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Esch-sur-Sûre and Upper Sûre Lake - A view from our expert author
Luxembourg’s tiniest town perches on a rock above the river, and is the gateway to the nation’s largest lake, a beautiful watery haven in the heart of the Ardennes.
Before you even reach Esch you know something special is happening. Turning off the main road between Bastogne and Ettelbruck, the first thing you do is pass through a rock tunnel. It already feels like entering a secret world. And then you round the last bend and see the village proper, and it just gets better. Make no mistake: Esch is gorgeous, displaying a near-fairytale quality. It clings to the sides of a giant rock that’s been marooned by a sharp meander in the Sûre River. Looking down from above are romantically crumbling castle ruins. At the southern end of town is a second tunnel (rather prosaically, both were actually bored in the 1950s to allow construction traffic to access the Upper Sûre barrage). The river bends so severely it turns the land into a virtual island, connected to the ‘mainland’ only by a narrow isthmus. If you were so inclined you could use the 80m tunnel to bypass the entire place in under five seconds – but why would you want to do that?
(Photo: The river bend around Esch-sur-Sûre is so tight, the picture-perfect village is almost an island © Tim Skelton)
Esch has few actual distractions to keep you entertained, but the big draw is the village itself. It’s just a fine place to be. Go walking in the surrounding region by day, and enjoy hanging out in Esch by night. Or just sit and enjoy the view. You won’t be alone though: while the official population is no more than 250, the numbers swell many-fold on sunny weekends.
At 19km long and covering an area of 380ha, Upper Sûre Lake, Luxembourg’s largest body of water, only came into being when the 50m-high dam (barrage) at its eastern end was constructed in 1955. The lake was created to produce hydro-electricity and reduce national reliance on foreign imports, but its contribution to the national grid today is minimal, and it’s only used occasionally to meet peak demands. Instead it’s now the source of more than 50% of the country’s drinking water, and 70% of the population rely on it to at least some extent.
Upper Sûre Lake is Luxembourg’s largest body of water, and supplies half the nation’s drinking water © Chachas, Dreamstime
The lake is a popular recreation spot. Artificial beaches along the south shore sometimes fill with as many as 10,000 visitors on warmer summer weekends. To keep the water clean and unpolluted, no human activity is allowed within 5km of the outlet (by the dam). Besides one security launch that patrols the lake, no diesel motorboats are permitted anywhere, while sailing boats and kayaks are allowed on the upriver side of the pontoon bridge. That bridge, linking Lultzhausen on the south shore with Liefrange on the north, was added as an afterthought after the two villages were cut off from one another.