Sunday, November 29, 2015

Hiking in the Our Valley: Exploring Vianden

Sonndeg, 29 November.

I've spent a solid portion of the last two months talking about how much I love hiking in Luxembourg. And it finally come back to bite me in the butt, when a Fulbright friend and her boyfriend came to visit and told me they didn't care what we did "as long as we went hiking." Hiking. On a weekend with a high of 39 degrees. Riiiight.

But on Saturday morning, we decided to brave the cold! We bundled up as we had never bundled before, hopped in the car (or, more accurately, walked to the train, took the train, walked to the bus, took the bus, and only THEN hopped in the car #publictransportation), and headed to the northeast of Luxembourg. We decided to visit the town of Vianden, the home of one of Luxembourg's most popular tourist attractions. I had visited the Vianden Castle when travelling through Luxembourg in November 2013, but hadn't been back since! The area was just as beautiful -- if not more so -- as I had remembered.

It wound up being a chilly but wonderful day ... and hey, the cold never really bothered me anyway! (LOL.)

We made a quick stop at the Vianden Tourist Office, where I hesitantly asked if there might be anywhere to go hiking in the area. As it turns out, there are about a million and a half different ways to go hiking in Vianden, each of them more confusing than the next (or perhaps that was just me).

Ultimately, we wound up walking through the town of Vianden toward the castle itself. From just below the entrance to the castle, trails lead off in several different directions. We took the one marked "Bivels" (because like ... why the heck not?) and set off.


After a few minutes of trekking through the woods, we descended back towards the town of Vianden and wound up by the Neukirche, an (ironically) old church, and the Vianden Dam, which marks one of two reservoirs in the Our River used by the Vianden Pumped Storage Plant. (Thanks, Google!) The dam itself was hardly remarkable ... but there was a great view of the castle, so naturally we stopped for a photo or two. :)

As we hiked, we quickly realized that this trail was no joke. Most of the hiking trails I've been on so far in Luxembourg have been steep, occasionally slippery, and rarely too narrow for more than one person to walk at once. But the trails behind Vianden were wide enough for only one set of sneakers and covered in wet, slippery leaves. Although it never felt unsafe or too difficult to handle, it was definitely one of the more challenging hikes I've done.

I dared a peek or two down at the cold gray river into which a wrong step could have easily sent us tumbling!

Watch your step!

It is crazy how quickly autumn has come to a close here in Luxembourg. It feels like just a few weeks ago, I was exploring the Parc Gaalgebierg and taking photos of the beautiful trees in Larochette. But now, at the end of November, winter is asserting its dominance. Although blue skies occasionally peeked through the clouds on Saturday, the trees and sky were dominated by shades of gray and brown. What remained of the autumn colors was scattered on the ground, a sharp contrast to an otherwise gloomy scene.

We stopped for lunch at the top of the hill, where a few benches overlook the Our River. The views were incredible and I couldn't help but imagine what it would have looked like a month or two ago, with autumn colors in full bloom.

Although we had all warmed up and even begun to shed some layers on the way up, things began to get chillier the longer we stayed still. We stayed warm by bundling up ... and having an impromptu dance party! (Not featured. My apologies.)

From our picnic spot, the trail turned into a paved street that dipped down toward the river to a small chapel called the Veianar Bildchen. (If you have miraculously learned how to read, Luxembourgish, feel free to check out this Wikipedia article about the site, which maybe explains the history of the chapel? I really have no idea.) After checking out the little chapel, we continued on our way back to the Vianden Castle.


We've reached the top?! Time for a celebratory sit.

The view from the top of the hill was straight up breathtaking. I only learned later that just past the town of Vianden, the Our River becomes the border between Luxembourg and Germany. In the photo below, Luxembourg (and the town of Bivels) is on the left of the river and Germany (and the ruined castle of Burg Falkenstein) is on the right.

After stopping for a breather, we continued back to the castle. The narrow footpaths were replaced by much wider paths and the panoramic views gave way to trees on trees on trees. After about a kilometer, we emerged to yet another stunning view, this time of the town of Vianden itself.

Oh, what's that in the bottom left corner? Just the Vianden Chair Lift -- "the only chairlift in the Grand Duchy," according to the official website. This is surprising to me, as I think that a disproportionately large number of chair lifts is TOTALLY something that Luxembourg would have.

But I digress. The télésiège, which opens once the weather gets a little warmer and runs throughout the summer months, allows tourists a panoramic view of the Our Valley and costs less than five euros for a round-trip ride. Although we didn't get a chance to check out the chairlift on this visit, we did still get to enjoy some pretty incredible views of the town of Vianden and, as we descended back down, of the castle itself!

Having hiked all that way, it seemed a waste to skip the castle itself! We ponied up a couple euros for the entrance fee and spent an hour or so exploring the historic side of Vianden.

As you might remember, the Vianden Castle is a primarily medieval structure built between the 11th and 14th centuries. However, it also incorporates much older ruins as well as a manor house dating to the Renaissance. Click here to see images of the various stages of construction on the castle's official website. The château fell into ruin in the 19th century, after being sold for parts by King William I of the Netherlands. (Really! He sold it to a guy who turned around and sold the roof tiles, the windows, and even the wood paneling piece by piece.)

Early restorations efforts were thwarted, first by the Belgian Revolution of 1830, then by the First and Second World Wars. It wasn't until the latter half of the 20th century that the castle was fully restored and even now, construction projects appear to be continuing on the site. Scroll down to see some photos from our visit ... or click here to take a virtual tour of the castle.

Interested in hiking in Vianden? I would recommend making a stop at the local tourist office, but there are several resources available online to help you plan your trip.

The Luxembourg tourism website offers a nine kilometer circular walk around the castle and river. The website of the town of Stolzenberg also has a map of the Ourdallpromenade (featured below). We followed this eleven kilometer trail for part of our hike and the next time I'm in Vianden (and the temperatures are a little warmer), I think I will try to do the entire thing. Trails in Vianden and the surrounding Naturpark Our can be found online as well; click here for an interactive map of all routes.

As always, there are also lots of other travel blog posts about hiking in Luxembourg! I particularly enjoyed "Hiking the Luxembourg Ardennes" by Monkeys and Mountains: Adventure Travel Blog and loved the photos (and rather comic anecdotes) in "I Picked the Wrong Day to Visit Vianden" by Travel with Bender.

Have any questions about hiking in the Our Valley? Want to know more about Vianden or the other places featured in this post? Let me know in the comments.

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