Clervaux – monks, mountain biking and museums
In the second in our series Inside Lux we take a look at the northern town of Clervaux, or Klierf. The town is noted for its castle-turned museums, Benedictine abbey, the "Family of Man" photography exhibition and 16 marked mountain bike routes.
With a population of just 1,482 (as at July 2020), Clervaux may be small but it’s fairly multi-cultural. Some 34% of the population is non-Luxembourgish, including a fair proportion of Portuguese, Belgians and French and communities of Polish, Spaniards and Syrians.
Clervaux Castle museums
The castle's history
Historians are divided on whether the site of the castle was originally a Celtic settlement or a Roman fort. The west wing is thought to be the oldest part of the castle, built in the 12th century by Count Gerhard von Sponheim, the brother of the Count of Vianden.
Later, Frederic I built the Burgundy tower to house the castle’s jail. The witch tower was added in the main courtyard for defence purposes, and in 1634 Claude de Lannoy began redevelopment of the dwellings and stables, which included building the luxurious Hall of Knights. His descendants added the watchman’s lodging near the castle entrance in 1671, which now houses the restaurant Au Vieux Chateau.
In 1721, the Count of Berlaymont built the modern mansion from stones recovered from old deteriorated buildings, but the castle was severely damaged during the Battle of the Bulge in the Second World War. The burnt-out ruins were acquired by the state after the war and restored.
Today, the south wing houses an exhibition of models of Luxembourg’s castles, the old kitchen is home to a museum memorialising the Ardennes counter-offensive by the Allies, and the mansion's upper floors display the "Family of Man" photography exhibition.
The Museum of the Ardennes Counter-offensive catalogues two months of heavy fighting that begun in December 1944. Under the command of General von Rundstedt, German troops attacked the weakly defended American line along the Rivers Sauer and Our. US General George Patton regained the area after intense fighting. The museum illustrates the battle through documents, uniforms and authentic weapons.
The castle model replica museum tells the story of the region since the Middle Ages, with detailed model replicas of Luxembourg’s most famous castles. The displays provide insight into their defensive and commercial purposes and the way living quarters were apportioned.
Both museums are open only at weekends during the winter months, but will be open over the holiday period from 19 December to 3 January (except 21, 25 and 28 December). They close early at 16.30 on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Opening hours on other days are 10.00 to 18.00. Entrance is free for those under 21 and adults pay €3.50 for one museum or €5 for a combined ticket to both.
Edwards Steichen’s post-war manifesto for peace, "The Family of Man", takes the form of an exhibition of some 500 photographs shot by 273 photographers from 68 countries. It was presented to Luxembourg in 1955 by the New York Museum of Modern Art, where Steichen was curator of photography. It’s open until 4 January, when it closes for restoration each year until March. You can visit from 12.00 to 18.00, and entry costs €6 for adults (free for those aged 21 years and under). A full list of exact daily opening times over the festive holiday period can be found here.
Cité de L’Image is a temporary photography exhibition in outdoor spaces in Clervaux. The trail takes in six different locations and there is a tour every Saturday from 15.00 which is currently postponed, but it is possible to walk the route independently. This year’s exhibition, entitled "North," has photos by Evgenia Arbugaeva, Hans-Christian Schink and Jeroen Hofman. You can borrow umbrellas from the tourist office if it is raining.
Abbey of St Maurice and churches
The town’s Benedictine abbey was built in a neo-romantic style in 1909-10 and is still inhabited by monks. The monks were compelled to leave their original abbey during the Third French Republic and set up their permanent home in Clervaux. The beautiful building was designed by Dutch/German architect Johann Franz Klomp. During the Second World War, the monks were expelled by the Gestapo in January 1941 and did not return until 1945.
The monks who live in the abbey today are from various countries and divide their time between personal and communal prayer and work. They also take on the role of substitute clergy if required, and pursue intellectual and artistic hobbies.
If you visit the abbey, head to its crypts. There you’ll find a photographic exhibition of the life and work of the Benedictines.
Built at the same time as the monastery, and by the same architect, the parish church of St Cosmas and Damian is in the Rhine Romantic style with two striking bell towers. It sits atop a rocky ridge and inside you can gaze at the original works of Aachen sculptor Lambert Piedboeuf, who is responsible for the altar, pulpit and stations of the cross.
Opposite the train station you’ll find the Loretto chapel, which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and was built in Baroque style in 1762. The interior incorporates Rococo stucco décor and the tower houses a small hermitage, the entrance to which can be spotted above the alter.
Walks and hiking
There are over 150km of hiking trails that pass through Clervaux, including train station-to-station routes that take you from the town to Munhausen, Drauffelt and further afield to Wiltz.
The circular-walk Clervaux starts in Princess Maria Teresa Square and heads uphill to Reuler before descending into the valley for another climb to Schleedbierg and Boschleedchen and then finally passing the Abbey of St Maurice. It’s classified as an easy route, and just 6.8km in length.
For something a bit more challenging you can try the circular walks in the wider Clervaux canton. An 8km route starts from the chapel in Roder, and follows a forest path to the top of Kaasselbierg and the Kaasselslee viewpoint before descending via steps to the Our valley. A 10.4km route from Heinerscheid town hall follows the Rhin-Meuse international footpath. The 9km walk from Munhausen departs from Brill Chapel, follows the stream before climbing Bëlzknapp and taking the Ardennes-Eifel international footpath.
You can find a full list of circular and station-to-station hikes, together with route details, here.
The Vennbahn cycle path follows the old railway tracks from Trosvierges to Aachen on a tarmac surface with a gentle gradient that never goes above 3 per cent, making it ideal for beginners or families and suitable as a walking route for families with strollers or wheelchair users.
Those searching for some mountain bike action can check out 16 marked trails that vary in terms of fitness demands.
The demanding MTB Clervaux leaves from Place Benelux through the municipal park before heading towards Urspelt and Hupperdange and through the Saalbesch forest. Although it’s only 25km in length, expect it to take about two and a half hours to complete.
For something easier, the 12km MTB Lieler leaves from the camping ground of the same name and takes forest paths to the Monument of a United Europe before entering the Fréin Forest.
You can download a PDF of all the mountain bike trails in the area here.
If you've ever fancied trying your hand at this sport, or if you are quite the pro, the Golf Club Clervaux set amongst the forests of Eselborn has an 18-hole course suitable for both beginners and the experienced golfer.
It also has a driving range with 40 open and 12 covered tees, a putting green, a practise bunker, and a 3-hole training course. You can hire clubs, trolleys and electric golf carts on the premises, which also include a 22-room hotel where you can use your government vouchers if you still haven’t spent them.
Places to stay overnight
Although the nature centre is closed, you can stay at Robbesscheier overnight if you want to be out in nature. Alternatively the Hotel International, sister hotel Clervaux Boutique and the Hotel du Commerce are all open during the holidays. Spa, well-being and fitness areas will remain closed, but the hotels are all happy to serve takeaway food from their restaurant menus. You’ll find a list of hotels here.
You can find a list of restaurants in Clervaux that have a takeaway menu here.
Locally-guided visits and tours are due to start again in 2021, with more information here. For up-to-the-minute tourist information, visit the Destination Clervaux Facebook page and the commune website.