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Visiting Reuler: Typical Oesling Topography in the Geographically Very Varied Grand Duchy of Luxembourg

Updated on June 18, 2020
Flag of Luxembourg
Flag of Luxembourg | Source
View of Reuler
View of Reuler | Source

Canadian Prairie coulees seemingly transposed (?)...deeply informed by history

[This visit took place a number of years ago.]

On maps, particularly on those which are not very detailed, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg may seem like a mere speck, which, for the international traveller in a hurry, is soon left behind as journeys are continued in the vastly larger neighbouring countries of France, Germany or Belgium.

Superficially there may be some truth in this.

But in actual fact, if one attempts to get to know Luxembourg (with the aid of a more detailed map), the intensely varied nature of its 2 586 square kilometres (1) can become perennially — yes, really — absorbing.

While the landscape around Luxembourg City is more generally undulating or even fairly flat (the southern part of the Grand Duchy is known as (French: ) Le Bon Pays, (German: ) das Gutland, (Létzebuergesh: ) D'Guttland (2). The northern part of the country — approximately one third of the territory — is known as (French: ) Oesling, (German: ) Ösling, (Létzebuergesh: ) Éislek.

And so I came to (French and German: ) Reuler, (Létzebuergesch: ) Reiler, in northern Luxembourg, with its landscape typical of Oesling: fields and forests sometimes in the form of a plateau, with sudden steep gradients descending into gullies, ravines and valleys.

The photo above, depicting Reuler and district shows something of this typical Oesling topography. It was precisely in this sort of difficult terrain that in December 1944 and January 1945 the Battle of the Bulge was bitterly fought towards the end of World War Two.

Having hiked long distances in flat parts of Belgium and The Netherlands, my progress on foot in and around Reuler — to which I had walked from Clervaux — was, I recall, somewhat slow at times: this was a number of decades ago, when I was younger and fitter!

Although on some maps Luxembourg may seem to be small, yet when one is actually out and about in the sparsely populated hill country, one does indeed receive a sense of being in wide open spaces: in fact, there is a sense in which the Canadian Prairies come to mind. Before anyone is taken aback at the comparison with the vastness of the Prairies, bear in mind the following: the seemingly endless coulees in Provinces such as Alberta, where the relentless plateau horizons are suddenly broken by winding gullies and ravines that appear to be recurring, empty and vast.

This is indeed quite another Luxembourg from what exists of it in the popular imagination beyond the country's borders: one which is real, tangible, and yet relatively unknown internationally...with the very honourable exception of the US Army veterans who desperately and excruciatingly fought along this difficult terrain to rid Luxembourg and the neighbouring Belgian Ardennes of the Nazi occupants' last, rearguard aggression.

Local, Luxembourg people from the northern hill country have indeed long been attached to their land and traditions, perhaps even with an intensity greater than elsewhere in the country: it was in northern Luxembourg alone that in 1798 the (Létzebuergesch) Klëppelkrich, (French: ) Guerre des gourdins / des paysans, (German: ) Klöppelkrieg — a popular rising against the French Revolutionary invaders — erupted.

Even in the 21st century, northern Luxembourg was the home of a nationalist political party, with its former Communist leadership now in post-Cold War times evidently expressing its elemental alienation from globalist Western society in traditional nationalist terms.

And in World War Two the rugged topography of northern Luxembourg formed a backdrop to the forging of a post-war political role on the part of Luxembourg Resistance leaders, in part upon deserved credit for their Resistance record (which I have elsewhere attempted to describe).

Victor Hugo (1802-1885), who spent a time of exile in northern Luxembourg, wrote about the seemingly perpetual tension between the steep gradients of the soft green ravines and the terrible memories provoked by craggy Medieval fortress ruins (which abound in northern Luxembourg); this was among the themes explored by Nic Klecker (1928-2009), with a strong background in northern Luxembourg, in his narrative Les Crénaux du souvenir, 1997 (3).

The tensions of topography and memories of hard life and sometimes excruciating history are indeed intertwined in northern Luxembourg.

May 8, 2020


(1) To put it into perspective, the territory of the Principality of Monaco — another of Europe's very small states — would fit about one thousand times within the borders of the Grand Duchy.

(2) An exception to the generally flat or undulating landscape of Le Bon Pays is found in (French: ) la Petite Suisse Luxembourgeoise / Mullerthal , (German: ) Kleine Luxemburger Schweiz / Müllerthal, (Létzebuergesch: ) Kleng Lëtzebuerger Schwäiz / Mëllerdall; but la Petite Suisse Luxembourgeoise is still reckoned geographically to be within Le Bon Pays.

(3) See also: 'Nic Klecker;, in: Frank Wilhelm, La Francophonie du Grand-Duché de Luxembourg, Pécs, Vienna: Cahiers Francophone d'Europe Centre-Orientale, 1999, p. p. 168-172.

Some sourcing: Wikipedia

Also worth seeing

In Reiler itself, the Rochuskapell dates partly from the 14th and 15th centuries, with 20th and 21st century renovations.

In Clervaux (distance: 2.5 kilometres) there is fine ecclesiastical architecture, a striking castle, with a museum, and memories of the Battle of the Bulge.

The photogenic and historic Luxembourg City (distance: 60 kilometres) has many architecturally fine visitor attractions, including the Grand Ducal Place, the former Caisse d'Épargne building, the Pont Adolphe, and very many others.

Bastogne , Belgium (distance: 30.3 kilometres), is visited by many Americans on account of its Battle of the Bulge associations .


How to get there: The nearest large international airport is Luxembourg (Aéroport de Luxembourg ), at Findel, from where car rental is available. For North American travellers making the London, England area their touring base, airlines flying to Luxembourg include Luxair (from London Heathrow Airport and London City Airport) and CityJet (from London City Airport). The Luxembourg railroad company CFL maintains a regular service to Clervaux from Luxembourg City. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

Map location of Clervaux municipality
Map location of Clervaux municipality | Source

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