To watch narcissus that have not been planted by man’s hand bloom by millions where man’s feet cannot walk, is really something else!
What is possibly Belgium’s best kept secret is a true seasonal attraction in Germany. Between end of March and early May, the natural meadows of the lost little valley of Olef that traces somewhere the border between both countries, are covered by a multitude of botanical narcissus. Our neighbours come from far away to see them. From Cologne, capital of North Rhine-Westphalia, and far beyond.
When coming from the Belgian side, a little after Bullange (Büllingen) we cross the border at the Losheimergraben. One must practically go all around the round-about at take route 265 towards Hellenthal. In the big turn of Hollerather Knie (Hollerath’s elbow), the road down towards “narcissus parking” opens up. It is only 31st March, early afternoon, and it is almost full.
But what are these risen mossy rocks that border the parking area? An alignment of prehistorical standing stones? The old snags of a former giant of the woods? Not at all. They are dragon teeth, concrete anti-tank defences of the Siegfried Line, built by the ancient German Empire between 1916 and 1917. A lovely lady that is looking at them at the same time I am brings to my attention that there is a toll in this parking area. How lucky it is we now use Euros! Much more convenient to feed the meter, even if quite odd to find one in the middle of nature.
At the entrance of the dark pine forest, a stele indicates the exact place where the Ardennes Offensive of 16th December 1944 started. With an emotional thought to the young German and American soldiers who fought each other here. But today, it is the spring singing of finches that echo in the woods: un beautiful trill that ends with a cheeky “Vî dju!”. Do you know that it means “vieux dieux” (old gods) in Walloon? All the old gods of the forest must have arranged to meet at the Cross-border Hautes Fagnes-Eifel nature park.
After a long walk down towards the valley, we enter a natural reserve on the Belgian side. A couple of kilometres farther, the first flowers show alongside the stream. But on this last day of March, there are not enough to really make a breath-taking impression when we reach the big meadow. The cultivated narcissus that are planted in parks and on the edge of roads settle on the green grass cut during the previous autumn. Their wild brothers, on the other hand, must visually impose on the whitened carpet of high withered grass. Let’s come back next week…
The following Saturday, towards the end of the day, the narcissus that line the path greedily reach their hearts out to savour the last rays of sun. I chose to walk the longest promenade, but partly in the wrong way against the arrowed directions in order to make the most of the sun light. But also because I had crossed paths with the guided tour that did just the same the previous week. There must be a good reason for this…
The big meadow can be contemplated from the top of the path that borders the shortest itinerary from an easier access and where there are benches. It can also be visited by a grassy path that passes through the middle of the natural reserve narcissus. Out of the question to walk off it of course. All the hikers I’ve met actually scrupulously respected the area. But the feeling of being in the heart of the blooming is truly rich and intense.
This ant must also feel the intense pleasure of being in the heart of the flower to picnic. But, by the way, is this indeed a narcissus or is it a daffodil? Yellow heart and cream corolla, it is indeed a botanical narcissus, that is sometimes called trumpet narcissus. The daffodil is generally all yellow. Besides, the daffodil is a type of narcissus anyway…
At the information point of the Hellethal National Park of Eifel you may find a folder with the itineraries for the discovery of the narcissus – www.hellenthal.de
See also www.naturpark-eifel.de
For hikers, let’s indicate that this part of the valley of Olef is on the GR65 that is part of the Great Hiking Trails in the Eastern Townships – www.ostbelgien.eu
And if you are thirsty after this walk, microbreweries grows near.
Text and photographs : Germaine Fanchamps
Translation: Andrea Jonhson-Ferguson