Here's why Luxembourg's Ardennes region is one of Europe’s best-kept secrets

Venture beyond Luxembourg’s capital to its forest-covered north, a place where nature and culture meet in equal measure.

By Annick Weber
Published 9 Jul 2022, 10:00 BST
Clervaux is a varied destination: in just one day, you can visit a MoMA-approved photography anthology, ...

Clervaux is a varied destination: in just one day, you can visit a MoMA-approved photography anthology, learn about a key World War II battle, hike along the many marked foot trails and enjoy a sundowner on a scenic outdoor terrace.

Photograph by Alamy

Dominated by dense forests and two national parks, the Ardennes region in the north of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg — locally known as the Eislék — is the country’s wild frontier. Amid the area’s greenery, the commune of Clervaux and its 17 villages charm with lively restaurant terraces, art exhibitions and a busy calendar of events. Zoom in further and you’ll find Clervaux town, the beating heart of the region and the perfect spot to base yourself, with cobbled lanes, a city-centre castle and a red-roofed Benedictine monastery still in operation.

Who should visit and when?

This is a multifaceted destination, with attractions for art-lovers, history buffs and outdoor enthusiasts — as well as those simply wishing to get away from it all. Summers are sun-blessed, but thanks to the region’s thick forests, it rarely gets too hot. Another great time to visit is autumn, when the forests transform the panorama with their colourful foliage.

What’s it known for?

The Eislék’s main draw is its bucolic landscape; the commune of Clervaux alone is crisscrossed by 93 miles of hiking paths through the surrounding Nature Park Our, from short family loops to multi-day Escapardenne circuits, including three routes recognised as ‘quality trails’ by the European Hiking Federation. Biking, fishing and golfing are also on offer.

The region is known for its Second World War heritage, too, having played host to the Battle of the Bulge — the last attempt by the Third Reich to defeat the Allied forces in the winter between 1944 and 1945. A dedicated Museum of the Ardennes Counteroffensive housed inside the 12th-century Château de Clervaux showcases an extensive collection of American, German and Luxembourgish artefacts, including authentic uniforms, documents and weapons.

What are some standout attractions?

The Family of Man, a 500-photograph-strong exhibition celebrating the universality of the human experience through works by the likes of Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Recognised with UNESCO World Heritage status, the now-legendary showcase was curated in 1955 for New York’s Museum of Modern Art by the institution’s then-photography director, Luxembourg-born Edward Steichen. After circling the globe, it found a permanent home in the Château de Clervaux.

Photography-lovers can also enjoy the work of Clervaux - cité de l’image, which organises an annual open-air exhibition turning the town into an outdoor gallery.

What about the food?

The traditional cuisine of the Luxembourg Ardennes is on the hearty side, with regional specialities including bacon-topped buckwheat dumplings and green bean stew with smoked sausage. Clervaux also boasts finer, French-inspired restaurants, pizzerias and a handful of bakeries selling sweet treats. Wash down the local delights with crisp whites and pinot noirs from the Luxembourg Moselle, as well as Éislek-made beers courtesy of Brasserie Simon.

Anything else I should know?

Since 2020, all public transport in Luxembourg, including buses, trams and trains, is free of charge; coupled with the small size of the country, this makes for easy and affordable day trips. Vianden, just 45 minutes away from Clervaux by bus, is an easy-on-the-eye medieval town dominated by ramparts and a hilltop castle. Another popular option, nestled between three hills and a river, Diekirch is home to the oldest church in the country, as well as four museums, including the National Museum of Military History.

The 12th-century Clervaux Castle houses the legendary Family of Man photography exhibition, the Battle of the Bulge Museum and a showcase of models of Luxembourg castles.

Photograph by Alamy

Top three guided tours in Clervaux

1. Hiking Meets Local Food
Visitors participating in this walking tour of the Clervaux surrounds will be rewarded with a three-course menu of seasonal specialities at a traditional restaurant. Led by local guides, the hikes are adapted to all difficulty levels, with distances ranging from three to 12 miles.

2. Abbey visit with a monk
Every first Monday of the month, the monks of Clervaux’s Benedictine abbey open their doors for a behind-the-scenes tour of the church and crypt. The visit takes place just after the 10am mass, which is also open to visitors: come early for an opportunity to listen to the monks’ Gregorian chants.

3. Battle of the Bulge tours
A qualified guide specialised in the Battle of the Bulge, Tom Scholtes takes visitors on a number of history tours around Clervaux and beyond, from a minivan trip around key sites across the Éisleck to a walking outing past bunkers and shelters, sharing stories of the Allies’ successes and struggles.

Plan your trip

Fly direct from the UK to Luxair Airport Luxembourg; from there, take the Northern Line’s high-speed rail service, which spans the full breadth of Luxembourg and stops at Clervaux.

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