The Ourthe river, your guide along the GR 57 trail.
GR 57 may not be the most popular hiking trail, but it certainly is one of the best known GR trails in Wallonia. The first version of the trail goes back to 1966. Until august 2017 the path was 280 km long. That year, the trail was thoroughly redesigned and extended with a new path along the west branch of the Ourthe. From then on GR 57 has grown to a total length of 370 km.
The most recent (9th !) edition of the topoguide dates from april 2022. Once again the trail has been changed in a number of places, with the most striking change being situated in the GD Luxembourg. That part of the trail followed the Sentier du Nord, but coincided to a large extent with the more recent Escapardenne / Eislek trail. Now GR 57 has completely switched to the latter trail.
The idea behind GR 57 has always been twofold:
- On the one hand GR 57 offered an alternative for the GR 5 trail between Liège and Diekirch in the GD Luxembourg. That's why GR 57 started in Barchon where GR 5 passes. In Diekirch (Gilsdorf) both trails met again. This way, hikers could walk an enormous loop combining both trails. But that idea has more or less been abandoned and forgotten. Therefore, since 2017 GR 57 starts at the Liège-Guillemins trainstation, and the track to Barchon is now presented as a connection between GR 57 and GR 5. However, that connecting trail still is an interesting introduction to GR 57.
- On the other hand, GR 57 is the hiking version of a megalomaniac project that was once started by king William I of the Netherlands. The goal was to implement a connection between the Meuse and the Moselle rivers. In Belgium (at that time still a part of the Netherlands) the Ourthe river had to be canalized so that ships could navigate up to the GD Luxembourg. There the journey would continue along the Woltz and the Sûre rivers, to reach the Moselle in Wasserbillig. The project started at several places at the same time, but it came to a halt with the Belgian revolution and independancy. The reasons: the political instability in the young country, and the enormous costs. When later on the emerging railway transport proved to be a lot cheaper and more efficient, the project finally died a silent death. But what hadn't succeeded over the water, succeeded by foot ... with the GR 57.
In a nutshell, the GR 57 trail nowadays goes as follows: after a short introduction to Liège, the trail enters the Ardennes in Angleur to follow the Ourthe valley all the way to its eastern source. It continues in the GD Luxembourg along the Woltz and the Sûre valleys to arrive in Diekirch where GR 57 meets GR 5.
Since 2017 hikers also have to add 70 km along the West Ourthe. This part of the trail starts at the dam in Nisramont and follows the western branch of the river up to its source. It finally ends in Libramont.
GR 57 offers lots of variation. Along the meandering Ourthe high plateaus, as well as valleys make up the trail. Quite a few well-known tourist places are visited, and also in the GD Luxembourg the challenging hilly landscapes are always worth the effort.
The trail requires some effort, isn't always easy, and sometimes is even adventurous. But the beautiful natural landscapes will be a reward you'll always remember !
We hiked the full 370 GR 57 kilometers, and we admit that the trail deserves its place amongst the most beautiful, interesting and fairly easy to organise GR hikes in Belgium. But to declare the trail the nr. 1 in Belgium ... no ! Other trails such as GR 573, GR 571, GR 16, and even some others, also deserve that top place. It's all a matter of opening yourself to what you see and experience.
GR 57 has the advantage that it can be reached quite easily with the public transports (train / bus). By simply using the train you can even organise multi-day hikes from Liège to Hotton, and from Gouvy to Diekirch, without having to carry a heavy backpack along the trail.
There are quite some hotels, B&B's, gîtes and campings situated on or near GR 57. That also explains part of its popularity.
But pay attention ! The disastrous floodings of mid 2021 have also heavily impacted the Ourthe valley. The consequences are still visible up to this day (oct. 2022). Several camping sites were simply washed away, and some of them will probably not re-open. And some parts of the trail along the river are still closed, mainly because of bridges that were destroyed by the flood.