Hiking guide Alain Muller, pictured, says the sense of calm found in the Mullerthal is part of its charm
Photo: Matic Zorman
There’s a strange pull to Luxembourg’s Mullerthal region, whose rocky promontory draws in people from all walks of life. Delano takes a hike to understand its appeal.
With striking rock formations peppered with 600 kilometres of hiking trails and a thick, dark forest, the Mullerthal region has seen visitor numbers rise steadily in recent years, many of which give something back to the area.
“The first summer I was here, I took my two boys to Kohlscheuer near Consdorf where there’s a series of narrow caves you can walk through and come out the other side,” Matthew Olson-Roy tells Delano. “I had never seen these narrow caves before. They are almost hidden. You could pass right by them and not even know they’re there. That part was unique and inspiring.”
He encouraged his sons to write about the area, an exercise which eventually prompted him to put pen to paper. The result was Humonstrous, a children’s story about Mullerthal trolls. The story is loosely based on the region’s myths, as well as some Finnish legends, and inspired by its rock formations and magical atmosphere.
“Not only are there rock formations, there are shadows, sounds of water and birds, that help you to imagine this other world,” Olson-Roy explains. His book for 6- to 14-year-olds (depending who is reading) is published on the parent storytelling app Bedtime Stories and serves as an entertaining alternative hiking guide for families. “If you read the story in the Mullerthal, you see exactly where the main character walks,” Olson-Roy says.
He and the scores like him, who like to settle in a secluded corner to write, are among a long line of scribes for whom the region has served as muse. The most well-known are Nicolas Gredt and Edmond de la Fontaine, who recorded its myths and legends, which were passed down through oral tradition over several generations. Tales of forbidden love, usually ending in tragedy, are throughout them--though it is unlikely any are based on actual events.
“The legends are often linked to the rock formations,” hiking guide Alain Muller, pictured, explains. And with hulking cliffs that resemble castles or sleeping giants, it is easy to see why simple countryside folk would make the connection. The area exerted its magnetism over people as far back as 2,000 years ago when Luxembourg was occupied by the Romans.
“There are reports of symbols used by the Romans which we find in the region,” says Muller. These symbols have been linked to the all-male Roman cult of Mithras, temples for which were mostly underground caves. “Researchers say there are parts of the region where the cult was celebrated by Romans.”
A Roman cult
For many, the attraction is the sense of calm one finds in the Mullerthal. “That’s what gives the place its charm,” Muller says. It was this that prompted monks from the Echternach monastery in the 1900s to create small chapels in isolated spots for rest and meditation. “They are usually exceptional places.”
Attracting more than 100,000 visits per year, particularly along the popular Mullerthal Trail, calm is not always guaranteed. But, having walked in the area since the age of eight, Muller says there is still “plenty of choice for paths so you can always find places which are isolated.”
Visitors may not be aware but the wildlife in the Mullerthal is also quite rich. In addition to its thick tree canopy of oaks and other varieties, whose knotted roots creep like rope coils through the rocks, it is also home to a filmy fern known as Hymenophyllum tunbrigense, more commonly found on the Atlantic coast.
Next time you visit, take a torch and shine it into the cracks of the rocks and you might see another rarity: a luminous moss called Schistostega pennata, which are rarely found elsewhere in Europe. “It’s very small, not spectacular but it’s exceptional. You don’t see it often outside of Ireland and Scotland,” according to Muller.
The Mullerthal as a place of hidden secrets is another theme that runs through the region’s history. During the Napoleonic Russian campaign, farmers hid their cattle and gold in the Mullerthal’s caves to prevent it being taken by soldiers. During World War II, resistance members used its complex of hidden passages and caves to evade capture from the Nazi occupiers. And, it was in Heffingen, close to Larochette, that in 1935 a teacher discovered the 8,000-year-old skeleton of a hunter-gatherer known as Loschbourg man.
The continuous rock promontory no doubt hides plenty more secrets, which caretakers of the area hope to safeguard with a bid for Unesco Global Geopark status. The status recognises geographical areas where sites and landscapes are managed in a way which protects the geological resources, educates people and develops the area in a sustainable manner. If successful, Luxembourg will become one of around 130 geoparks in 35 countries.
Visiting with kids
Download Matthew Olson-Roy’s Humonstrous for an alternative tour guide when hiking in the Mullerthal.
The Mullerthal Trail is a self-guided, 112-kilometre path through the region. Not for the faint-hearted, shorter versions are available.