Our procession to Echternach (and back)

The breakfast buffet opens at eight, so we set the alarm at half past seven and as usual on a holiday, wake up before it starts ringing. We meet our friends downstairs and load up on calories for a big hike. The bread rolls are excellent, but the pain au chocolat and croissant only mediocre. We expect similar weather as yesterday, so we put on the same clothes. I mean that literally, but mine are all wool, so no funny smells.

We leave the hotel on foot around nine. The E1 trail should be around 14 kilometres, a loop to Echternach through the Aesbech valley and back along the top of the cliff. First stop is the amphitheater, so named because it’s now used for performances, but in fact a medieval quarry for millstones. The resulting cave must have good acoustics, but if you focus on the walls you can clearly see the round shapes of the millstones. They were quarried by incising the sides of the disk until the required depth and inserting wooden wedges behind it, wetting them to make them swell to the point the sandstone disk just cracked from the wall. It’s really cool to see, haven’t visited a millstone quarry before. A bit further on I spot my first butterfly of the year flitting over the path, I manage to take a picture and look up the species: Agriopis leucophaearia, aptly called the spring usher.

We continue through the Aesbech valley, down towards Echternach. The valley is similar to what we saw yesterday: a deep gorge of sandstone cliffs, with huge boulders laying around and trees growing tall and thin to reach the sunlight above. We do see a few other tourists out for a hike, so we pause now and them to let them (and their friendly dog Lou, for example) overtake us. The first marked highlight of this trail is the Labyrinth, though it’s not so impressive if you already visited the gorges along the B2 trail (like we did yesterday).

It’s cloudy but not raining, about 10° C, so I am pleasantly warm with three woolly layers and a thick down body warmer. Plus, my big camera backpack keeps the wind of my back. Slowly we descend towards the Sure river, making the final approach to Echternach by climbing the sides of the gorge to a viewpoint above the small city. We can clearly see the major tourist attraction: the basilica with the reliquary of Saint Willibrord, who founded an abbey here in the 7th century. We follow a narrow, steep, cobble stone path down to the center, looking for lunch, just as we hear the carillon play a jaunty tune, followed by 12 deep gongs, we’re just in time. We encounter another one of those typical bakeries (this one founded in 1913) and we’re lured in by the selection of sandwiches and pies. I have a small sandwich, just so I’d feel justified in also having an eclair, delicious. We start encountering some of the same people we saw on the walk.. it looks like everybody is following the same trail (and visiting the same bakery). This is going to be a theme the rest of the day, some groups we’ll encounter even thrice.

The town seems pretty quiet, most of the shops in the pedestrian area are closed for lunch. We’re starting to suspect that this is low season.. The tourist office is also taking a lunch break, we try to find some info online about the roman villa nearby, but the websites are so outdated and so slow that it’s just impossible to find out. I make a phone call and they confirm they’re closed for the winter. Definitely low season. We’ll visit the basilica first and then decide what to do. The basilica is a prime example of roman gothic architecture, meaning it’s kind of low ceilinged and dark. The reliquary itself is fancy, but honestly I’m not really into catholic saints, the main thing I’ll remember is that the man supposedly lived to 81, extraordinary for that time. The crypt has some frescos from the 12th century, now that’s cool.

Since the roman villa is closed and we can’t find other interesting stuff to see nearby, we decide to simply continue our loop (the alternative was to walk on towards some other sightseeing destination and then take the bus back, which is free of charge here in Luxemburg). We follow quiet roads out of town, seeing some huge houses, a nice looking municipal camping ground and a few expensive hotels. Not the poorest area of Europe, here. After a few kilometres we move back into the forest, following a wide path next to a tiny canal, reminiscent of the levadas in Madeira. We stay pretty level for now, but there’s a steep hike just ahead, so we take an m&m and tea break before we attempt it. We can actually see the pavillion, our next way point on top of the cliff, from down below where we’re standing. It’s just intimidating, we’ll have to climb about 100 m in less than a kilometre. The path is well maintained with stone steps in the steepest places, but even so my speed is glacially slow.

The remaining route is pretty quiet, it’s obviously the less travelled path of the loop. It seems that many people hike down through the gorge and then take the free bus back. On one side we see the forest, hiding the deep gorge, with birds and cute fungi. On the other side fields, though sadly we see no deer. The path remains easy, level and wide, plenty of time and breath for chatting. Only a minor detour is required to see the Wëllkeschkummer, a roomy cave with a great view over the gorge. By this point we’re getting a bit tired and that, together with the grey skies, make it feel like late afternoon.

Back at the hotel around four, after 5 hours and 18 km of walking. A bit early to retire, so we hop into the car and drive to Beaufort to visit the big castle ruins. Unfortunately closed.. renovations? Low season? The public transport may be free, the trails well maintained and signposted, but the online info is lacking and slow to load. Even the tourist office in Berdorf – where we’re sleeping – could not tell us if the castles nearby would be open tomorrow. Trying to find practical info online is – hah – a procession of Echternach.

At least the hotel restaurant is open early so we’ll just have an early dinner. A salad today, and again chocolate moelleux for dessert, can’t beat it. It’s pretty busy, a pleasant background hum of chatting. Happily it mostly drowns out the music, which seems to be limited to about 20 songs on permanent repeat. Almost ten now.. I think we’re allowed to go to sleep!

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