Vaals, Netherlands

Photo: Romaine (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
You’re standing atop the highest point in the Netherlands. It took a bike ride up Viergrenzenweg and a walk through the largest shrub maze in Europe to reach the top of Vaalserberg. But you’re finally standing on the watchtower. From here, you can see the Dutch city of Vaals, the German city of Aachen, and the Ardennes and Eifel mountain ranges. You feel like you’ve conquered Western Europe.

Vaalserberg isn’t only the highest peak in the Netherlands. It’s also the point where the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany meet. Many border tripoints are inaccessible and unmarked. The meeting points are often in rivers or on high mountains. Not here. Besides a stone pillar, the site is home to Drielandenpunt, a park with cafes, a shop, and that high-hedged maze, in which the patterns of two lions and an eagle—representing the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany, respectively—can be deciphered.

You spend most of the afternoon exploring Drielandenpunt and taking photos of the gorgeous view, before strapping on your helmet to ride back down the mountain. Mountain is actually a generous term. At just above 1,000 feet above sea level, the Germans only consider it a hill. It makes for an easy ride back down to Vaals, a small city that’s considered a suburb of Aachen. In Vaals, you find a Neo-Gothic church, a couple of art museums, and a regional market, where jam and mustard are sold. Your reason for staying is the castle in the center of town.

Photo: Van der Valk Hotels

Kasteel Bloemendal, a Neoclassical mansion, sits in between townhouses in Vaals. It was built in the late-18th century and, after its owner died, became a monastery and then a military hospital. The small castle is now a hotel. That’s right, you get to sleep in a castle tonight. The luxurious castle rooms are modern and comfortable. They have Swiss Sense beds, soft fabrics in the sitting areas, and built-in desks and entertainment centers. There are whirlpool tubs and walk-in rain showers in the bathrooms. Not that you’re ready to call it a day yet.

After quickly changing out of your athletic gear, you head back outside for a glass of wine or maybe Cava. There’s rattan furniture, bright orange umbrellas, and newly potted plants on the stone terrace. It overlooks a landscaped garden and sculptures. You’ll relax here until it’s time to move inside for dinner. The restaurant is showcasing fresh asparagus right now. You’ll start with asparagus panna cotta or asparagus cream soup and move on to a sautéed fillet of sea bream plated with bright steamed asparagus. The only course that won’t feature the spring vegetable is dessert. But the lemon tart with meringue and raspberries is perfectly seasonal, as well. It’s a meal fit for a king, especially one who has conquered so much today.


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