Sunday, November 8, 2015

Hello, Châteaux: Esch-sur-Sûre Castle

Sonndeg, 8 November.

I have been interested in "the other Esch" ever since I found out that I'd be living in Esch-sur-Alzette and since arriving in Luxembourg, I've only become more curious. What was the other Esch like? Was it better than MY Esch? Which Esch was the first Esch?

So today, Catherine and I decided to go check it out! And while Esch-sur-Alzette is still my home sweet home, Esch-sur-Sûre juuuust might be the most adorable spot in all of Luxembourg.

The town of Esch-sur-Sûre is located in the Diekirch district in the northwestern region of Luxembourg. It gets its name from the Sûre (or Sauer) River, which runs through the middle of the town. (You might remember from my post about hiking that this same river flows along the Luxembourg-German border and divides Echternach from Echternachbrück.)

Today, this tiny town is best known for the castle that towers over it.

Although parts of the castle are relatively recent, Esch-sur-Sûre dates back to the eighth century. The first references to the site can be found in the Liber aureus Epternacensis (the "Golden Book of Echternach"), a twelfth-century text written by a monk at Echternach Abbey that references the existence of Esch-sur-Sûre (or "Hesc") as early as 773.

In the tenth century, a guy called Meginaud acquired the land and erected a square tower on the top of the hill. This tower is still standing today, making the Esch-sur-Sûre Castle the oldest château in Luxembourg.

Throughout the Middle Ages, the lords of Esch-sur-Sûre expanded the castle and added additional housing, stables, and a chapel. Later residents focused on strengthening the castle's defenses, adding exterior walls and watchtowers. Esch-sur-Sûre entered a period of decline in the 16th century, after which time the castle was partially dismantled by citizens of the town -- who took the stones to build their own houses!

Most attempts to restore the site have failed and today, the castle is almost completely in ruins ... which makes it perfect for exploring.

Most of the castle was completely in ruins, so it was hard to figure out exactly what we were seeing. At one point, we peeked into a windowless room and Catherine remarked: "Oh! It's the kitchen. Or maybe it's the dungeon..."

Despite the damage, it was incredible to see how some walls were still completely intact after so many centuries!

Like all truly great castles, Esch-sur-Sûre is also home to one or two mysteries. The Luxemburger Wort has one interesting account of the death of Henry of Esch, the eleventh century lord of Esch-sur-Sûre whose wife saw a vision of his death in the Crusades.

According to legend, Jeanne de Wiltz was given a ring by her husband before he left for the crusades. Several months after his departure, she was awakened around midnight on July 14th by a servant and summoned to the castle church (pictured below). There, she found a group of knights carrying white crosses and surrounding a catafalque. Her husband lay there, mortally wounded and covered in white sheets. As Jeanne de Wiltz waited, the figures all disappeared. In the place where her husband's body had lain, she found the ring he had given her before his departure. Legend has it that the spectacle repeats itself every year on the eve of July 15th, but that the figures disappear at the stroke of midnight. Kinda creepy, right?!

Within the past few decades, the town of Esch-sur-Sûre has decided to take advantage of this and other local spooky stories. They offer a guided tour of supernatural sites (including the infamous chapel) and even host an annual Nuit des Légendes with magicians, musicians, actors, and fireworks!


Just across from the castle was the watchtower, or Tour de Guet. (Fun fact: this doesn't mean the tower belonged to some guy named Guet; rather, in French, guet refers to surveillance or a lookout.) Intrigued by the watchtower and by the prospect of even better views, we decided to head to the other side.

Please note the staircase. Which we climbed.


The stairs were a little steeper -- and more slick -- than we had anticipated, but the views were worth it. And the higher we climbed, the better the view became!


Next stop? The top of the watchtower, of course! One incredibly dark, damp, and scary staircase later, we emerged at the top of the tower to this view...

Um ... whaaaaaat?!

So. Freaking. Pretty.

As you may have noticed, autumn is quickly coming to a close in Luxembourg. The days are getting shorter, the weather forecasts are getting colder, and the bright autumn colors are being replaced with shades of wintery brown. But the Ardennes does not disappoint: even on an overcast November day, the forest surrounding Esch was gorgeous!

The statue of Mary, the town's patron saint, was erected in September 1910. (Read more.)


Want to go to Esch-sur-Sûre Castle? (Who am I kidding? Of course you do.)

The city is easily accessible by car and public transportation. From Luxembourg City, take the train to Ettelbruck and hop on Bus 535 (hours) to Esch-sur-Sûre. Buses travel between the two cities frequently (although less frequently on Sundays) and the trip from Ettelbruck takes about 25-30 minutes. We spent approximately two hours in Esch-sur-Sûre, which was more than enough time to explore the castle, hike up to the watchtower, and stop for a coffee break.

If you are visiting "the other Esch" in the warmer months, make sure to check out the Haute-Sûre Natural Park and stop to swim in le lac, an artificial lake created in the 1960s when a dam was installed in the Sûre River. We didn't get to the dam on this trip, but I'm already planning a return during warmer weather...

You'll find an explanatory plaque and wooden shelter by the bus stop!

Looking for more information about castles in Luxembourg? You're in the right place! Click to find all the posts in the "Hello, Châteaux" series, which highlights visits to famous (and not-so-famous) castles all over Europe.


  1. What a magnificent little village! It's like it's right out of a movie. Do real people just live there? Haha!

    1. Yes ... but the town only has a population of about 300!

  2. Quel ravissant petit village