Afternoon out: Steinfort and surrounds
Steinfort derives its name from the old ford (shallow part of a river) on the River Eisch. A former iron and steel town, proud of its industrial heritage, the steel factory is now a cultural centre, a lifting device control cabin is a nature and forest centre, and the Collart Villa, a restaurant, tourist office and art gallery.
You can discover these and the Schwaarzenhaff nature reserve, by foot or bike, with a detour to take in the peaceful setting of Clairefontaine Abbey, where the Countess of Luxembourg, Ermesinde is buried.
A bit of history…
Archaeological discoveries show that Steinfort was occupied in Celtic and Roman times, and was part of the Brussels to Trier route. From 1734 to 1828 an important stagecoach relay was installed near the bridge over the River Eisch, now the Marie Thérèse bridge, where horses were changed. The original stables were unfortunately torn down when the N6 road was widened in the 1960s.
In 1873-4 the Petange-Steinfort-Ettelbruck railway line was opened, transporting iron ore from the south to the blast furnaces in Steinfort. The first official railway station was built at the same time, although the current one dates from 1900, and was expanded in 1924. The building had a 4-room apartment on the first floor that housed the station master. Today, the station is a mix of housing and businesses.
You’ll find information panels in the centre of Steinfort and its neighbouring towns of Hagen, Grass and Kleinbettingen, providing natural, cultural, and historical information on the locality.
At Steinfort’s centre, near the rose garden and town hall, there is a pavilion, which was originally erected in 1921, although the current one was built in 1953. The sandstone block with a bronze medallion commemorates the liberation of the town by General Patton, who set up a temporary HQ in the Leyen Café. The area hosts a Christmas market with chalets and live music in winter and various events in summer. The cultural centre also hosts the annual SchmelzKultur Festival.
On the first weekend in August, the vintage car, tractor and motorcycle fair takes place at Centre Roudemer. In addition to stands dealing in spare parts, it’s a good opportunity for enthusiasts to see vintage cars up close at the open-air exhibition. In April, Steinfort hosts the second stage of the Elsy Jacobs Festival, in honour of Luxembourg's legendary female cyclist.
The Marie Thérèse Bridge was originally built in 1800, but was destroyed during the war, and the current one was built in 1950. US troops built a temporary wooden bridge at the end of the Second World War.
The Collart brothers, Charles and Jules, local steel, brick and cement magnates, built a villa on Hobscheid Street, not far from the hospital for steelworkers, which they had erected in 1900. The villa now houses the tourist office and an art gallery on its upper floor, and is quite an architectural gem. The ground floor is home to the restaurant An der Villa.
Built in 1904, it was intended to be the residence of Jules Collart’s son, Robert, and is now protected as a national monument. The grounds are laid out as an English country garden, and the original villa has had several extensions added. You can spot a filigree weave-basket motif on the main entrance, the footbridge over the river, and the canopy.
The Collart family didn’t stay long, as after Charles died, Jules inherited the Dommeldange foundry and castle, and he and his son moved to live there. Over the years it was divided into apartments and rented to various steel factory directors and engineers, until the commune of Steinfort purchased it in the 1960s.
The first hospital was set up to treat injured and sick steelworkers (a population of about 600). Care was dispensed by the Congregation of Franciscan sisters. In the 1930s when the steel factory shut down, so did the hospital, and it was converted into a retirement home, but was demolished in 1993.
The church of Saint Walburg stands out at the centre of the town. A chapel was first mentioned in records from 1738, but was demolished in 1830 when a new road was built from Steinfort to Arlon. The current church was built in 1907, designed by architect Jean-Pierre Knepper. The foundation stone was laid by Robert Collart, the then mayor of Steinfort. The Collart family had their own chapel inside the church with its own entrance. In 1991, two statues of Saint Walburg and St Hubert were erected.
The church is built in neo-Gothic style, and is freestanding on all sides, with a steep gable roof. The church tower is about 44 metres high, and the striking buttresses are made from local sandstone. The main alter, confessionals, and missionary cross come from the original chapel, donated by the Collart family.
The church tower contains three bells. The largest, Marienglocke, has a 118cm diameter and is weights 980 kgs. All three bells were donated to the church by the Collart family.
The park, built in 1998 has a fountain and arbour. You’ll also find a statue of Bacchus, the Roman god of fertility and wine, which originally adorned the well in the early 20th century, when it was used as a drinking trough for horses at the steel factory. It was probably brought by the Collart factory from their home in Schengen as a symbol of opulence that the Steinfort factory provided.
During German occupation the steel factory was dismantled in part and used as a tank repair shop, and then later by the Americans as a supply warehouse. It currently houses a factory and workshops. The old forge is now the Cultural Centre Al Schmelz, whilst the old slag heaps have been allowed to regrow and now house artworks and sculptures.
In addition to steel, Steinfort also had a brick works, which closed in the 1930s too. The bricks were made from blast furnace slag. Workers houses were built using these bricks in Steinfort from the 1840s, and during the First World War. Some are still standing along the main high street.
If you take the blue flag or mirador walking circuits you will pass nearby to this grand Abbey, tucked away in a wooded valley, on the banks of the Semois River, across the border in Belgium. The original abbey dates back to Ermesinde (1186-1247) the Countess of Luxembourg, who is buried within it. She had a dream in which the Virgin Mary asked her to build a convent, but her son, Henry V, is the person who realised it for the Cistercian order in 1253.
There were several phases of construction from the 13th to the 18th century but unfortunately the original building was destroyed by fire. In the 19th century the Jesuits bought the site and in 1875 built a chapel and a monastery. The grounds contain a medicinal garden, and of course the nearby spring, still considered to have healing powers. There's a meditative walking path in the woods, and several short routes nearby. You can download the routes by scanning the QR code on the board outside the abbey. You can find more information on these walks here.
Walks, cycling and nature
The Schliekebesch is a forest island in the fields between Steinfort and Kleinbettingen. Unlike the woods north of the town where the sandy earth favours beech trees, clay soil in this area promoted oak, ash and hazel trees. In spring, the undergrowth is covered in a carpet of forest anemones and violets.
The Schwaarzenhaff nature reserve is now part of the Natura 2000 zone “Valley of Mamer and Eisch”. The 14km mirador circuit passes through the old steel and slag heap areas now part of an ecological regeneration. It traverses the pine forests, (pine wood was used as fuel) dotted with beech and oak trees, and passes by ponds filled with newts and natterjack toads, and the old railway line.
It starts at the Mirador Forest and Nature centre, housed is in the watchtower at 1 rue Collart, that hosts exhibitions and workshops. It opened in 2008 after restoration work, and was once the control cabin of a lifting device. The Schwaarzenhaff dam served as a water reserve for the steel factory, and remained unused until the council developed a fish pond there in the 1980s.
The 9.4km blue flag circular walk starts at the car park next to the town’s hospital and heads west following the River Eisch downstream to the Belgian border, before returning via the former dam to Hafferbesch. There are two educational trails in Steinfort which take in much of the town’s history, both starting from the town hall, and 3.8km or 4.4km in length.
Two cycle paths pass through Steinfort. PC12 follows the old Attert railway line from Linger on to Colmar-Berg and covers approximately 53km. PC13 connects Kleinbettingen with Strassen on a 13.8km route. You can join the Arlon circuit Belarel at the Eischen/Clairefontaine junction or by crossing the border at Steinfort/Sterpenich.
Steinfort Adventure tree climbing park has 10 routes of varying difficulty for ages 2 years and upward, including a zip line and a Nepalese bridge, and you walk from platform to platform (safety equipment is provided). It’s open Tuesday to Sunday, from 10.00 to 18.00 with the last climb at 17.00, and you can reserve timed slots here.
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