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The Valley of the 7 Castles

by Yannick BURROWS

The romantic valley of Eisch offers to hikers a landscape of Fairy Tales. Located in the West of Luxembourg, the 7 Castles are filled with history and memories. A magical symbiosis of legend and landscapes, where the history resonates in this region rich in discoveries. Embark for an excursion to the confines of imagination and reality.

Victor Hugo described it as a “mysterious valley”: the Valley of the Seven Castles borders the Eisch, a river in western Luxembourg that winds from Belgium towards Mersch. For 37 km, a national hiking trail crosses the idyllic Eisch valley (the river takes its name from the Celtic term = water), from the Belgian border to Mersch. Between meadows and forests are the castles of Koerich, Simmern, Ansem- bourg, Hollenfels, Schoenfels and Mersch, which are only partially accessible to visitors. Discover the cultural and natural diversity of the region following the traces of a bygone past. If you are not enthusiastic about the old walls, you will find top-of-the-range hotels and restaurants that are ideal for pleasant stops.


© Raymond Clement

Koerich Castle is now a ruin, with its half-cracked walls and an inner keep so crumbled that one wonders how the walls can still stand upright. The few windows that remain reveal the fascinating aspect that the castle once offered. It must have been similar to the castle of Siegfroid, Count of the Ardennes who built his castle on the rock of Le Bock in Luxembourg in the 10th century and fell in love with the enchantress Mélusine. The oldest part of the castle, the keep and its three thick walls, date back to the 13th century. It is assumed that the castle would have been built on even older ruins. The building now belongs to the State; after long restoration work, the castle will reopen in the autumn. The imposing walls resonate with the song of the birds. It is said that the castle also houses the ghost of a cat. This cat, who stole the children’s plates at nightfall, was actually a hungry young woman. Today, the remains of a tower can still be seen in the southern part, where people accused of witchcraft were once imprisoned. This is most likely what happened to the poor young woman, who according to legend also had the power to transform herself into a cat.


© David Plas

On the road between Koerich and Simmern, behind Koerich’s last mill (in the rue du Moulin), there would be a will-o’-the-wisp fire that would wander randomly along the banks of the Eisch at night. The trees cast their long shadows on the road and the travellers’ steps get lost in the distance. But as long as they don’t follow the will-o’-the-wisp and move away from the path, the legend says there’s nothing to worry about…

Overrun with wild vines, the ruins are now in private hands and cannot be visited. The old castle stands above the pretty little village, on a densely wooded mountain. It is better to observe it from the village, because even if only its high, crumbling walls extend beyond the forest, one can imagine how the villagers lived in the Middle Ages: their eyes riveted towards the castle, with deep respect for the feudal family who lived there and governed the lives of all the inhabitants from the top of the hill.


© Grand-Château d’Ansembourg LH Europe / LFT

Ansembourg, certainly the most attractive site in the valley, is a village with just over five houses, but home to two of the most beautiful castles in the country: the new and the former Ansembourg castle. While the new castle is only a few steps from the city centre, the old castle stands majestically above the village. It is said that in the past the Count and Countess of Ansembourg lived within its walls. For unexplained reasons, the Count would one day have pushed his wife off the cliff. Caught up in remorse after this outburst of rage, he committed suicide with a rifle shortly afterwards. Even today, the castle would still be haunted by the Count’s spirit and would resound with his lamentations about the absurdity of his act.

The old castle overlooks the valley from the top of a steep cliff. Built in the 12th and 13th centuries, it is now composed of a part used as the count’s private residence and a wing transformed into a luxury hotel. The idyllic character of the castle inspired many painters of the Romantic era. Indeed, with the thick forest surrounding it, the high cliff that serves as its base and the steep path that winds through the woods to access it, the old castle of Ansembourg seems to have come straight out of a painting by Caspar David Friedrich. In front of its vast entrance door, one is struck by its half-destroyed outer walls, but once inside, the ruins turn into an elegant hotel magnificently restored and with an unobstructed view.


Legend has it that many years ago, the squire Théo-gourd de Raville built a blast furnace and a forge at the foot of the mountain on which the old castle of Ansembourg stood, very close to the banks of the Eisch. But the lord of the old castle complained about the particularly loud noise. Theodore’s answer: his forge and the castle would one day become one. A few years later, Theodore married the sole heiress of the castle.

In fact, it was a certain Jean de Raville who married Marguerite, the daughter of the Count of Ansembourg in the 14th century. According to history books, Thomas Bidart’s forge was not really built until the 17th century. Ansembourg then passed through several hands to be finally bought by the ennobled Marchant family, who built the castle in order to to make a residence worthy of its rank.

The castle is a baroque palace with a superb entrance door, decorated with the family’s coat of arms. The interior cannot be visited, but the gardens alone are the most fascinating attraction of the estate. Once through the wrought iron gate, the visitor is transported to the park of a Tuscan villa. Created in the 18th century by Lambert-Joseph de Marchant, the terraced landscape is framed by symmetrical lawns and geometrically shaped boxwood bushes. Two dark mirror ponds that reflect the sky interrupt the second green terrace, whose structure is reminiscent of a miniature Versailles. Further down are high hedges that form a shaded labyrinth. The lapping of the fountains offers a pleasant musical background, and at the end of the garden begins a long path leading to the edge of the Eisch river, above which the trees form an arch. The Mythological Alley, a grassy path lined with ancient Greek and Roman statues, including Bacchus, Venus and Hercules, and guarded by a sphinx at each end, leads from the main building to the gardens. The statues have the appearance of Carrara marble, but are actually made of whitewashed stone. Like the castle itself, the garden was designed to strengthen the reputation of its owners.


© Jeannot Weber

Hollenfels is located just a few steps from Ansembourg. Its 14th century fortified keep overlooks the picturesque little village. The former fortress houses the Ecology and Youth Centre of the “National Youth Service”, as well as a youth hostel – perfect for travellers looking for affordable accommodation in the region, it is the ideal starting point to discover the valley on foot and a welcome stopover on a two-day excursion. After Hollenfels, it is recommended to stop for a quick visit to Schoenfel, whose very picturesque medieval tower has just been restored. A superb view of it is available to the visitor who arrives from above after taking the winding and steep road from Keispelt. In the courtyard of the castle and the dungeon there is an annual summer festival with all kinds of artistry and exhibitions.

The route then continues in the direction of Mersch. It passes through a slope covered with fir trees, on which the sun only sporadically pierces. It is here that mythical creatures, the “Wiichtelcher”, gnomes who accompanied the work of the inhabitants after dark, but also a hermit who looked after the well-being of the villagers.


© Henri Krier

The last stop on our itinerary leads us to Mersch, where the castle stands in the heart of the city centre next to the remarkable Saint-Michel tower. It now houses the headquarters of the municipal administration. The sundial on the tower and the fountain in front of the castle reinforce the serene atmosphere that emanates from the small village.

When we look at Mersch today, we do not imagine that a multitude of gnomes, the “Wiichtelchers”, had once taken up residence there; indeed, it is disorientated – but a completely normal small town with its shops. Built in the 13th century on the ruins of a Roman villa, attacked, invaded and transformed over the centuries, the Château de Mersch embodies both the eventful history of Luxembourg, but also illustrates how a single building has managed to preserve the cultural history of its country. Today, there is almost nothing left of it. The master tower is still standing, but from the castle once surrounded by thick and impressive walls, you can no longer guess much. However, it is worth a visit. Even without entering the interior, it is worthwhile to come and admire the glass window installed in the former chapel of the castle, which has been transformed into a tiny museum. It contains authentic 13th century artifacts: a gold spoon, a knife, ornate glasses, a spur and a shoe. A shoe so sharp and facetious that it really looks like the shoe of a mischievous Wiichtelchen could have been…


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