Unesco Minett Biopsphere

© Thomas Jutzler

Daydream Minett Unesco Biosphere

3 minutes

Man and the Biosphere

In 2020, UNESCO recognised the Minett region as a biosphere reserve. The man-made and rewilded landscapes are truly extraordinary. Discovering them is a magical experience.

The trees have green beards! I feel like they’re about to talk to me. Clearly, I’m in Middle Earth. The dwarves in The Hobbit were miners, right? I would not be surprised to see one of them emerge from one of the many dark holes that appear in the rock formations every few feet.

Unesco Minett Biosphere

© Thomas Jutzler

Perfectly framed and beautifully constructed mine entrances, mossy and overgrown, abandoned for years. If you stand right in front of them, the continual draught will give you goosebumps. Even before you approach the portal, there’s an eerie change in temperature. The gentle, humid and nippy breeze is evidence of the underground maze criss-crossing the region.

The cool humidity is likely also responsible for the tree beards. Green, mossy tufts dangle from the branches, lending the thin trunks a fantastical, mystical quality. Basically, Middle Earth. J.R.R. Tolkien would have been inspired.

A land in transition

The land in Luxembourg’s South has been gnawed on and riddled with holes. It lies there, like the leftovers of a gargantuan feast. The steel giants that originally gorged on the region have almost all disappeared. What’s left are places that bear witness to intense industrial exploitation. But they are also proof that man’s influence on nature doesn’t have to be destructive. It can be truly positive. At least, if the industry is then eventually shut down. The closure of the mines fostered the development of plant communities and unique fauna. This microclimate is home to rare plants. Insects and small animals are returning. Explore the trails of this UNESCO biosphere reserve and delight in the orchids, butterflies, bats, amphibians, lizards and reptiles, to name just a few.

The trails lead along former supply routes and disused railway lines through a gnarly forest. Every now and then, we interrupt lizards’ siestas and watch them scurry away. Water accumulates in dips and, as a layperson, it’s impossible to tell if the biotopes are natural or manmade. For example, when a hollow in an abandoned pit has at some point caved in and a pool of water has formed. The variety of insects and amphibians drawn to these pools is incredible. Now and again, dragonflies rest on glowing orchids. There’s croaking in the shrubbery and countless insects dance in the sunrays above the glistening water. 

Unesco Minett Biosphere

© Thomas Jutzler

A few hundred meters onward, the scenery changes completely. The sun warms the dark red earth and lends this area a desert-like feel. Aspen, birches and pine trees thankfully provide a little protective shade. A marvellously varied panorama.

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes

Nature is reclaiming this mining region – as are the mountain bikers! At Lallenger Bierg, between Esch-sur-Alzette and Kayl, I see a flock of sheep stumbling around the red rocks like a group of curious tourists. Meanwhile, the sheep are staring at the strangely dressed humans biking through the bumpy terrain. The bike park here is challenging, in more ways than one. Sustainable and carefully managed tourism, agriculture and protected areas are meant to work in unison at the biosphere reserve.

Microclimates, humans and nature

From the narrow gorges of mineshaft entrances overgrown with blackberries to the desert-like zones of former opencast mining areas, this is a region of contrasts. One is humid, the other dry. One is marked by thick scrub, the other by open expanses. Cold and heat. Explore this trail through the different microclimates on bike or on foot.
The successful rewilding of the industrial areas as well as the return of flora and fauna were prerequisites for acceptance into the global network of biosphere reserves which are part of the UNESCO programme “Man and the Biosphere”. The programme is designed to explore the influence of humans and their interaction with nature.

Exciting transformation

The goal is to evolve from an industrial-based economy to a knowledge-based economy in harmony with nature. The high population density of the biosphere reserve in the south of Luxembourg makes it very special. It includes eleven communes across 200 km² as well as numerous underground and opencast mines. With the disappearance of heavy industry, the region is reinventing itself while preserving its cultural and industrial heritage.

A variety of projects support the newly regained biodiversity. At the same time, this is a region with a rich cultural history and exciting urban transformations. Humans play a central role within the changing biosphere.
These days, we’re aware of the impact we have and that we still have a long way to go: the south of the Grand Duchy gives us a glimpse of what this journey might look like.

Unesco Minett Biosphere

© Renata Lusso

Other stops worth seeing

Nature reserve Ellergronn

Where? Rue Jean-Pierre Bausch, L-4114 Esch-sur-Alzette

Nature reserve "Ellergronn"

From mining to nature reserve

Find out more
Thematic paths
Minett Trail

Distance: 63,51 km
Duration: 17:05 h
Difficulty: medium

Find out more
Minett Fond-de-Gras

© Renata Lusso

More stories: On the trail of sweat and steel - Minett Tour

From the puffing steam train via imposing blast furnaces to gloomy mines where miners once toiled: feel the spirit of Luxembourg’s steel past on the Minett Tour.

Read story