A woodland staircase on the Mullerthal trail. Photos by Sara Bartlemay.
Luxembourg: Hiking Through Fairy Tale Forests
The bus ticket to Echternach cost less than my peanut butter. I boarded the bus, quickly dispelling the rumor that Luxembourg is an expensive country to travel through. I knew very little of Luxembourg, I had read it was an expensive country full of fairytale forests and medieval castles. So far only half of that was true.
The hour long bus ride took me from Luxembourg City to Echternach: a hiker's paradise nestled in the emerald green hills of 'Luxembourg's Little Switzerland.' Echternach sits on the Mullerthal trail, a well established track of 110 kilometers of trails passing through idyllic beech forests, around unusual rock formations, over waterfalls, traversing steep ravines and up to romantic abandoned castles.
Echternach History and Highlights
The area was first settled in the 1st Century A.D. by the Romans. A small, but interesting museum protects the Roman Villa ruin site next to the reflective waters of Lake Echternach. The city was was founded across the lake by the Anglo-Saxton monk, St. Willibrord in the year 698 making this the oldest city in Luxembourg.
The city of 4,600 is centered around St. Willibrord's Abbey Basilica. Six churches were built at the site of the modern day basilica, the first by Willibrord in the year 700, and the latest Baroque style basilica in 1726. In the middle ages, the Abbey published ornate copies of the Bible decorated with jewels and precious gemstones, and today it functions as a school. A museum at the corner of the Abbey gives tours and historical insights.
Old World Charm
Echternach marketplace square.
I spent an entire afternoon in Echternach exploring alleyways and narrow cobblestone streets off the picturesque Marketplace Square near the Abbey. This area has changed so little over the centuries that it was difficult to tell my photographs from the black and white ones taken in 1899. The city center is closed to motor traffic, making for a pleasant stroll between quaint cafes, fountains, restaurants and clothing shops.
In the 10th Century, the town was surrounded by a wall with twenty towers and four gates. Sections of this medieval wall are still standing today, and four of its towers have been converted into modern apartments. Some people come to Echternach on a 60 euro day tour from Luxembourg City. Very few people stay overnight. It felt odd to be one of the only tourists in a very beautiful medieval town.
The country itself is so elegant, I would think more people would be drawn to it. Although it deserves them, I didn't find any crowds or tourists in a group larger than three in Echternach. Unlike other cities with this much charm, it is possible to photograph empty alleyways, wander a trail and see undisturbed wildlife, be the only person on the bus and not need a reservation for dinner when you get back.
Borders between countries are often placed along natural features that are easily distinguishable. In this case, the Sure river separates Luxembourg from Germany. Just a block down from the Echternach bus station is a large white bridge leading to Germany. If you look closely along the ridgeline above the bridge, you can see the Liborius chapel, where German bunkers were heavily fortified in defense during World War II.
The Mullerthal Trail
Hiking in the forest near Luxembourg.
The Mullerthal trail reminds me of the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books I used to read as a kid. Choose what you'd like to see and how you'd like to see it. Do you want to see forests and wildlife, castles and quaint villages, rivers and waterfalls, or canyons with impressive rock formations? Do you want to hike for an hour, four hours, half a day or four days? The varieties appeal to every style of hiker.
Two beautiful day hikes begin in Echternach: the E1 and the L2. If its more of a multi-day trip you are after, its possible to hike the entire Mullerthal trail for several days and have hotels shuttle your luggage for you between the tiny villages. Or, choose to hike from cabin to cabin with the hiking lodge program. Cabins in campgrounds along the trail are fully furnished with kitchenettes and sleep four people for 40 euros per person per night.
The Mullerthal trail passes through or next to several small towns such as Larochette, Bergdorf, Mullerthal and Moersdorf. Because these cities have a reliable bus system, you can see the hiking highlights by bus or to hike half of a loop to a city and return by bus, cutting your outing time in half.
I chose to combine the forest and sandstone highlights and hike the E1: one of the four main circular routes of the Mullerthal trail, and then take a bus to see the castles of the area in Larochette.
Perekopp squeeze on the Mullerthal trail.
Walking Inside Sandstone Cliffs
The E1 is an 11.7 km loop that takes two and a half hours to hike, or three if you are snap happy with a camera like I am. The trail begins at the Echternach Bus Station where it follows the river upstream to the hills. Outside the city limits, the terrain gets steeper and the forest begins to envelope the trail.
On the right is the Bel Aire Hotel, a possibility for an overnight stay with small, well furnished rooms and a full breakfast included. In the morning, step outside into the sunshine and directly onto the trail. From the hotel, the trail traverses up a hillside and enters a sandstone gallery winding through pillars, impressive boulders and craggy rock formations. At Perekopp, the trail leads up to a huge rock wall.
A staircase took me inside the rock and began its narrow climb. The stairs were lit by a ribbon of sunlight coming through a crack in the top of this hallway 30 feet above. Not a path for the claustrophobic, once inside, you are committed: there is not enough space to change your mind and turn around wearing a backpack! Emerging into the light at the top, I climbed out of the crack and into the forest with its birdsong.
The 2nd Century Roman Villa of Echternach.
From Perekopp, the path continues through Beech forests, up to the top of a mesa where cornfields sway in the sunshine. Dropping down to the right, it passes through two natural archways with a wild root system growing into them. The rocks here have a very peculiar scroll design on them - carved from where the mill stones were cut for the grain mills centuries ago.
Across from the arches is a natural shallow cave. Benches have been added to create an amphitheater - the perfect place for intimate outdoor concerts, nature talks or historical stories. From the amphitheater, the path curves back towards Echternach on the other side of the river, or continues as a paved path between cornfields up to the town of Bergdorf. Once in Bergdorf, I found the bus stop in front of Hotel Kennin and took the bus back to Echternach.
The Castle of Larochette
Bus lines 414 and 416 run daily from Echternach to Larochette. The L2 Hiking Loop of the Mullerthal Trail begins in Larchorette, winds next to the Manzebach brook and passes the Mysembourg Castle. I opted to bus from Echternach to Larochette to see the Chateau Castle.
I was hoping to get directions from the bus stop to the castle, but laughed at the idea when I arrived into town. Larchorette is so tiny that the castle literally looms above it, easily visible from the bus stop. Other than the castle, the church bell tower is the tallest building in town - there are no high rises or chain hotels, just more of the old world charm: stone buildings nestled close together creating narrow alleyways.
Larochette from up above...no high rises, no chain stores, no fast food.
Following the signs for the castle, I walked up the road, then up a tiny staircase. Again, I had the feeling that there was no one else here, just myself and the wildflowers. Another staircase wound up to the drawbridge and I walked across and paid my $3 entry fee.
Built in the 1300s, the Chateau is a huge structure with three-story walls bearing keyhole windows and slats. The castle has been decorated in modern sculptures and has a lovely garden planted at one end. I wandered through the empty rooms, under barrel vaulted ceilings and half destroyed arches picking up pieces of china dishes and bowls. I was curious how many people lived here at one time.
The Chateau had enough space to house a small village protected from the outside world. Easily barricaded atop the mesa, the inhabitants could see invaders coming for miles in all directions. One corner of the castle still stands at it's original three story height and has a new ceiling on it. This well preserved building serves as a modern art gallery.
Artists were busy hanging portraits and modern art pieces as I walked in. With its white stone walls, alcoves and open floor plan, this ancient building is the perfect gallery space. Every weekend during the summer, there is something going on at the Chateau de Larochette castle - rather that is art exhibitions, live music or a masked ball. I found it to be a very fitting use of the space.
Germany is just a bridge away from the Echternach bus station.
After a full weekend of exploring and hiking, my departure from Luxembourg was a regretful one. I took an early morning bus back to Luxembourg City, vowing to return again next summer to explore more of the gorgeous hiking trails, photograph the Mullerthal waterfall and attend a masked ball in the Larochette castle.
The bus wound up and out of the valley above Echternach, where the sun was just starting to touch the fields, rimming them with gold. Gazing out the window I said my farewell to Luxembourg and in the same instant caught sight of a red fox out hunting for breakfast, with a white bib, a scarlet bushy tail and tall attentive ears.
If You Go
Bus Travel: Bus lines 110 and 111 run hourly from Luxembourg City to Echternach for 2.50 euro, with a journey time of one hour.
A day pass of unlimited bus travel in the Mullerthal hiking area is 4 euro.
Bring: Hiking shoes, and a thin rain slicker just in case. Get a trail map at the Information center in front of the Basilica in Echternach. Trails are well established, easily accessible and well marked. Also, pick up a bus timetable from the bus station. However, plan to arrive 10 minutes early at any bus stop as the actual departure time does vary from the timetable.
Try these cookies before you leave the village!
Mullerthal Official Hiking Website:
Hiking Lodge Program: Hike or bike from cabin to cabin. These wooden chalets come with fully furnished kitchens, doubles $40 euro per night. Book ahead and bring your own bedlinen. Local Hostel info
Budget Friendly Beds: The most comfortable budget bed in town is at the new HI Youth Hostel. From $22.50 euro per person, breakfast included.
What they don't tell you: The Youth Hostel bus stop is called Non Milleau, just as you
are arriving into Echternach and is before the main bus station. From the bus stop, walk down the hill, turn right, walk to the lake, pass the Roman villa Museum and arrive at the hostel on the left.
Wildlife tip: Take the evening buses through the fields for a glimpse of foxes hunting in the fields at sunset. Recommended route: bus line 414 from Larchorette to Echternach 5:10 - 5:50pm.
Try: These delicious chocolate covered cookies.
Sara Bartlemay is a contributing writer for LiveNTravel. She is currently on a world exploration journey and is keeping a blog of her adventures on www.sarasroundtheworldtrip.com View the LiveNTravel site at:www.liveNTravel.com