South Limburg

The Dutch sometimes call South Limburg (Dutch: Zuid-Limburg) a "piece of abroad in the Netherlands". Starting with Sittard in the north and covering the southern tip of the country from there, South Limburg sets itself apart through its un-Dutch hilly landscapes, embracing local culture and dialects. It's a popular holiday destination for Dutch and foreign tourists alike and generally considered one of the most beautiful parts of the Netherlands.

Bustling middle-point is of course the famous city of Maastricht, with its charming, Burgundian atmosphere and European allure. Nevertheless, the region has numerous other picturesque villages and historic towns worth a visit. Although it is of course a German town, the historic city of Aachen just across the border is widely considered part of the region's draws and strongly embedded in the tourist trail.

Cities

Traditional timber framed houses are a common and picturesque sight in many villages

Small towns

Understand

The gently rolling landscape that characterizes this region is caused by its location on the outskirts of the Belgian Ardennes and the German Eifel. With the 322.7 meters Vaalserberg being the highest point, the South Limburg hills aren't nearly as high as those low mountain ranges just across the borders. Nonetheless, it provides lovely scenic views and a strong contrast to the strikingly flat lands that define the rest of the Netherlands.The river Meuse runs through the region, from south to north. It is called Maas in Dutch and several towns, including the Limburgian capital Maastricht, are named after it. The Meuse depositions account for a large part of the South Limburg surface.

However, the touristic appeal of the region doesn't lie in its landscape alone. The South-Limburg countryside is dotted with charming villages, farms, ancient churches and a good number of castles. In many villages and most of the cities, old buildings in the historic centre remain. As it has been a relatively popular destination for many decades, tourism has become a main source of income for the region. Not only hotels and restaurants are plentiful, but attractions and events looking to entertain the many visitors are all around as well. In summer, small towns come to live and not a weekend goes by without another festival, fancy fair or cultural event happening somewhere.

History

The earliest evidence of human life in the Netherlands was found in the South-Limburg region, in the form of Neanderthaler camp remains near Maastricht. The oldest traces of farming in the Netherlands were also discovered in this region, where the fertile loess grounds led to farming initiatives long before the rest of the Netherlands. In Roman times the region was Romanized throughout. The Romans laid the foundations for Maastricht and Heerlen, now two of the main cities in South Limburg. Christianity was introduced in 384 by Servatius and would play a major role in the further history of the region. This later canonized bishop became the patron saint of the city Maastricht and his grave became a popular pilgrimage destination.

The mostly Catholic population of South Limburg, like the rest of Dutch and Belgian Limburg, strongly opposed its absorption by the Reformist Northern provinces and fought alongside the Spanish. Still today almost 75% of its population is Catholic, although ever fewer people actually practice their faith.

Throughout its history, South Limburg was a mostly rich and flourishing area. It was constantly disputed between regional duchies, the French, the Prussians, the Dutch and the Spanish. From around 1900 to the 1960s, the economy blossomed as coal mining activities developed. The closure of the mines in the mid 60's led to severe unemployment, as up to 15% of the population had been working for pr in the mines. In recent decades, the South Limburg administration has made strong investments to change and renew the local economy. Beside the fast development of tourism, the region has also tried to established itself as a European cooperation hub, especially focusing on its central position in the Meuse-Rhine Euroregion.

Talk

A large part of the South-Limburg population speaks a form of Limburgish, a dialect that shares many characteristics with both Dutch and German. People from different villages all speak their own specific variety of the dialect, but are still well able to communicate amongst each other. In villages and small towns you'll find that Limburgisch is the main colloquial language used by locals in every day life. This often extends to interaction with locals just across the German and Belgian border, as they too speak versions of Limburgish.

In the Netherlands, Limburgish has been recognised as an official regional language and it therefor enjoys a certain level of protection under chapter 2 of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. However, the validity of that status is an ongoing subject of debate among linguists.

Of course, Dutch remains the official language. You'll find that everyone speaks it, although many people do so with an accent. Virtually all written information (including menu's and signs) are in Dutch. As in the rest of the Netherlands, the command of English is fairly good and many Limburgish people also speak German rather well. In the main tourist destinations and especially in those close to the border, it's not uncommon to find menus and other information in German.

Get in

Getting in is easy as there are many road and public transport connections to the rest of the Netherlands, as well as to Germany and Belgium. If you're flying in, several small and large airports are within reasonable travel distance.

Air

Maastricht-Aachen Airport (IATA: MST ) is the only airport within the region itself, located about 9 km south-west of Maastricht in the town of Beek. It's mainly a cargo hub but also serves some (partly seasonal) international flights, operated by discount carriers and mostly headed to southern Europe. Summer time estinations include Antalya, Tenerife South, Alicante, Girona-Barcelona, Milan Malpensa, Faro, and Porto.

Locals often turn to other airports in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium to get in and out of the region. Some options (including travel times) are:

Train

If you're coming from the north, direct Dutch intercity trains lead to South Limburg from the direction of Amsterdam, Utrecht, 's Hertogenbosch and Eindhoven. Within the South Limburg region, fast intercity trains stop in Sittard, Maastricht and Heerlen. Regional trains and buses can take you further to several smaller towns. These regional trains are operated by Veolia, as are the buses.

From Brussel take an intercity train to Liège and change there for the regional trans border train to Maastricht. Furthermore, there's a regional train connection between Aachen (Germany) and Heerlen.

Car

Local roads make border crossing from Belgium or Germany straightforward. The main highway connections are listed below.

Bus

Maastricht is a stop on the Eurolines routes, allowing for bus travel to and from many parts of Europe. Their stop is at terminal H on the main bus station of Maastricht, which is right next to the train station. South Limburg is served by an extensive network of regional bus lines, reaching into every village and even many hamlets. As trains are not quite as widely available, buses will be useful to get in to a smaller destination, but to first arrive to the region from anywhere in the Netherlands, trains are usually more convenient. Head into Sittard, Maastricht or Heerlen, and take a bus from there.

Get around

The Miljoenenlijn is a purely touristic train connection, but a ride on it is a fun way to explore the region

There are plenty of options to make your way around. Biking and hiking are a popular way to see the best of the region, but if your time is limited you might consider renting a car. Bus and local train connections are a useful alternative as well.

Bus

Public bus transport is operated by Veolia . You can buy an OV-chipcard (a plastic card on which you can load a travel budget) on all bus and train stations. You can also purchase a ticket from the driver, but that will cost extra. The Euregioticket is a 16 euro dayticket, valid on all buses and on the regional Veolia Heuvelland train line (between Maastricht and Kerkrade). In weekends and holidays, this same ticket is valid for up to 2 adults and 3 children.

The bus network is extensive and will take to almost every village in the region. Use the national online 9292 journey planner to plan your trip .

Biking

You can rent a bike at tourist offices in larger towns but many hotels and campings offer bike rental as well. The tourist information offices have a full list of rental places, can assist you when renting and also have a range of routes and maps including trails for mountainbikers, through hamlets and towns, around asparagus fields and more. Take into account that the region is not as flat as the rest of the Netherlands and some stamina is required when using a traditional bicycle. For that reason, electrically supported bikes are an increasingly popular way to get around, allowing for all the benefits of biking, but making it a lot easier to climb the hills. Countless establishments on the road have installed charging points, allowing you to recharge your battery if needed, while you enjoy you lunch or coffee. Rates are typically around €25 per day and many smaller hotels can arrange for one to be delivered to you if you make arrangements in advance.

If you still don't feel up for biking, consider renting a vespa for the day in Maastricht . All tourist information points sell maps and routes. Also make sure to ask them about the good number of (free) marked routes available.

See

The castle of Hoensbroek is now a museum.
Thousands of American soldiers lie buried in Margraten

Castles, caves and fortifications

A good number of fortifications and castles remind the visitor of times long gone, when South Limburg's lands were scattered over many different fiefdoms, all with their own respective lords and manors. Even small villages boast fine examples of Ancien Régime housing and medieval strongholds. Some are now private property or not open for the public but others house upscale restaurants or even a museum. Some great examples are the large Kasteel Hoensbroek, (now a museum), the picturesque castle Schaloen in Valkenburg, the castles of Eijsden and Gulpen (all no entrance). The two castle buildings in Vaals and of course the main chateaus near Maastricht are beautiful and house restaurants and hotels. Quite something else, but with the same sense of force, are the different kinds of underground caves and mines. The casemate of Maastricht is a fine example of underground caves, cut out to hide people and weapons. In Valkenburg, not much remains of the city castle, but underground you'll find a full-fledged replica of Roman catacombs created in the extensive network of former marl quarries.

Museums & art

Maastricht is known as a centre of culture and arts and home to many arts galeries and events. There is also a good number of museums, some with a focus on arts, but also with collections on culture, history and nature. The Bonnefantenmuseum is the prime museum in the city, displaying modern and medieval arts from the area. The Museum aan het Vrijthof is smaller, but in a nice way intimate and home to a good collection on Maastricht history through arts and artefacts. The Natural History Museum is a whole different kind of museum, but quite interesting, also for kids. Other cities in the region have fine options too. In Kerkrade, the Discovery Centre Continium is a science museum with lots of things to do for kids. In Heerlen, there's the Thermenmuseum, diplaying the remains of Roman heritage in the area and foundations of Roman bathhouses.

Itineraries

The Mergelland route is perhaps the finest and best marked touristic route in the Netherlands, and an initiative of the Dutch Automobile Organization ANWB. There's a version for bikers (125 km) and one for motorized traffic (110 km). Many tourists pick just a piece of it or take the full route in parts. Of course you can find different accommodation for each part. If you're taking the route by car however, heading back to a single hotel every evening is an option as you're never more than half an hours drive away (if taking the main roads, of course). Any tourist information office can provide you with maps and more information.

Do

South Limburg landscapes are wide and rolling

Eat

With 8 Michelin stars awarded in just a 20 x 20 km area, South Limburg (and the Maastricht area in particular) maintain a reputation for fine dining opportunities. Notable restaurants include the 2 star restaurants Beluga in Maastricht and De Leuf in Ubachsberg. For a royal haute cuisine experience, try the 1 star restaurants in Chateau St. Gerlach or Chateau Neercanne.

Local cuisine

If your budget doesn't allow for such a splurge, a taste of traditional local cuisine is a good alternative. The laid-back restaurants on the town squares make an excellent place to try some of South Limburgs favorite local foods. Local cuisine is clearly influenced by those of nearby German and Belgian regions. You'll find a good deal of sweetness, and many sweet and sour dishes. The story goes that the use of sugar, apple syrup and other sweeteners resulted from the close ties of Maastricht and the surrounding area to Liège. As Liege was one of the main Belgian pâtisserie cities, young boys would grow up in a sweet environment. When they would grow up to be cooks later, they would integrate their love for sweet tastes in savory dishes.

Sweet dishes

Popular sweet treats include Limburgse vlaai, a pie or tart with a fruit or pudding filling, originally from the North Limburg city of Weert but a very common sweet dish here as well. Nonnevotten or poefelen are a deep-fried sweet pastry originally associated with carnival celebrations, but now available year round.

Drink

The impressive, terraced Château Neercanne is referred to as the "balcony of the Netherlands"

For long the South Limburg region has been known for its beer making traditions. Still today, a number of South Limburg breweries exist and produce beers that are popular throughout the rest of the country. The most prominent examples are the old Brand-brouwerij in Wijlre, de Gulpener-brewery in Gulpen, Leeuw-brewery in Valkenburg and the Alfa-brewery in Thull. Many bars in the region serve one of these beers as a standard beer and if you're interested the breweries themselves often offer beer tasting activities and tours.

Wine making is becoming increasingly popular in South Limburg. Experiments have been undertaken since the 1980s, trying to establish which grape varieties would be most suited for the local climate and soil. The Apostelhoeve near Maastricht is the largest vineyard in the Netherlands. Also notable is the vineyard of the beautiful Château Neercanne , again near Maastricht. This is the only Dutch vineyard with an actual castle, and able to use the term "Château". Its wines are available in the upscale castle restaurant.

Stay safe

Travellers will encounter no specific dangers here and common sense will generally be enough to keep you safe. For Dutch standards, Limburg is quite densely populated and petty crime numbers are in line with that. Drug-related crimes are slightly more widespread than in some other Dutch areas, due to Limburg's location on the German and Belgian border and the associated smuggling potential. If you do not seek contact with drug traffickers however, you are unlikely to notice any of it.

Pick pocketing isn't nearly as much of a problem as it is in e.g. Amsterdam, but keep an eye on your personal items nonetheless. As in other Dutch regions, you might meet an occasional wanderer on the streets, asking for small change. The social welfare system is pretty well arranged and begging (which is illegal) is often related to drug addiction. Kindly declining is usually enough to send them off. An exception are homeless people selling "street newspapers" ("straatkrant"), often at supermarket entrances. This is a legal and organized initiative in the Netherlands which you may support, but sellers should visibly be wearing an ID card.

Go next

The German city of Aachen is just at the other side of the border and makes a great daytrip. You can take a train from Heerlen or a bus from there, Maastricht or Vaals. To the Belgian side, Liège is close and well connected. To go further, train times from Maastricht include:

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Friday, November 13, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.