We walk three trails through Little Switzerland, explore caves and eat dinosaur cookies.
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If there is one thing Little Switzerland is renowned for, it is the fact that it looks like Switzerland and is small. But it also has a large amount of walking trails. We had already seen a large board with a map on the campsite, and the reception desk offered quite a few flyers about the Müllerthal Trails, which he had already accidentally set foot upon in Echternach. These are three long trails of about 30–40 kilometres each across the region, although there are also three shorter routes of 7–15 kilometres for the less experienced hikers. The large map additionally showed many more walking trails, indicated by a variety of symbols and letter combinations; there is hardly a point where you are not standing on two or three trails at the same time.
Although Vonne and I had walked about twenty kilometres through Paris on a single day, and altogether we covered a respectable distance throughout Luxembourg, taking on thirty kilometres without any preparation or equipment seemed fairly optimistic. Especially as we did not start walking particularly early, left the trail multiple times to check out something along the path and both Vonne and I appeared to be very good in stopping to photograph just about every other tree we passed. I of course disagreed with that last part, but once at home I did have to admit I had quite an extensive photo collection prominently featuring leaves and foliage.
The Born route
We decided to plan our own walking trail. Since there were so many walking trails to begin with, it was not difficult to check the map, following the Müllerthal Trail from our starting point, switching to the C1 route when they crossed after a while, taking a right turn onto the yellow square route a bit further on, to finally take the E2 route back to the Müllerthal Trail not too far from where we started. That also allowed us to pick the parts of routes that seemed nice on paper, without actually having to walk forty kilometres to get there or resort to taking shorter, but possibly less interesting routes. Taking these shortcuts also offered the additional benefit of regularly meeting other hikers who were in fact following an entire trail, who must have been deeply impressed about speed at which we were covering the distance.
Our first walk started from the campsite itself. One of the routes passed right through Born, so we took the gamble to follow that and make a decent lap. Flyers for individual routes were not always helpful since they regularly did not indicate the other routes in the same area, and we only discovered upon our departure from Luxembourg that the campsite reception did have portable versions of the large map on the board outside (when you are unable to find gas stations or supermarkets, finding a foldable map is of course strictly theory), so we simply made do with a high quality photograph of the board outside. If you grew up in the digital era, nothing is impossible!
Well equipped with a bag full of drinks, dinosaur cookies (for which I was very grateful to Delhaize) and a photograph of the map, we set out. The first section of the trail turned out to be an uphill path through an open field underneath a burning sun, so once at the top we were both sweaty and tired. And we had just started! But we did have a great view over the valley through which the Sauer streamed, and a beautiful flowing landscape with hills on the other side. The route continued through forested areas, which were immediately stripped of every wild berry Vonne could get her hands on, and through wheat- and cornfields between various villages. The weather stayed good, so we took it easy. As we finally crawled back into our tent at the end of the day and the rain started pouring down as if on cue, we found we had walked for about six or seven kilometres at the amazing breakneck speed of two kilometres an hour. Yes, the forty kilometre route might just have to wait for a bit.
The caverns of Consdorf
Our earlier walk had been a pleasant experience, but one thing we had not seen along the Born route, were rocks. Photos on several flyers of different routes all showed happy looking hikers climbing through impressive looking rock formations and leaping over creeks, and that is what we wanted too. For the next two days of walking we decided to start off a little further out. The map conveniently indicated which parts of routes led through rocky terrain, so we planned another 7km route which started in a small hilltop village named Consdorf. We drove into the village by the end of the morning and out of it again before finding a parking place, although that did lead us to small parking intended for hikers, near a spot where several trails met. There were also a few tables and benches and another copy of the large map that was also on our campsite. Double checking it a last time and making sure we got onto the trail in the intended direction, we started our second walk.
This time the route led along a forested hillside with a few decent climbs. It was not long before we did indeed pass by some imposing rock walls, which caused us to pause for another ten minutes to make photographs before moving on. Further on, it became especially exciting when the path led through a narrow crevice through the rock wall with several sections where we had to scuttle through the narrow opening sideways. About twenty metres in, Vonne, who was ahead, suddenly cheerfully announced that it was a dead end. Great. Fortunately the path widened a little so I could have a look as well. Just as I was starting to ask myself whether we were really expected to climb ten metres up the rock wall to carry on, I noticed that the path turned behind a rock just before the end, leading into a small and very dark cave. Which was a bit of an issue, as neither of us was carrying a torchlight or a phone with that functionality. A photograph with flash into the cave revealed a sharp turn shortly after the entrance, leaving us with little clue of the interior or length. We wondered whether we had missed an alternate path and whether it was a good idea to head into a pitch black cave, when a sound emerged from within the rock… voices!
My boyfriend is a modern-day Robinson Crusoë and if I squint my eyes a bit, he looks just like Bear Grylls!
Although Luxembourg undoubtedly has many caverns where unfortunate hikers with no torchlights have met a gruesome end and which have been haunted since, we did go with the assumption that a group of hikers was approaching from the other side. Since it would be impossible for either of us to pass each other anyway and they might be able to give us a heads-up, we decided to go back through the crevice and wait outside. A few minutes later a group of hikers emerged as well, who were able to tell us that the cavern formed a tunnel through the rock and while dark, was not particularly long. Further up ahead, there would be a much longer cavern, which really did require illumination for navigation, as it was quite uneven. They too, had not been equipped with torchlights, but had had the good fortune of being able to follow another hiker who did.
We thanked them for the information and once again made our way through the crevice towards the tunnel. Vonne still was not entirely convinced of navigating through ten metres of darkness, but I opened my bag and with some sense of triumph drew out a matchbook. Vonne looked at me and asked
“did you bring matches” with a look in her eyes which balanced in between “why would you bring matches to a walk through the forest, what are you expecting to happen” and “my boyfriend is a modern-day Robinson Crusoë, prepared for any emergency, and if I squint my eyes a bit, he does look just like Bear Grylls from the Discovery Channel”. Regardless of whichever was closer to the truth, they did turn out to be quite the convenience, since they gave off enough light to guide us through the tunnel. Two or three matches later we saw the exit on the other side and shortly after emerged from the bowels of the earth into the warm daylight.
We did indeed find the longer cavern up ahead (or, at least the signs indicating the entrance and torchlight requirement), but figured that navigating through these on matches might be a bit too much. As we did not encounter any other hikers who were better equipped to conquer the darkness either, we passed this cavern by via the alternative route along a higher situated vantage point. The rest of the hike, again through both forest and open fields on the hilltop, was very nice, even though the cavern remained the highlight of the tour. By the end of the day we got back to the car, having judged our speed and the distance quite well, and could return to our tent for a well-deserved dinner.
Walking at Berdorf
Our third walk started in Berdorf, which like Consdorf, is a small village in the hills of Little Switzerland. This area too seemed interestig on the map, and that turned out to certainly be true. Here too the area was described as rocky, but where Consdorf featured rock faces rising from the ground, this area had been worn out in the rock itself. According to several German information signs, there had been a sea here several million years ago, which made the route go through natural trenches in the rock. As a canopy of leaves covered these trenches, it was surprisingly cool and moist even on a warm day and really gave the sense of being shut off from the outside world in again beautiful surroundings. The path we followed incidentally also led alongside several highlights, such as an actual theatre carved out under an overhanging rock, and the caves of Hohllay, where millstones were crafted in Roman times.
Maybe this is a good time to pay some respect to the walking trails in Luxembourg. Other than on a single occasion in Berdorf when we missed a few small signs on a lamppost pointing left, we did not manage to lose the track anywhere. All routes are clearly and consistently indicated with either regular signs or markings. A very impressive achievement, taking into account the high number of different routes. Additionally, the routes themselves were well-maintained and easy to follow; steep inclines were frequently turned into makeshift stairs with wooden beams and small, but sturdy bridges were readily available to cross streams. Despite all of this, the routes feel quite natural and not at all like a guided path with no room for deviation; leaving the path is possible anywhere. And the number of hikers we encountered on a day was quite pleasant too—low enough to do feel out on your own (or, as in our case, in a pair), but regularly enough to not feel entirely forsaken either.
The last walk in Berdorf also brought an end to our holiday. Before we even realised it, two weeks had passed and we were both expected back at work on Monday. One final night in the tent and we would be returning home. No more Luxembourg for now, but we both agreed to return one day. And then we will get up very early and walk an entire Müllerthal Trail. Honestly.