Hiking in Luxembourg’s northern region, The Ardennes, is like stepping into a real-life fairytale adventure. Vast ancient forests and gentle rolling hills surround impossibly pretty villages, and well-maintained medieval castles loom on mountaintops overhead. It’s so Disney-esque you’d be excused for believing you might just bump into the Seven Dwarfs.
But as I tighten the laces on my hiking boots, swing my backpack over my shoulders and step out onto the platform at Clervaux – a one-hour train trip from the capital – the thick grey clouds and miserable rain drops bring me straight back down to earth.
I’m on a three-day ‘hiking without luggage’ trip, which means I can escape deep into the Ardennes’ wilderness on foot unencumbered by my backpack, which is transferred to the next night’s hotel. Is that cheating? Feels a bit like it, but I’m not complaining – especially when I meet hotel manager Jean-Claude Gindt on the train platform and he swaps my heavy bag for a light picnic lunch.
I also meet my guide for the afternoon, Liette Schmitz, who’s taking me on a gentle walk around the outskirts of Clervaux. I discover Clervaux is a typically small village of just 1000 residents and has three main attractions: a Roman church, a large monastery and a resilient 12th-century white castle standing on a rocky outcrop and surrounded by the village houses in a horseshoe formation.
In this sleepy, quiet place among the hills, the pace of life seems to have suddenly slowed down and as Jean-Claude says later on that evening, “Here, it’s truly another world.”
The following day I catch a train to Wilwerwiltz, where I’m to walk a portion of the 100km Escapeardenne trail, which winds its way from northern Luxembourg into Belgium.
It’s the third ever hiking trail to be included on the Leading Quality Trails – Best of Europe list by the European Rambler’s Association, which is only given out when trails meet a stringent set of criteria, ranging from well-marked signs and rest benches, to cultural and scenic sites. In layman’s terms, it’s got to be a frickin’ awesome walk.
We hike through unspoilt countryside with stunning views across valleys, take bridges over babbling creeks and traipse through atmospheric forests, carpeted with emerald-green moss and dead winter leaves. It’s not uncommon to see the occasional deer and wild boar roaming about – both of them feature in many of the traditional dishes in the region.
Liette points out tiny yellow daffodil buds and little purple flowers that have newly sprung up, and it’s a pretty magical feeling being here among the hills and dense forests at the beginning of spring. Best of all, this part of the trail is far from gruelling, so I’m relaxed enough to take in every detail.
After a quick lunch, we take a minibus to Esch-sur-Sûre. If Clervaux seemed small, medieval market village Esch is tiny with just 200 permanent residents. Despite or perhaps because of its size, Esch is remarkably prettier.
We take a 30-minute walk up an avenue of lime trees, so old they’re practically considered a historic monument, which takes us to the 18th-century Sainte Croix chapel (Lochkapelle), which is surrounded by grave stones and offers a pretty view of the village – encircled by verdant hills and the river Sauer – below.
Getting back down, I wander past the old candle factory and a memorial plaque dedicated to the townspeople who fought in WWII. It’s a sleepy little place, but one of the most picturesque I’ve ever seen, and the thrills come from all the climbing I need to do to snap the best views.
The village’s focal point is undoubtedly the castle ruins, dating back to 927AD, still standing defiantly on a rocky hill. A series of fortified stone walls circle the castle, each one thicker than the one before. The vista from here is so spectacular that it hardly seems real.
Someone tells me that in Luxembourg there’s a saying: “d’Liewen ass schéin”, which means “Life is beautiful”. It refers to enjoying the simple pleasures: natural beauty, the outdoors, friends and family.
From the castle walls, peering out across the country and, as the sun finally decides to show its face, I couldn’t agree with the saying more. I’m thankful to have got a taste of this beautiful life.
Hiking without luggage in the Ardennes starts at £72.50pppn ardennes-hotels.lu
Eat, drink, sleep
Budget: Chocolate House in Luxembourg City has more than 80 flavours of hot chocolate to choose from, plus a great range of mouth-watering desserts, cakes and more. It also has the cosy ambience to match the menu. Hot chocolates £3.40.
Midrange: The capital’s popular hangout Urban is a bar and restaurant serving up solid pub-style food, from hefty portions of burgers, sandwiches and chips to shareable bar snacks. Meals start at £8.50.
Luxury: A swanky spot to dine if you’re passing through Luxembourg City, Brasserie Guillame is famous for its lobster dishes and selection of carpaccio, and has terrific views out over the city’s Old Quarter. Mains from about £25.
Budget: If you want somewhere casual to duck into for a quick pint after exploring Luxembourg City, head to Scott’s, a typical British pub down in the medieval valley known as the Grund. Bottled beers from £2.50.
Midrange: Luxembourg City’s The Tube is a London Underground-themed pub and an ideal stop on a warm summer night, where you can take your drink out on to the street. It’s in the basement of a building in the Old Town, recreating the look of a Tube station. Pints from £3.25.
Luxury: With theatrical velvet décor, Art Cafe in Luxembourg City is the perfect spot to unwind with a cheeky cocktail or two and the enclosed terrace out back is ideal for a catch up with friends. Cocktails from £7.25.
Budget: The capital’s Youth Hostel is in the city centre, offering affordable, clean rooms in either a room of four or room of six. Breakfast, wi-fi and sheets are included in the price, and there’s a convenient on-site cafeteria offering cheap eats. Beds from £19.50pn.
Midrange: Located at the base of Clervaux’s 12th-century castle, Hotel du Commerce is a homely and personable family-run hotel that’s been in the Gindt family for three generations. Rooms are cosy, clean and well-kept. From £37pppn.
Luxury: In the charming medieval town of Esch-sur-Sûre, Hotel de la Sure is the perfect place to unwind after a day outdoors. The hotel offers 30 themed rooms including the ‘Fly to the Moon’ room with a suspended bed from £65pppn.
Photos: Visit Luxembourg, Thinkstock