Sometimes it is the wonders on one's doorstep that are overlooked; a couple of years ago I reported on a trip in Belgium that took in a numbers of chateaux - from castles to stately homes - there; this time round I decided to do a similar trip a little closer to home.
For those who may not be aware, those who have seen the signs and heard the term "Vallée des Sept Chateaux", it runs from close to Steinfort, north-east to Mersch. All in all, the round trip took around 50km, so it's no massive excursion, it's one that can be achieved quite relaxingly in 2-3 hours.
We decided to start from the south-west, from Koerich. One of the first things that struck me was the bird songs whenever we stopped. Without seeking out any specific species, we came across a pair of jays, a common woodpecker, a kite (with its distinctive tail) and a number of buzzards.
Koerich - this ruined castle - also known as Grevenschlass - lies in the centre of the village and appears to be in dire need of attention as it crumbles away, taking history with it. It dates from the late 12th century and one can still make out the moat and the keep, with a number of Renaissance and Baroque additions noticeable. In September 2013, Luxembourg's Minister for Culture, Octavie Modert, led a ceremony at the medieval chateau which was to be secured and renovated in a project overseen by the Service des sites et monuments nationaux. Not much work appears to have been done since, with the original fencing still in place. However, it was possible to view through a gate and numerous windows to get a perspective of the inner courtyard beyond the 3-storey building walls.
Septfontaines - not to be confused with the chateau of the same name in the Rollingergrund, that is owned by Villeroy & Boch, the ruined chateau sits atop a hill and is accessible with a short walk. Its windows (with full glass) and stairways are visible from outside, with a feeling that initial renovations have been carried out while much more is still needed to stop it from falling into further ruin. It dates from the 12th century and is privately-owned.
Ansembourg - there are two chateaux here, but the old chateau which sits atop a hill is only visible when approaching from the north and the only access seems to be via two private roads - the building dating from the 12th century is the private residence of the current Count and Countess of Ansembourg. However, the new chateau is in stark contrast to the first two ruined buildings and is owned by the Japanese cult Sukyo Mahikari. The magnificent wrought iron gates welcome motorists to park in the gravel courtyard which is surrounded by a number of buildings, most of which are in use - they date from the 16th century. It was a lovely day for a stroll so we took in the ornamental gardens which date from 1750 and included wonderful trees, a maze and water features, as well as statues, with orchards beyond the walls. The buildings are not open to the public (the gardens are) but were busy while we were there.
Hollenfels - the trick here is to park above the chateau (once below, it is almost impossible to turn around) in the village. Built on a promontory, one side is a sheer drop to the valley which offers amazing views over the forests and undulating hillsides. The chateau dates from the 14th century and includes a 40m tall tower; it was purchased by the Luxembourg state in 1848 and the outbuildings house a youth hostel and youth centre. The chateau itself is used as a ecology centre and also has a dungeon.
Schoenfels - here the state is renovating the out-buildings in a significant project, as well as maintaining the trees and recovering the grounds from decades of neglect. Dating from the late 13th century, the tower is significantly impressive, in particular the roof-top turrets. The castle lost its fortifications in the 17th century when they were removed by the French. When the renovations to the tower are complete is will serve as offices for the Administration des Eaux & Forêts and a visitor centre.
Mersch - the last stop at the north-eastern end of the valley. The "pink chateau" - the colour of the walls of the gate-houses - houses the administrative offices of the municipality of Mersch. It originates from the 13th century but was completely rebuilt in the late 16th century following a fire, with 7 towers, the foundations of some which are still visible. Also in the square opposite is the very distinctive baroque tower, the sole remains of the former church, and an amazing statue of a dragon, complete with water feature. The tourism boards there are interesting to read (also in English) and reveal a Roman tomb being discovered there.
Another wonder was the rolling countryside and the charming villages we drove through on our 7 chateaux quest, not to mention the number of interesting landmarks, from old wash-houses to farmyards and barns, with old farm implements on display. Plus the number of youth hostels and youth centres was significant. Still spring, the deciduous trees were sprouting green shoots, while the coniferous trees made up much of the forests. A wonderful countryside, and right on our doorstep...
Photos by Geoff Thompson