HIKING THROUGH LUXEMBOURG’S KLENG LETZEBURGER SCHWAIZ
“Little Switzerland”* is the nickname used to describe the South-Eastern region of Luxembourg. This corner of the country is said to have similar terrain to its namesake, hence the moniker; we didn’t really see the similarities during our day trip out there today, especially since the highest point in the area is only 414m above sea level! Still, the craggy terrain, thick forests, rock formations, and waterways definitely have an appeal all of their own and were well worth the visit.
*Kleng Lëtzebuerger Schwäiz in Luxembourgish
We started our day with an hour long bus ride from Luxembourg City to Berdorf, a tiny village of 800 souls nestled in the emerald green hills of Kleng Lëtzebuerger Schwäiz. Here we picked up the Mullerthal Trail, a well established track that traverses the region. The entire trail is over 110km long, which is a bit much for us to cover in a day so we chose to do a subsection of it, from Berdorf to the nearby town of Echternach.
To start with the trail took us past fields of newly cut hay and ripening corn.
Soon though we were under the eaves of the famous forests of “Little Switzerland”.
The trail took us past some distinctive rock formations, and into a natural amphitheatre which has reputedly been used for theatrical and music performances since Roman times.
Further on we came to Hohllay Cave, famous as the place where millstones used to be cut from the rocks. Circular grooves can still be seen across the cave’s ceilings and walls, dating back 2,500 years.
Continuing on through the beech forest we followed the Aesbach brook through a steep-sided valley, where light filtering through the trees painted everything in a thousand shades of green.
The trail continued upwards and onwards, through narrow gaps between boulders, along a path aptly named “The Labyrinth”.
The most dramatic part of the trail was the hike through the Wolfsschlucht (i.e. The Wolf’s Canyon), where legend has it these animals used to shelter.
Not long after squeezing through the Wolfsschlucht we emerged from the forest and followed the path along the River Sure, which marks the border between Luxembourg and Germany. Once heavily defended, the border is now open and easy to cross: all you have to do is cross a bridge and you’re in Germany! We had no business in Deutschland however, and so didn’t venture across the river; instead we kept going for a few more metres, emerging into Echternach’s main square.
Echternach is the oldest town in Luxembourg. It grew around the Abbey of Echternach, which was founded in 698 by St Willebrord, an English monk from Northumbria (present-day Yorkshire in England). Today the abbey and the attached church are still at the heart of this cute town of 5,000 people.
St Willebrord lived in Echternach for many years and died there in 739. His body was interred in the main church, and still sits in the crypt and attracts pilgrims from all over the world who want to pay their respects.
After a well-earned lunch in one of the town’s many cafés, we spent our afternoon in Echternach exploring the alleyways and narrow cobblestone streets around the picturesque Market Square near the Abbey.
In the 10th century, the town was surrounded by a wall with 20 towers and 4 gates. Sections of this Medieval wall are still standing today, and 4 of its towers have been converted into modern homes.
We also strolled around the buildings that once comprised the Abbey of Echternach. This Benedictine monastery, founded by St Willebrord in the 7th century, benefited from the patronage of a succession of rulers for 300 years and was the most powerful institution in Luxembourg by the 11th century.
After the 11th century the abbey’s fortunes waned, and though it continued to produce the illuminated texts it was famous for, its wealth diminished over the centuries. In 1797, in the wake of the French Revolution, the monks were dispersed and the abbey’s contents and its famous library were auctioned off. Some of the library’s early manuscripts are now in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. The abbey buildings are now used as public buildings and house the town’s school, library, and tourist information office.
Echternach is a wonderful little town, and though much of it was destroyed during World War II, it has been rebuilt and lovingly restored and made a great end to our day. The best part of our day, however, was the hike we did through the forests of Luxembourg’s “Little Switzerland”. It’s just such a pretty part of the world! We’d love to come back and do more of the Mullerthal Trail – especially since some of the local hotels offer a baggage service where they transport your bags to the next town, whilst you spend the day hiking through the forest unencumbered. Sounds like our kind of hiking holiday! Not sure WHEN we’ll be back, but we’ve definitely put Luxembourg on the “Must Return One Day” list…