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Maastricht is located in that tiny bit of land stretching out to the south of the Netherlands, a narrow strip of land in between Belgium and Germany. And the vestiges of a Roman city beginning here as early as 50 B.C. shows Maastricht to be the oldest city in the Netherlands. Because of its strategic location it has been contested land over the years, but the medieval city center shows few scars. It was here that in 1991 the Treaty of Maastricht was signed, the document that created the European Union.
Getting to Maastricht from Amsterdam or Brussels is relatively easy; while the train is fairly direct, you might have to switch trains depending on the route. The journey is a comfortable three hours from Amsterdam, and two hours from Brussels. Or, you can take a bus from Aachen, Germany or Leige, Belgium.
Historic City Center
Almost 1500 buildings throughout the center of Maastricht are protected. Start your journey in the main square, called the Vrijthof. It is lined with cafes with large terraces serving both Belgian and Dutch beer, especially Hoegaarden, made in a nearby Belgian town. Some of the historical attractions here include the two churches, Saint Jan and Saint Servaas; they are beautifully lit both day and night. An open market also fills the square on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
The River Maas
Frequent boat tours near the main bridge allow one to get some perspective of Maastricht from the waters of the River Maas. The river separates the town into two distinct halves, and the lush green shores along the water can be best seen by boat. It is the perfect afternoon treat after a morning of sightseeing.
A stay in Maastricht is incomplete without a trip to the Mount Saint Peter Caves; these are not technically ‘caves’ but man-made shafts that were used as a siege shelter for many years, as recently as WWII. The caverns contain artwork, carvings, and inscriptions by those that stayed here; you must go with a guide to explore them. Tickets can be picked up from the VVV tourist office.
Another must-see attraction is the Bonnefantenmuseum, an eclectic art museum. Its collection focuses on contemporary art, the Flemish ‘old masters’, such as Rubens and Van Dyck and even ancient artwork. A smattering of Italian paintings and a gorgeous set of Maastrciht silver art objects rounds out the offering.
Where to Stay in Maastricht
Given its location and great nightlife due to the local university, it is best to at least spend one night in Maastricht. The best budget choice is the StayOkay, whereas those looking to splurge might opt for the gorgeous Kruisherenhotel.
Located just 5 miles from the Maastricht rail station, the Hotel Chateau St Gerlach is a unique estate set in the Ingendael Wildlife Reserve. This former monastery was founded in 1201 and burned down in 1581. The baroque castle that you see today dates from 1713. Hotelier Camille Oostwegel bought the ruins of Château St. Gerlach for 1 Dutch Gulden and then proceeded to spend 26 million Guilders restoring the property. Today this beautiful chateau-hotel provides two fine dining restaurants, spas, a wellness center and a Roman-style indoor swimming pool. The extensive rose gardens and fruit trees make this a picturesque and tranquil retreat for a relaxing vacation.
There are 58 rooms and suites located in the farmhouse. Additionally there are 39 apartments (1-2 bedrooms) for families and longer stays that are located in the convent. I heartily recommend this hotel, but it is important to choose your room carefully. Some of the rooms in the Chateau are dark and not as large. Make sure to ask for the deluxe rooms with the floor to ceiling windows that face the gardens.
The apartments are very spacious and overlook the orchards. The hotel will also arrange babysitting services if requested. If you are staying in summer, make sure you ask for the rooms with air conditioning; not all rooms have it.
Also on the grounds is St Gerlachus Church which boasts stunning wall and ceiling paintings. The Château St. Gerlach Hotel restaurant offers French cuisine in a very elegant, formal, old world setting. Bistrot de Liège , a more informal choice, offers regular French fare for lunch.
The area of Maastricht lies among the hills of the Geuldal valley. There are many hiking paths and outdoor activities nearby such as golf, skiing, hot air balloon rides, boat trips, and horseback riding. The hotel offers bike rentals and picnic baskets for day trips as well.
The nearby towns of Maastricht, Aachen, and Liège, have many museums, shops and a host of interesting sights. They are easily accessible (10-15 minutes away) and the TGV goes to Liège from the main cities of Amsterdam and Paris. And from Liège you have easy access to the Maastricht Central Station. The museums of Maastricht offer fine collections from the old masters and the city has hosted International European Art Fairs. Note: most stores close Saturday evening at 6pm and don’t open until Monday afternoon — plan accordingly.
For a beautiful getaway without breaking the bank (rooms run about $250-$300 per night) consider the Chateau St Gerlach Valkenburg aan de Geul in Maastricht, Netherlands.
Written by Carla Scott for EuropeUpClose.com
Written by Andy Hayes, for EuropeUpClose.com