Land of the Red Rocks
Feel the spirit of Luxembourg's steel past on the Minett Tour
A short train ride south from Luxembourg City lies Esch-sur-Alzette, the heart of the once industrial south, known for its steel production and iron ore mining. The cities and towns of the south feel a little more rough and ready than rural Luxembourg with its medieval castles and rolling hills.
The region is marked by the most extraordinary terrain of rugged red rocks and dense forests, inspiring its name, the Land of the Red Rocks. The south is really somewhere to dive into the history, not only of the region but of the country. Luxembourg’s wealth was once built on steel production, which all took place here. No longer in operation, some of these historic sites have been masterfully converted into modern architectural hubs, but the Minett Park in Fond-de-Gras remains as an outdoor museum where you can relive the past. Go explore these attractions with the Interrail Benelux Pass!
On the ancient rail tracks
From the middle of the 19th century onward, steel was exported from Luxembourg worldwide, where it is still used – be it in the foundations of the One World Trade Center in New York City or in the world’s biggest skyscraper in Dubai. The men mined iron ore, or “Minett” in Luxembourgish, rode rattling railways into the heart of the hills and brought rock back to the surface. On the Minett Tour you can follow the miners’ trail, by riding a puffing steam train, seeing the imposing blast furnaces, and stepping into the dim mines where they once toiled.
Past and Future
Esch-Belval is a mecca for architecture enthusiasts and one of five venues on the 35 km-long Minett Tour. Here the blast furnaces that once spewed smoke have lain dormant since 1997. Modern buildings now stand alongside them, home to the university, research institutes, Belval Plaza shopping center and the Rockhal music venue. Amid the university’s ivory towers, the rusty, weather-beaten blast furnaces still defy the present. They have been lovingly conserved and create a very special atmosphere. Visitors on a guided tour can enter and scale blast furnace A to appreciate its sturdy vastness, and admire the sprawling views. The headquarters of Esch 2022 can also be found here, in light of Esch-sur-Alzette becoming the European Capital of Culture in 2022.
An excursion to the former major mining area of Fond-de-Gras is a journey into the past. People of all ages can take the steam locomotive Train 1900 from Pétange to Fond-de-Gras through the very heart of the Land of the Red Rocks. Ever since 1973, volunteer helpers have been keeping the train line alive. At the small grocery “Epicerie Victor Binck”, you can find traditional products. “My brother used to work in the grocery. The steel industry has left its mark on us”, says a daughter of Italian immigrants, who like many Italian immigrants used to buy ingredients for polenta in the shop. Because that too is “de Minett”: people who came to Luxembourg from the south to work and find a new homeland.
Wild woman and rumbling wagons
The small village of Lasauvage owes its name to a “wild woman” who is said to have lived there in the old days. On the one hand she scared the living daylights out of people but on the other hand, depending on which version of the tale you hear, she is also said to have been a healer.
Later, long after the “wild woman” had died, Lasauvage was home to workers employed exclusively in the mines of the industrialist Count Fernand de Saintignon. Houses, a school and a bustling community came into existence. The last mine closed in 1978. To this very day, a changing room with showers and hooks on the ceiling are testimony to how hundreds of workers washed themselves clean of the dust and grime after their shift.
Nowadays you can reach the enchanting small community of Lasauvage by car or with the “Minièresbunn”, the historic mine train. In days gone by the train’s “buggies” (wagons) were used to transport iron ore, but today they transport visitors into the dark galleries. After a few metres of rumbling in the dark, you can disembark inside the mine. How would the workers have felt in the constant darkness? You can try hewing some rock to give yourself a quick impression, before gratefully returning to the daylight.
Other stops along the Minett tour
Museum of the Cockerill Mine, Esch-sur-Alzette
The restored Katzenberg mine site with the Museum of the Cockerill Mine displays the miners’ tools and machinery, a large collection of old photographs depicting the strenuous everyday grind, transport material and fossils found while mining the ore. A working forge can be visited at the weekend.
National mining museum, Rümelingen
The bulk of the collection is to be seen in the mine’s subterranean galleries where it was previously used. The traditional sightseeing tour starts aboard a small mine train. The train takes you through old open cast mines before entering the underground mine through the Langengrund tunnel.
Nature reserve with orchid treasures
Nowadays, the former open cast mining area “Prënzebierg - Giele Botter” is a nature reserve covering several hundred hectares. A discovery trail leads through the Land of the Red Rocks, where new habitats have come into being – after Minett extraction ceased. Here for example you will find rare orchid species. On the nearby Titelberg, excavations revealed an important settlement built by the Celts in the 1st century BC.
Other stops along the Minett tour
Eat like the miners did
Traditional hearty dishes are available in the “Bei der Giedel” restaurant in Fond-de-Gras. The former rustic-style miners’ café serves fondue, raclette, vegetable tarts and other specialities. The terrace is also a good place to sit and soak up the atmosphere.
Blast Furnace Festival
Every July in Belval, Luxembourg’s industrial heritage is celebrated at a sensational circus of fire, acrobatics, music and dance. As well as watching the performances, you can climb up a blast furnace, and for the thrill-seekers out there, even zip-wire between two of them!
Steam Punk Convention
Once a year, in the early autumn, Fond-de-Gras hosts a spectacular SteamPunk Convention. The area is inundated by fans of the wacky, old-fashioned, techno-retro look clothing. There is street entertainment, concerts, a Victorian market, an exhibition of steam punk creations, historical steam engines and much else besides to discover.