Epen is a small town in South Limburg, the southern most region of the Netherlands. It's a picturesque little place that features some of the best landscape views in the country and is dotted with the timber framed houses that are so typical for this area.
For long, Dutch, Belgian and German tourists have discovered the beautiful surroundings of this region and of Epen in particular. Although only some 740 locals live in the village itself today, or 1120 when the surrounding area is added to that number, there are plenty of options to stay, eat and drink.
Epen is part of the municipality of Gulpen-Wittem, with Gulpen and Wittem obviously being the primary towns. The Belgian border is at walking distance, allowing for lovely cross-border hikes to the Belgian villages on the other side. The river Geul passes through Epen, leaving zinc and other specific elements in the soils it touches. It is therefore that Zinkviooltjes, a rare kind of violets, and other rare, zinc-loving plants are found here.
In medieval times, the Epen territory belonged to the Carolingian kings. First written evidence of the settlement dates back to 1041, when it is mentioned in an akt of the Roman king Hendrik under the name "Apine". In 1056 Hendrik, then German Emperor, gives a number of goods in "villa Apensis" to the abbey of Burtscheid, to which they belong until 1794. Some believe that poverty, due to the many passing armies and the effects of war, are the reason why so many timber framed houses in the area remain.
- VVV tourist information office, Julianastraat 15, ☎ +31 900-555 9798. The tourist information office has a good range of maps and other information. They can also assist in finding a place to stay.
There are basically 3 roads leading to the village, in the directions of nearby Vaals, Mechelen/Partij and Slenaken. Coming from the N278 (e.g. from Maastricht), leave that road at Partij and follow signs for Mechelen and Epen. The way is also indicated from Vaals, Vijlen and Gulpen. It's generally a pleasant drive with nice vistas.
There's no train station in the direct surroundings, but bus line 57 connects Epen to Gulpen and Maastricht. Therefore, when arriving by train, your best option is to take an intercity train to Maastricht an catch the bus from there. The nearest airport is also Maastricht-Aachen Airport.
Cycling is highly popular in this area, and if the slopes are not an issue for you, cycling in is a nice way to pick up some of the great scenery on the way. Routes are plentiful, with cycling directions provided on almost all way pointers (look for the red bike). For hikers, several walking routes avoid roads and concentrate mostly on forest paths the open fields.
To see the best of town, you'll have to see the outskirts and the surrounding natural areas and hamlets. Hiking is a great way to enjoy some peace and quiet as well a good views, since you can take the many small walking paths around. However, prepare for a fairly long and at times tiring hike through the hilly area. The same goes for exploring Epen's surroundings on a normal bike. Alternatively, reserve an electric bike from Wingbergermolen (Terpoorterweg 4, +31 (0)43-4559110, . A car is another good option, but you'll need to head to Valkenburg, Maastricht or Heerlen to rent one.
- Sint Paulus Bekering, Wilhelminastraat 3. The village church is dedicated to St. Paulus and still in use. It was build in 1840-1841.
- Timber framed houses. Timber framed houses that are typical for South Limburg, are especially common in Epen and the surrounding villages. You'll see them when you walk around. The Wilhelminastraat has several, some of them being national heritage sites.
- Eper Molen (Wingbergermolen), Terpoorterweg 4. This watermill along the river Geul was built in 1844, but renovations in the 20th century changed the looks of it.
- Volmolen, Plaatweg 1, Plaat. This 18th century watermill on a side stream of the Geul was originally build as a fulling mill. It is located in the hamlet of Plaat, near Epen. It was part of the then blooming cloth industry in Vaals. In the 1830's, after not being used for years, a German by the name of Johann Wilhelm Kannengiesser changed it into a wool spinning mill. After it was destroyed twice in fires, it was sold and changed into a grain mill. Following the Second World War, the mill became abandoned. In the 1970's, it was renovated and brought back into action as a grain mill, which it still is today.
- Touring. The obvious activity around and the main reason for many tourists to come to Epen. By bike, electric bike, vespa or car - touring the surroundings with the occasional stop for a picture, picnic or coffee is a lovely thing to do.
- Hiking. Another highly popular way to see the best of this area is simply on foot. The tourist information office has routes and maps for any kind of hike: from just a few, till a hundred kilometer or more.
- Sheep shepherd, Julianastraat 41b, ☎ +31 43 455 1650. There's a sheep shepherd farm just outside Epen. In winter and early spring, the sheep are inside, where they have theirs lambs. In summer, they help in the maintenance of the surrounding grass fields. In January, you can witness the shaving of the sheep (check the website for dates). Not much later the first lambs are born. You can visit on weekends during this period. The shepherd gives group demonstrations in summer (but you have to call ahead) and there's a small shop.
At the sheep shepherd's farm, a range of wool products are for sale. The tourist information offices sells some souvenirs and regional products.
- Bakkerij Fransen, Wilhelminastraat 63a, ☎ +31 434551522. The local bakery sells a good range of breads and pastries, including several varieties of the regional "vlaai", a sweet pie filled with fruit or custard.
- Spar Supermarket, Wilhelminastraat 15. 8.30-18.00, Sa: 8.30-17.00, closed on Su. The supermarket is fairly small but it has all daily needs.
There are quite many places that cater to visitors here. Most serve simple but good bistro-style food and some have excellent views. Note that some places may close early or even entirely in winter.
- Taverne Wingbergermolen, Terpoorterweg 4, ☎ +31 43 455 91 10. Housed in an ancient water mill, this charming place serves simple but good food. Try the regional stew: zuurvlees. Wingbergermolen also rent out two group accommodation apartments for 6 -8 people. mains around 14 EUR.
- Panorama Restaurant Gerardushoeve, Julianastraat 23, ☎ +31 43 455 17 93. It's the beautiful view that attracts so many travelers to this place, but the food is reasonable too. The service is fast and the terrace fills up quickly. The restaurant is part of a 3 start hotel. mains from 15 EUR.
- De Pannekoek, Julianastraat 26, ☎ +31 43 455 20 24. A pancake restaurant, as they are common in the Netherlands. You'll find a broad range of sweet and savory pancakes as well as typical Dutch poffertjes. from 5 EUR.
- Bij Giuseppe (Situated within Hotel Eureka), Kapelaan Houbenstraat 4, ☎ +31 43 4551654. Closed on Tu&W. The local Italian restaurant is actually quite good and has a nice outdoor terrace. Inside it's a bit less cosy but it's still a fine pick if you're craving some Italian dishes. The service is nice too. They now make their own ice cream on the premises, at least 12 flavours to choose from. Pizza around €10.
- De Krieëkel, Krekelstraat 2, ☎ +31 43 4552200. This place is home to a snack corner and, next door, a small restaurant. The restaurant has a simple menu but tasty food and the service is nice. They can't offer the grand views some other places have, but this is a good option if you're trying to watch your budget. Mains from €13,25.
Most of the terraces make for excellent places to just have a drink, and outside of the main lunch and diner hours, you'll be more than welcome to sit down for a beer. There is a cosy local café, but for any serious night life you should try Aachen or Maastricht.
- Café Sport, Wilhelminastraat 13, ☎ +31 434551520. Closed on Wednesdays. This is a real gathering point for the locals, and several clubs have their weekly meetings in the large room behind the main bar area. It serves over 20 brands of beer, with at least 5 on tap. There's a large parking space close by.
There are plenty of lodging options in Epen and the villages and hamlets around. Camping is very popular around here, with camping grounds varying from basic ones with 5-10 places to large ones with lots of facilities. Chalets, advertised as "vakantiehuis(jes)", are also common. The best ones are booked full rapidly so if possible, try to book months in advance. Especially if you're travelling with a group or family, camping or chalets are convenient and good-value options. Nevertheless, if you prefer a hotel, pension or bed&breakfast, you'll find those as well. Again, try to book in advance. As in most tourism-oriented places, accommodation prices generally rise in high-season.
- Wandelhotel In 't groene dal, Wilhelminastraat 68, ☎ +31 43-4551307. Simple, clean rooms in a friendly hotel that is popular among hikers. Some rooms have private bathrooms but others don't, so ask when you make your reservations. from 64 EUR for a double.
- Hotel Inkelshoes, Terzieterweg 26, ☎ +31 43-4551742. A small distance from Epen, near the hamlet Terziet, this friendly family-run hotel offers good rooms with private bathrooms and balconies. from 45 EUR p.p..
- Ons Krijtland, Julianastraat 22, ☎ +31 43 - 455 15 57. This place has been around since 1931 and offers luxurious hotel rooms and apartments for up to 6 people, some with a great view. Doubles from 97 EUR, apartments from 150EUR..
- Hotel de Kroon, Wilhelminastraat 8, ☎ +31 434552120. Open since 1902, this hotel is run by a friendly family and has a comfortable lounge bar with adequate seating and a number of large colour TV's to watch sport or the news in both Dutch or English. A games room is situated at the rear part of the hotel and there's a designated outside smoking area with seating and tables. Several games, including 'Darts and 3 ball Dutch Billiards', are available and are used by both hotel guests and local visitors. The bar has a variety of draught beers/lager to choose from, including local brew. From €104 for a double incl. breakfast, €94 if you stay at least 2 nights.
- Hotel Creusen, Wilhelminastraat 50, ☎ +31 434551215. This 4 star hotel is one of the larger hotels in town, but still has that typical family-hotel feel. They offer normal hotel rooms and good value apartments with kitchens. The owners are nice and the rooms are modern and spacious. There's a swimming pool, a small sauna, a restaurant and a very pleasant garden terrace. From €100 per night for a hotel room or €135 for a weekend apartment.
- Camping Oosterberg, Oosterberg 2, ☎ +31 43 4551377. This well-equipped camp ground has some wonderful views over the area. It also offers a cosy indoor space and cafeteria, playgrounds and free pony rides for the kids and good, new sanitary facilities. Per night: €2.75 for tent or caravan, plus €3.95/2.50 per adult/child, €0.95 p.p. environmental tax and €2.70 for a car. Hot water, laundry facilities and electricity come at a (small) charge as well..
There's good GSM coverage and 3G works quite okay in the village. Most hotels offer WiFi for their guests.
All the usual post office services, including packages, are offered inside the Tourist information office (Julinanastraat 15). If you're just looking for stamps, you can also get them at the Spar supermarket ( Wilhelminastraat 15)
The whole region is popular with visitors and there's plenty of interesting next stops. Vaals, Vijlen and Gulpen are charming destinations in the direct surroundings of Epen, but go just a bit further and you'll find yourself in bustling, historic Maastricht or its German equivalent, Aachen.