Maastricht Travel Guide
Much of the local cuisine has distinctly French characteristics as does the lifestyle, but unlike most of France the people of Maastricht are amongst the friendliest in all Europe. First impressions are of a City with welcoming character and charming atmosphere. The architectural mish mash of ancient Roman, Spanish, Germanic and Dutch lends the City an air of timelessness. It is quite easy to forget where in the world you actually are. To say Maastricht is picturesque is an understatement. Along winding cobble streets stand elegant 16th and 17th century houses, beautifully decorated with colourfully painted doorways and shutters, the window boxes crammed with cascading flowers. Vrijhof Square is the City’s heart both geographically and socially. A bustling meeting place surrounded by trees and terraces it certainly deserves its nickname of ‘Living Room of Maastricht’. On the west side of the Square stands the imposing St.Servaaskerk, the oldest church in Holland. This magnificent 10th century basilica contains a priceless collection of sacred artefacts in its unique treasure chamber; these include objects used in public worship, reliquaries, paintings, figurines, old eastern fabrics and ivory carvings. Next to St.Servaaskerk is the church of St.Jan an impressive gothic building, its thin reddish tower keeping watch over the busy square below.
As you’d expect from a City that has been around for over 2000 years there’s much of a historic nature within the crumbling Roman city walls. Bonnefantenmuseum contains a fascinating collection of archaeological treasures from the Province of Limburg including wooden sculptures from the middle ages. There’s also an impressive exhibition of Italian and Flemish paintings and a section devoted to the City’s history. In the cellars of the Hotel Derlon as a museum dedicated predominantly to Roman finds from the 2nd and 3rd centuries including a well, part of a pre Roman cobblestone road and sections of a 4th century wall and gate. In the Natural history museum you’ll find fossils of all shapes and sizes; pride of place being taken by the remains of enormous Mosasauriers and Giant turtles discovered in marlstone at the St.Pietersberg caverns.
A visit to Maastricht simply must include a trip to the Caves of Mount St.Pietersberg. This man made labyrinth is the result of centuries of marlstone excavation (a material used to construct of the local buildings). Within the 20,000 plus passages there are countless inscriptions left over the years by stone hewers, some of them very old indeed. There are also strange and often quite beautiful pieces of artwork, obviously left by workers who filled their rest periods dreaming of better places to be. Above land, at the northern point of the mountain, is Fort St.Pieter, built between 1701 and 1702. An impressive pentagonal structure it consists to two major galleries at its centre, with a circumferential gallery around its five sides. From the ramparts you can enjoy magnificent views of the City and the surrounding countryside.
Maastricht has several festivals each year. The Easter Festival is essentially a celebration of music of all kinds and draws musicians and dancers from the UK and USA as well as all over the Netherlands. Preuvenement is a food festival that takes place during 4 days in August. Chefs from local restaurants and those in the vicinity gather in Vrijhof Square to demonstrate their culinary skills. Over 160,000 visitors come to this, the largest outdoor event of its king in Holland, to sample delicious dishes, drink wine and learn a few culinary secrets. The most important date on the festive calendar, however, is Carnaval. Like Mardi Gras this takes place during the days leading up to lent. As you’ll know Lent is the traditional time of fasting and the word carnaval can be traced to this - ‘carna’ meaning ‘eating meat’ and ‘val’ meaning ‘falling away’. The festivities kick off with the parading through the town of a giant puppet known as the wife. This is followed by 3 days of more or less non-stop drinking, dancing and general revelry during which times the streets never completely empty.
The people of Maastricht have a reputation for knowing how to have a good time and this is reflected in the fact that the City has more bars per capita rating than any other city in the Netherlands. As you would expect with their nearest neighbours being Belgium and Germany the choice of beers is simply incredible with some bars having as many as 90 different brews on offer. The nightlife is generally lively with clubs and discos staying open until 2.00am to 5.00am.
Eating out in the City is also a great experience. There are some wonderful restaurants serving probably the very best cuisine that Holland has to offer. The French influence is undeniable with many comparing the food to that of Burgundy. Of course you don’t have to splash out cordon bleu style (although I would recommend letting fly with your cash it at least once), as there are plenty of inexpensive ‘eetcafes’ scattered throughout the City. Here you’ll get a choice of beautifully prepared and very toothsome food, served in a cosy, tasteful and easy-going atmosphere. Of course wherever you dine you’ll be treated to that special Maastricht welcome and warm hospitality.
The proximity of Maastricht to its neighbouring countries combined with its mild climate and the fantastic public transport system in Holland all conspires to make it a ‘must visit’ City. Even spending a day or two here is well worth it. It’s not for nothing this is regarded as the Netherlands most beautiful city. A reputation, you will discover, that runs much deeper than any simple aesthetic pleasures.
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