With its towering sandstone rocks, fairy-tale forest, evocative castle ruins and timelessly babbling streams, the “Mullerthal” is generally acknowledged as being the prettiest region of Luxembourg. But where there is sandstone, there are also caves. Thousands of them, in fact – tiny caves, enormous caves; famous caves, undiscovered caves; caves accessible only with full climbing gear… and caves lying waiting to be explored by all in possession of a pocket torch and a modicum of adventurous spirit, even children.
On a bright autumn morning I gathered together my two explorers-in-chief (Ash and Poppy), and we headed off into this enchanted forest in search of… darkness.
Our first stop, the Keltenhiel (“Cave of the Celts”), is the least known but most “classic” of the five caves we visited. Descend on foot down the narrow, almost hidden, entrance and you quickly find yourself in a surprisingly large cavern, 10-15 metres long and several metres high.
It’s a perfect natural refuge, and evidence has been found inside of human habitation many eons ago. I’m not sure that Poppy would fancy living here, but she was clearly enjoying the thrill of underground exploration. And this was only the beginning…
Location: GPS coordinates N49°47.853 E006°19.058. About 1km north-east of the hamlet of Mullerthal, on the Mullerthal Trail 2. You can park at N 49°47.668 E006° 18.760. Not signposted.
Tip: Suitable for all ages. Be careful of loose rocks at end of cave.
The short hike from Consdorf Millen through the “Kohlscheuer” is our kids’ favourite local jaunt, and is always a huge hit with our visitors too. Here, the magnificent Mullerthal Trail 2 rises gracefully over the valley floor, tentatively at first, then gathering enough momentum and confidence to take on three mighty crevices in the rocks: the “Rittergang“, the “Déiwepëtz” and – the grand finale – the “Kohlscheuer” itself.
We like to do them in ascending order of scariness, so we start with the mild “Rittergang” (which is never fully dark), then squeeze our way through the “Déiwepëtz” before finally tackling the awesome, pitch-black “Kohlscheuer“. The crevices are generally around 60-80 cm wide (sometimes narrower – rucksacks off!) and the “Déiwepëtz” is over 50 metres long.
But that’s not all: the surrounding landscape here is extraordinary, with ferns and boulders sheltering in the shade of arrow-straight conifers, mighty beeches and ancient oaks. These trees grow wherever they can amidst a chaos of rocks and cliffs, with some hair-raising paths leading to viewpoints over the stream flowing peacefully in the valley below.
It is, in a word, idyllic.
Location: Park your vehicle at Consdorf Millen (1km west of Consdorf, direction Larochette), then walk south on Mullerthal Trail 2. Hiking trail well-signposted.
Tip: Suitable for ages 3 and up, but exercise caution: some paths are near cliff edges.
The largest, least dark and definitely most bizarre of the caves we visited, the “Hohllay” (“Hollow cave”) is a darling of the Mullerthal tourism industry, frequently adorning brochures and guide books in the shops of Echternach, Beaufort and Berdorf. And it is easy to see why:
But how was this geological oddity formed? Not as you may expect: the brilliant Atlas Obscura observes that visitors:
“might be forgiven for thinking that it was once home to an order of druids or some other ancient sect thanks to strange markings covering the cave walls. But really it’s just mining scars.”
That’s right, mining scars. “Mullerthal” translates as “Millers’ Valley”, and the Hohllay has been almost entirely artificially created by the quarrying of millstones, clefted from the rock here since the middle ages (and perhaps even from Roman times). But the old quarriers appear to have been artists as well as workmen: what they left behind them is undoubtedly very beautiful indeed.
Location: 1km south-east of Berdorf, beside the “Amphitheatre”. Ample parking onsite.
Tip: Suitable for all ages. Common sense required.
Ash had been looking to forward to this all day. “Hölle” (“Hell”) is a narrow 55 metre long dead-end crevice near Berdorf. It’s brilliant.
This is a veritable obstacle course of a cave for kids and adults alike. After a gentle descent on foot into the darkness, the adventurer has to first get down and crawl through some sandy cave grime. Then, about 40 metres in, it is time to stand up straight and climb up, over AND back down a 2.5 metre high rock.
Poppy, to her immense credit, did the crawling and climbing very well. Then, perched up high, she came to the startling realisation that she was stuck on top of a rock in a narrow, dark cave. This is, admittedly, probably rather scary when you’re five.
But with a little gentle encouragement and quite a lot of cave gymnastics, I was able to hoist her back down to safety. She admitted later that it was a grand little adventure, and wants to give it another try soon.
The immediate region surrounding the “Hölle” is the Mullerthal at its most dramatic. From a spectacular viewpoint way up on the plateau, the Gorges de Reitzbach take the adventurer on a descent through a veritable labyrinth of narrow, interconnecting crevices.
To date, I have found three ways out of this natural playground: one down a ladder towards the “Hölle”, one towards the valley floor and another leading down some perilously winding steps towards our final dark place of the day – the Reiberhiel.
Location: Park your vehicle at the “Maartbësch” centre on the north-west edge of Berdorf (signposted). Walk to the viewpoint, then descend through the Gorges de Reitzbach. At the bottom, keep left on Mullerthal Trail 2 and watch out for signposts.
Tip: “Hölle” Cave suitable for ages 7 and up; Gorges de Reitzbach for 4 and up.
OK, I have to admit that this cave isn’t exactly suitable for kids, but since we were exploring the area, we checked it out anyway. It starts off innocently enough, with a low non-descript entrance and a narrowing passage forcing the adventurer into a short stint on hands and knees. But then it opens up again, and by this I mean – literally – UP.
Two fixed metal ladders inside the cave point the way to a second entrance, seven or eight metres above the cave floor, and invitingly illuminated by the streaming natural light. We scaled the first ladder, but the second was simply too high to safely climb with a five-year old. Ash posed for a photo before I quickly shooed him back down to safety again.
Location: As for “Hölle”, but keep right at the bottom of the gorges.
Tip: Ladders not suitable for children.
And with the adrenaline still pumping through our veins we returned home, where Mama was promptly told all about our adventures. Well.. maybe not all… the kids may have accidentally skipped the bit about Poppy getting stuck on the rock and climbing dangerous ladders, and there may or may not have been some bribery involved. But Mama doesn’t need to know every little “dark” secret, does she?
(c) 2017 Jonathan Orr
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