Europe is home to a number of truly epic hiking trails. Adventurers seeking the best thru-hikes flock to trails like the Tour de Mont Blanc in France, which circumnavigates the base of Mont Blanc through three different countries over its 105 miles, or Spain’s El Camino de Santiago, The Way of St. James, a whopping 472-mile pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, a northern Spanish cathedral in which rest the rumored remains of St. James.
Yet in Luxembourg (a tiny grand duchy landlocked between Belgium, France, and Germany, barely bigger than Rhode Island) winds a magical triple-loop of a trail called the Mullerthal Trail. Awarded as “Leading Quality Trails — Best of Europe” by the European Ramblers’ Association in 2014, the Mullerthal offers a tantalizing 70 miles of paths which wind through the namesake Mullerthal region and appear to have been plucked directly from a fairy tale. We’re talking centuries-old romantic castles, wooden bridges over sparkling cascades, and narrow, gloomy gorges whose walls seem to close in above and behind as you advance. There are sleepy, rolling pastures dotted with livestock, caves from which were once carved millstones, and soaring cliffs offering excellent views of the quaint, bustling villages from which you’re never too far to drop in for a meal.
The relative closeness of amenities mean that while it’s possible to backpack the entire trail as a multi-day hike, it’s equally easy to stay in a different place every night while exploring the Mullerthal. Towns throughout each stage have eateries and hotels, many of which offer single-night accommodations, washing and drying, even luggage transport for an additional fee. You might also opt to book a single accommodation and to-and-fro by means of the excellent bus system that services major points along the trail.
The Mullerthal is organized into thirteen sections along three looping routes with two intersections. There is no true beginning or end of the trail, although it’s most commonly begun in Echternach, which links Routes 1 and 2. From the traditional start of the trail at the bus stop in Echternach, the trail circles clockwise to the east and south, passing through the forest and the stately rock formations of Steinheim. Continuing to Rosport, which houses the Tudor Castle, the trail moves on to a venerable shrine of the Virgin Mary at the Chapel of Girsterklaus, and on still through meadows and valleys towards the towns of Born and Moersdorf. From here, the trail departs from its proximity to the Sûre, and turns west, rising to a plateau of pastoral farmlands and the open forest of Hebron. After skimming the lake of Echternacht, the trail deposits you right back in Echternacht proper. By ending in the very heart of the city, you’ll have your choice of shopping and dining as you prepare to turn in for the night.
Route 2 is shorter at 22 miles and more physically demanding, but the payoff is proportional. It’s typically hiked counterclockwise, heading steeply west from Echternacht toward Berdorf, a town renown for its delicious cheeses. From the same bus stop it descends straight into the stuff of lore and legend: a ravine called Wolfsschlucht, the Wolves’ Canyon, where they are said to have sheltered once upon a time; a maze of rock called the Labyrinth; the Aesbach brook and the giant rock formation Perekop, whose summit of some 130 feet can be achieved by the narrow stair carved into its crevice; Hohllay, a cave once used to carve the huge millstones used to grind flour; even a forested amphitheater which still hosts modern performers. Beyond Berdorf, the Mullerthal passes through the untamed Schnellert forest and toward the town of Mullerthal, which connects Routes 2 and 3. Mullerthal is home to Heringer Millen, the region’s most important mill, now restored to grind its own flour. Grabbing a quick bite at the mill’s restaurant, the Schiessentümpel cascade will fascinate with its gentle brook and rustic rock bridge.
Moving on from the mill, the trail soon becomes hemmed in with cliffs and continues to a trio of bizarre rock formations called Goldkaul, Goldfralay and Eileburg (a wandering imagination might see trolls frozen by daylight with features and names like those). Beyond the not-trolls is the town of Consdorf, which has a mill of its own. Past Consdorf looms a set of gloomy crevices called Rittergang, Déiwepëtz, and finally the Kohlscheuer, a slot canyon so deep that it swallows the sun. You’ll want to bring a headlamp to make it through less-scathed, although the wary might always choose to go around instead. The trail snakes through forests of rock and tree around Hersberg, the backside of Consdorf, and through Scheidgen on its way back to the charming bustle of Echternacht.
Route 3 begins in Mullerthal, and the babbling brooks are its faithful companion for much of it. Head west to Beaufort to take in the beautiful Hallerbach valley landscape. Soon enough you’ll find trees laced with vines and rocks dressed appropriately in mossy finery as you approach Beaufort Castle. During visiting hours at the castle you can taste the well-known Cassero, a blackcurrant liqueur made from currants produced on the property. From one castle to another, follow the trail through the beech woods from Beaufort to Larochette, where looms yet another dashing 11th century castle. Only beware the dragon, said to be the spirit of the castle steward who was thrown into its well as punishment. The trail from here marches on to Blumenthal on its high plateau, then again into a dreaming forest and along the Black Ernz, through a beautiful high moor called the Ripsmoor and a Tavertine sundial carved into the rock. You’ll pass the Schiessentümpel once more en route to Mullerthal proper, and if you haven’t stumbled into a faerie circle in the meanwhile, that will be the end of this journey.