Nice weather in the forecast plus a couple of days off, time to see which 3 easy-going yet fun things there are to do around Maastricht. The most southern part of the country that feels as if you’re abroad, what’s not to like?
Not only will the weather be good and are we looking for a nice get-away, it also helps that we still have a free night to spend. One of the best things of finding road trip accommodation through the same website (hotels.com in this case) is perks like this It doesn’t mean that I blindly book through them, I’ll still always look for the best deal around. But, if and when I find it and I can book it through one of the sites where I have an account, that’s exactly what I do.
In Maastricht I found a hotel close (enough) to the center and the day after we arrive, we explore some of the things we haven’t seen around this lovely city.
1) The highest point
The sun is out, the air is crisp and the trees are in colourful attire, in short a beautiful fall day. A short 25-minute drive from the City of Maastricht we make it to the Netherlands’ highest point. Where most of the country lies below sea level, the province of Limburg where Maastricht is located gradually rises.
The entire feel of the surroundings is different from the rest of the Netherlands too. Here you can imagine yourself strolling through the French Provence. The light seems warmer, the colours brighter.
The highest point of the Netherlands, the Vaalserberg, is part of a range that stretches out through Belgium and Germany on either side and is 322.4 meters. Three cone-shaped poles signal the specific point.
Looking around, it is around 10 in the morning and quiet. With the now abandoned turn stalls, the closed maze and the many snack shacks, it is all too easy to imagine how busy it’d be in high season.
About 50 meters from the highest point, there’s another highlight here, the tri-border point between the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany. It’s one of the 176 in the world but other than the majority of those occurrences, this one is on land. And thus tangible and part of many, many selfies ;o).
2) The nicest- Walking abroad
The sun shines through the very tall trees. Crisp yet musty air due to the range of green, yellow, orange and red leaves both on the trees or the ground. It all beckons to be explored. Just beyond the tri-border point, a number of trails and paths start. Some trails will take up to a day to follow but there are others too. Something to everyone’s availability in terms of time, or ability.
There are three ‘short’ routes, with the shortest being 1.7km long. We opt to walk the 4.4km middle distance since the longest of 7km would take too long for our plans. Off we go, across the border from Belgium where we have a great view over the valley on the one side, into Germany for a walk.
The route is beautiful, hilly and easy going. Part of the trail also is a discovery trail and along the way we jump on a massive platform set on springs. Jumping and laughing make for a difficult combo without nearby toilets (!).
We take turns guessing what the different paw marks of animal indigenous to the area look like. And we see what our lung capacity is like when we take part of the yellow (short) route back up to one of the 3 parking lots. That hill is steep!
3) The Darkest – Underground
The weather is just perfect today. After our walk, we drive back towards Maastricht and the St Pietersberg and the fort in particular. Here we’ll take part in a walk through the marlstone caves today. It’s fun to realize that even though we’ve known about these highlights for a long time we only now get to experience them. We’re very much looking forward to our cave explorations.
First, though we’re in need of some sustenance and thus sit down at the Monte Nova cafe for something to drink and a couple of snacks. That done we line up and wait for our group to assemble and the tour to start. Right on time, our guide Chantal (from Maastricht Underground) meets us and immediately wins the kids’ hearts by giving them each a task. To hold flashlights in the shape of lanterns, keep time and help count our group members to ensure as many make it out as into the underground space.
We’re a fairly big group and take the Dutch tour. Right after our entrance, we duck to make it underneath the low hanging rocks. Chantal lets the kids decide whether we go left or right and thus what we’ll be able to see in the hour.
To be or not to be…a cave
She is a well of information and starts off by dispelling our ideas of being in actual caves, we’re not. Caves are pockets in the earth usually formed by a combination of movement, gasses, and sedimentation that is washed away by water. In this case, the tunnels are man-made over a long period of time.
The area was formed by what once was a sea that dried up, followed by the washing away of the softer sediments around the rocky ground we’re in. The ground itself was formed by the compression of layers of shells and other materials that formed at a rate of 1cm per 1000 years.
It is hard to imagine as we see the dust around us and hear and feel the crustiness underneath our feet, but the humidity down here is actually 97%. Chantal takes as to a couple of iron bars that are part of a barrier around Fred’s hole (when you go, ask about it). We first touch the walls around us because… 97% humidity, really? It doesn’t feel like it, it doesn’t look like it. But, touch the underside of the iron poles and the drops on your hand tell you otherwise.
So much to learn
We learn about the why of these tunnels being dug out by 1 m3 per day and the fact that those blocks were left on the fields to dry out. By doing that, they lost about half their weight but gained in strength and thus were good as building material.
- That monks and their learned ways of digging resulted in a differing maze pattern;
- How this area was of use to the resistance during the Second World War and how our Belgian neighbours who were way more advanced helped;
- What and how the Mosasaurus found here helped along with studies in the anthropological fields;
- That horse-drawn carts made it through the tunnels;
- It was freely accessible until 1996 and there are many drawings to attest to that;
- What a the ‘curse line’ is and how it got its name;
- How dark it truly is when you switch off every light;
- What other uses this dark place served and still serves (think treasure and vegetables);
- How French gunpowder stacked to the roof of the ceiling still barely made an impact when it detonated;
- And many, many, many other fun and interesting facts.
Though I’d love to tell you more about all the fun or amazing knowledge we gleaned from this visit, I wouldn’t do it justice. Plus, some things you have to see and experience for yourself.
The hour was just right, as by that time, that humidity starts to make it through your clothes and into your bones.
Fall sunset in Maastricht
In time to make it back to the city and see the early sunset. On days like these you get to see the sun in each beautiful way.
We’re a week early for the Christmas market to be open in the centre but the lights are up, and the atmosphere at dusk is festive. It’s our final stroll for the day around the historic centre. Afterward, we make it back to the hotel for dinner and some well-deserved R&R.
3 easy-going yet fun things to do around Maastricht and what a glorious day it was.
Make sure to make it here sometime soon!
Maastricht has so much to offer. Anything, in particular, you’d want to do?