Spend a weekend in Valkenburg, the hilliest place in the Netherlands

Disclaimer: with most of Europe back in some type of lockdown as we fight the second wave of coronavirus, why not bookmark this post for a trip next year.

If you’re a cycling fan like me, Valkenburg means one thing – the Cauberg. The most famous summit in one of the Spring Classics, the Amstel Gold Race which takes place every April (global pandemics permitting, it was cancelled in 2020). Yes, there are hills in the southern Dutch province of Limburg and they’re a tough challenge for even the fittest elite cyclists. In fact the gently rolling hills of Limburg have more than a passing resemblance to Tuscany in some places. You’ll also find some French influence in the castles and an architectural style quite different to other parts of the Netherlands!

If you’re thinking of visiting Valkenburg a long weekend is ideal, but you can easily spend a week in the area if you want to add on trips to the charming city of Maastricht or enjoy some cycling or walks through the countryside.

What to see and do in Valkenburg

Valkenburg is a small fortified town with a pedestrianised centre, so it’s easily accessible on foot. You can take a train to the oldest train station in the Netherlands, a 10 minute walk from the town centre. Valkenburg has been a popular holiday destination for the Dutch since the 19th century but its roots stretch back much further. The Romans mined the hills over 2,000 years ago, leaving caves that can still be visited today – at last count there were three or four open to the public around the town.

The best place to start your visit is Valkenburg castle, the only castle on a hill in the whole of the Netherlands. Visit early in the day (it opens at 10am) to beat the crowds and have the whole place to yourself. There’s a great view over the town and the surrounding area. The castle dates back to the 11th century and even has a secret escape tunnel to nearby caves.

Make your way down from the castle to the main town square on Theo Dorrelplein, next to the Geulpoort. There are a couple of nice cafes here to enjoy a drink or a piece of vlaai (a Limburg pastry tart with a fruit filling) by the river. We even saw a guy standing in the river fly-fishing!

Once you’ve passed through the city gate, turn right along Pelerinstraat and onto Kerkstraat. Here you’ll find Kasteel Den Halder and the city walls, prettily landscaped with a pond and stepping stones for big or small kids to enjoy.

Turn left along Wilheminalaan and follow the road up until you see the Stadstor, another medieval city gate on your left.

There are a lot of cafes and restaurants along this street but the quality is variable so do your research. Follow Muntstraat to the end until you reach the final city gate Berkelpoort, back at the foot of the castle again. Still after more views? Carry on along the street to the cable car where you can also enjoy a summer toboggan run!

If you’re up for a walk or a cycling fan like me, it’s time to climb the Cauberg. Retrace your steps back to the Stadstor and then walk straight uphill onto the Cauberg. It’s steep but not unmanageable to walk (cycling is a different story!). Keep walking to the holiday park on the left at the summit to see the famous ‘Col du Cauberg’ sign, it’s easy to miss.

Feeling hungry? Retrace your steps back down to the bottom of the hill, then turn left along Plenkertstraat – there’s an excellent restaurant along here called De Bistro (also listed as Brasserie Leonardus as it recently changed its name) which does delicious fish dishes, so good we ate there twice!

If you fancy hiring a bike or seeing a bit of cycling history, carry on along the street to the Shimano Experience centre.

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