelp of a slipping climber being caught by his ropes breaking the peaceful forest ambiance.

Turning back along a small creek with tiny waterfalls, the path toured via Zig-zag Gorge (photo below right) and an atmospheric cavern called Räuberhöhle (thief’s hideout - photo left) before tracking the Sûre River back to Echternach.

It seems an accident of history that this tiny country exists as an independent country with its history of battles and wars. Indeed, the castles that litter nearly every rocky outcrop, gorge and small hill is a strong reminder of how many battles have been fought over the years for this scenic centre of Europe. It is a gift as the feisty and proud population of the self-promoted “Europe’s smallest big country” offer superb trekking through well-preserved forests broken only by the occasional muffled greeting of moien in the strange sounding German-like dialect.

Other Benelux Posts
1000 Years in 100 Minutes (Luxembourg City)
A City of More than Sex and Drugs? (Amsterdam)
Belgian Pride
Drinks Around the World: Chimay Beer

More details available from the Müllerthal Trail website.


Nisha said...

You literally took us there with your story. I have been to Luxemburg but did not do any hiking for lack of time.. Maybe next time.

Footsteps said...

What wonderful hiking! Some of your photos remind me of our Hocking Hills area in Ohio.

GMG said...

Hi Mark! Lovely travelogue with such beautiful pictures. It's amazing how you managed to make Luxembourg delectable... ;)

Thanks for your comments at Blogtrotter, which has an astonishing display of works of art by contemporary artists in the streets of Bilbao for you to enjoy. Have a great week!

Shannon said...

You totally enchanted me with this story. Love the nooks and crannies you found on your hike.

RennyBA's Terella said...

What a readable story with great pics - so exciting!
I was in Brussels the other day, but I would love to be there instead of a city :-)

Btw: Thanks for your note and for putting me up on your blogroll - your on mine too!

Donna Hull said...

Now I want to go hiking in Luxemburg. Great photos plus a detailed account of the hike. I'd have to skip the rapelling though.

BarbaraW said...

I'd love to walk this trail (I am a big walker), but I'd leave the climbing to others. Just the yelps of those whose ropes caught them when they lost their footing would send shivers up my neck.

Sherry said...

Wow - that def. doesn't look like any Europe I know! What a great trekking find. Thanks for sharing it!

Anil said...

Luxembourg is one of those places I always lump in with Germany and I neglect its unique character. You've really brought a piece of it to life with this post.

Mark H said...

@nisha: Luxembourg claim that a thrid of their small country is forested. Impressive green credentials.

@footsteps: One of the best day walks I've done anywhere.

@shannon: Thank you. The idea of a thief's hideout is kind of cool.

@GMG: Thank you.

Mark H said...

@rennyBA: I love Brussels main square but for the rest, I'd rather be out hiking.

@donna: No climbing for me either. But it made for good lunchtime entertainment.

@barbara: The group I saw were pretty good, but even with ropes it must be unnerving.

@sherry: The tourist office put me on to it. They were genuinely interested in people enjoying their own country.

@anil: I think a lot include it with Germany or France or Belgium and it is a mistake. They have their own identity and special history to share and incredible pride in their country. Lots of Lux flags abound though the flag looks a lot like the Dutch flag to me.M

John said...

You paint a great word pictures along with your fine photos of what sounds a special part of Europe.

Mark H said...

@john: Thank you

Ralph said...

beautiful description of the walk. I just finished walking a 20mile/30km part of the whole 70m/110km miller valley trail. My walk included the first part of yours. and indeed, it is very beautiful. probably the most enchanting part of Luxembourg. I did this for the first time in my life, which is a shame, given that I grew up and live less then 20 miles away from "Mullerthal".

here is a link to the miller valley trail :

and another link with explanations about the network of 25 national trails in Luxembourg.
I have done some of them so far and they are great way to explore this small country.

and by the way, the difference between the luxembourg and the dutch flag are in the blue. the dutch blue is darker then the luxembourg blue. it is quite normal the flags are so similar, luxembourg belonged to the dutch provinces until 1839.


Mark H said...

@ralph: I hope that you get to complete the whole walk one day. It is a magnificent piece of Europe. Thank you for all your additional information on the walks.

The Black Knight said...

Nice work Mark! Did you encounter a tight chasm with a small stream creating a tiny waterfall into the chasm, and at the point a hinged wooden plank you folded down from the cliff face to cross through it? I walked through there many years ago, and wondered if this quaint, yet unforgettable feature was still there.

Mark H said...

@black knight: I recall a number of narrow chasms but I don't recall having to fold down a wooden plank anywhere. That sounds a superb experience and I am glad that oyu got to enjoy so much of this esceptional walk.

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