Mullerthal Trail, Schiessentumpel Waterfall, Luxembourg

Mullerthal Trail, Schiessentumpel Waterfall, Luxembourg

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.

Moss on rocks in forest of Mullerthal in Little Switzerland

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.