Monday, 15 February 2010

Going South: Maastricht, the most beautiful

Part of the medieval walls that used to protect the city of Maastricht

Apparently, it all started when, right at the beginning of thre present era, the Romans drove the Celtic tribes out of this area of Limburg and built a bridge across the river Meuse (Maas, in Dutch language) . Maastricht or Mestreech in the local dialect, is the oldest city in The Netherlands and also the most beautiful I've visited so far.

The Stadhuis or Town Hall of Maastricht, built between 1659 and 1664 by Pieter Post.

The Hell's Gate or Helpoort in Dutch, is part of the original city walls built in the 1200s.

Maastricht is a great place to discover on foot or even by bike if you are up for the challenge (not me!). Its historic city centre is like an open museum where you can see traces of its Roman beginnings, remains of the medieval fortified city and religious centre of pilgrimage that it once was, and also vestiges of its importance as the oldest labour and industrial town in The Netherlands.

Vrijthof Square with the building of the General Guard in the centre of the picture; and St. Servatius Basilica and St. Jan's Church in the background.

St. Servatius Basilica - construction of this church began around the year 1000.

But Maastricht does not only have great appeal for those interested in history and fancying a ride in the time machine. Besides its impressive monuments, Maastricht has a very rich cultural life with a variety of museums, art galleries, performing arts schools and an events calendar that is quite impressive.
Among the latter, two of the most important events of the year are the Carnival or Vasteloavend -which is an extremely popular holiday in Maastricht; and Winterland Maastricht, a Christmas market and kermesse held during the Christmas season.

A good idea is to take a boat cruise and get a different view of the city from the river Maas.

A view of the city taken from the river Maas druing our boat trip.

The Hoge Brug (High Bridge) as seen from the river - the pedestrian and bicycle suspension bridge communicates the old city with the trendy area known as Céramique.

Maastricht is also known as "the culinary capital of capital of The Netherlands", due to its reputation for gastronomic excellence. Almost everysort of cuisine can be found here and five of the city's restaurants have been awarded with Michelin stars over the years.

This is not a Michelin-star establishment, but right in the centre of the old city, on the Vrijthof Sq., I found this Argentinean restaurant.

Not that this has anything to do with fine dining, but it is a typical sight here in The Netherlands: people eating chips with loads of mayo.

If you enjoy shopping and you like spending some coin on trendy outfits and accesoires, a walk along Wyckerstraat, Maastrichterbrugstraat and the Grotestraat will put you right in the middle of shopping paradise. There is also a new shopping centre, the Mosae Forum, located on the banks of the river Maas; and between the Vrijthof square and the Market, you will find Entre Deux, a complex that, besides known national and international chains also includes a very unique bookshop located in an old Dominican Church.

The Mosae Forum shopping arcade which opened in 2007 in the heart of the old city.
©Nicolás Garmendia photos.

An original building in the historic city centre of Maastricht. The crack in the wall, marks where the old city walls used to stand.

By courtesy of Brian Hill, I can show you photos of the wonderful Dominican church that now houses the Selexyz bookshop. As Brian put it in his photo gallery, "a bookshop made in Heaven"... You can see a couple more photos of this place by clicking on the link above that will take you to his photo stream.

Selexyz bookshop in the Entre Deux shopping complex in Maastricht. ©Brian Hill photos.

Historic church turned into a modern bookshop. ©Brian Hill photos.

Unfortunately, when my husband and I visited Maastricht last year on Palm Sunday, the weather was really awful most of the time. It was drizzling and rather cold in the morning while we were taking our walking tour in the historic city centre; then the sun broke out for a while during our boat trip along the river Maas; and later, it started to pour down heavily and looked as if it was going to last forever.
At this point, we were already soaked through and tired so we gave up and decided to get in the car and drive back to our hotel in Valkenburg.

It started pouring down with rain while we were walking in the shopping area in the city centre of Maastricht.

A coffee terrace on Vrijthof Square during the summer.
©Nicolás Garmendia photos.

Despite liking the city so much and having still so much to explore and to see there, we haven't yet been able to go back, but I have placed Maastricht on the top of my list of places to visit again this coming spring/summer.

Yoy may also like to read:
Going South: a trip to Valkenburg, in the Burgundian province of Limburg.


Many thanks to both, Nicolás Garmendia and Brian Hill for allowing me to post their photos in this blog.