CFL hiking trails Manternacher Fiels
© Oliver Raatz

Naturally Europe CFL hiking trail Manternacher Fiels

6 minutes

Through the wild ravine forest
Destination(s): Moselle

Ancient trees, rare plants and gently flowing streams — Luxembourg’s natural beauty shows off its wild side on a walk in the Manternacher Fiels. This 11.5 km CFL hiking trail leads through an unspoilt landscape. At the end, all you have to do is board the train to get back to where you started.

The steep hillside rises up amid an ocean of light green ferns and dark green, moss-coated rocks. There are lime and maple trees all around, with overgrown fallen trunks here and there. A narrow path winds its way through the forest. There is humidity in the air. It is pleasantly cool, despite the summer tem-peratures. The River Syre ripples quietly through the valley below. Welcome to the Manternacher Fiels, a richly varied nature reserve in eastern Luxembourg.
 

CFL Hiking trail Streuobstwiese
© Oliver Raatz

You can explore it by hiking the 11.5 km CFL trail between Man-ternach and Wasserbillig. The trail starts at Manternach train station. The first stop comes after just 100 m, at the A Wiewesch Nature Reserve Centre. Agricultural tools from times of yore hang from the roof of the restored 19th century farmhouse. An exhibition focuses on the connection between conservation and agriculture. “Both can work hand-in-hand,” insists hiking guide Luc Roeder, Manternach’s forest ranger.

 

 

“Ancient woodland of tomorrow”

Upon leaving the visitor centre, the path crosses the Syre for the first time. The stream flows 32 km from Syren to Mertert. Then come a few natural steps up to the forest, run-ning alongside meadow orchards. According to Luc, the apples that grow here are mainly used to make sweet “Viez” cider. “It’s unfermented apple juice that is simply pressed and then consumed immediately.”

Following a spectacular view over Manternach, one of the oldest settlements in Luxembourg, the path leads through a gate into the ravine forest – at 57 hectares, the country’s largest – and into the Manternacher Fiels. It only takes a few steps to feel that the air is cooler and more humid. As Luc explains, moss and ferns grow well in this climate, especially the rare hart’s tongue fern with its large, undivided leaves, which sprouts in tufts between the shady cliffs. “This fern is very typical of our forested ravine,” says Luc, the pride in his voice palpable as he explains that this rare fern still grows here.
 

The narrow path, lined with ground elder, continues up and down, further into the woods. Gardeners are allowed to grow this somewhat unpopular wild herb undisturbed here in the nature reserve. That’s because the entire forest has been left to take care of itself for the last 50 years or so. With the only human intervention being the necessary trimming due to the nearby railway track and the hiking trails, not a single tree is ever felled. The result: fallen and slowly decomposing trunks and branches aplenty. The wild takes centre stage, nature thrives, and biodiversity is increasing. An “ancient woodland of tomorrow” is emerging, Luc says. “We have so many insects here to see to the dead wood. At the same time, that wood absorbs a lot of water, releasing it again during dry spells. That’s important for the relatively humid forest climate.”

A home for kingfishers and black woodpeckers

Another stop. Luc points to a more than 200-year-old sycamore slightly off the path. Its diameter is vast: it takes four adults holding hands to wrap around the whole trunk. In other places, they would have long ago felled this majestic and valuable tree and sold its wood, Luc believes. “But not here. This one stays.”

As the walk progresses, the splashing of the stream blends in increasingly with the cheeping and chirping of the birds. If you’re lucky, you can even see kingfishers on some days, Luc says. This now rare species of bird has found its habitat on the Syre’s steep banks. The untouched Manternacher Fiels is also perfect for the highly endangered black woodpecker. Luc points to a tree trunk with a gaping trapezoid hole. “A black woodpecker did that with its beak to look for insects. As soon as the woodpecker has gone, other birds, bats and insects make their home there.” Later on, mushrooms grow. Life flourishes in the slowly dying wood – with humus staying until death throes.

CFL Hiking trail Schluchtwald
© Oliver Raatz

More than 100 steps through the forest

After a steep downhill section, the path crosses the Syre for the second time, leading under a railway viaduct to reach the southern slope of the Manternacher Fiels. The climate and species suddenly change: it is brighter, warmer and drier, and oaks, beeches and orchids grow. This transformation fascinates Luc, who dreamt of being a forest ranger from a young age. “There is a huge variety of woodlands in a very small area here. Nature is in a constant state of flux – the forest is different every day. And then there’s the high biodiversity: that’s what makes the Manternacher Fiels so interesting.”

Under the next CFL-branded signpost, a brightly coloured information board warns hikers what awaits them: 100 steps, in the middle of the woods, past the shell-limestone boulders for which the Fiels is famous, which look like dry stone walls coated in green undergrowth. There are actually more than 100 steps. But once you get to the viewpoint on the plateau, this short uphill exertion is immediately forgotten thanks to the stunning view over the nature reserve, the ravine forest and the Syre valley. On the horizon you can make out Grevenmacher, down by the River Moselle.
 

The path continues over the soft forest floor into the deeply carved valley of the Schlammbaach, a tranquil river with plenty of scree and mossy rock fragments. After a green canyon, the shaded forest and the Manternacher Fiels end here. Walk downhill along a tarmac track past grazing cows and you reach the small town of Mertert. Two almost life-sized lion statues from the 19th century keep watch over the entrance of Mertert Park, a roughly four-hectare English-style landscape garden.

CFL Hiking trail Manternacher Fiels
© Oliver Raatz

A ship with a history

As the Moselle riverbank promenade comes into view, the MS Princesse Marie-Astrid does an about-turn. 35 years ago, the famous Schengen Agreement, which enshrines the freedom of movement across borders within the EU, was signed on this pleasure boat’s predecessor. 

About 2 km downstream, the final destination of the hike beckons: Wasserbillig. Before arriving at the train station, the path affords a view of the lowest point in Luxembourg, where the Sûre flows into the Moselle. This is also the location of Luxembourg’s only ferry, which is just leaving for Germany on the other side of the river. Finally, we arrive at the small station. Eight minutes later, the train leaves, headed back to Manternach.

M.S. Princesse Marie-Astrid
© Oliver Raatz
Train CFL
© Nico Berté

On the move thanks to the rail network

There are 43 CFL hiking trails throughout the country, ranging from 4 to 30 km in length. Aiming to be practical, the routes always lead from station to station. Once you’ve finished your walk, a train will take you straight back to where you started – all without needing a ticket. Second-class travel on public transport anywhere in the country is free.

Find out more

Nature information

A Wiewesch Nature Reserve Centre in Manternach (often referred to as the “Old Farmhouse”, its previous function) is one of five across Luxembourg. Its focal point is the Conservation and Agriculture interactive exhibition, where visitors can learn how biodiversity, agriculture and a healthy diet are dependent on each other. Displays show what farmers and ordinary citizens can do to reduce their ecological footprint. There are also numerous free activities, such as herbal walks, forest baths and guided tours of the Manternacher Fiels, including for families.