Maastricht, Netherlands

Photo: Frans Berkelaar via flickr

Do your trips to the Netherlands only involve Amsterdam? You’re not alone. Despite being one of the most popular cities in Europe, few visitors leave the bustling capital to explore the rest of the country. Between the medieval center with its gabled buildings, the picturesque canals crisscrossed by more than 1,500 bridges, and the convergence of so much culture (art, bikes, cafés, history, etc.), it’s not surprising. But that doesn’t mean you should continue to ignore other Dutch cities.

Maastricht is a good place to start. It’s one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands (bested only perhaps by Nijmegen). It’s about as far from Amsterdam as you can get without leaving the country (the southeast province of Limburg is bordered by both Belgium and Germany). It straddles the Meuse (add the oldest bridge in the country and numerous waterfront parks and promenades). Plus its cobblestoned center is full of historic buildings (1,677 national heritage), enchanting cathedrals, respected universities, and international artwork.

The city was established in the Middle Ages. But history was not always kind. Maastricht grew from a Roman settlement into a medieval religious center. The Spanish and the Dutch fortified it. The French sieged it numerous times; it even became the capital of their Meuse-Inférieure department for 20 years. As part of the Netherlands, it transformed into an industrial city. Then the world wars arrived. The neutral Netherlands and its southernmost city took in tons of refugees during World War I. Germany overtook the city in the Battle of Maastricht during World War II; it later became the first Dutch city to be liberated by the Allied forces. Maastricht has been peaceful and forward-thinking—becoming the birthplace of the Euro and the European Union along the way—ever since.

Photo: Oostwegel Collection

So you approach Maastricht the same way you have Amsterdam. It’s with the hope of seeing both the historic and modern sides of the city. Kommelkwartier is a good place to start. Maastricht’s smallest quarter, just west of central Binnenstad, lies in between the first and second medieval walls. Kommelkwartier is a quiet neighborhood. It’s home to Maastricht University, national monuments, and former monasteries. One of the latter, the Crosier Monastery, was restored, renovated, and turned into Kruisherenhotel, a surprisingly stylish hotel.

The Crosier Monastery was one of the few surviving Gothic monasteries in the Netherlands. The church was built at the beginning of the 15th century. The monastery followed at the end. While the whole complex somehow survived all of the wars. Then, in 2005, the Kruisherenhotel opened. A modern copper entrance leads into the yellow-limestone church, where light filters through stained-glass windows. The reception area and a futuristic wine bar (return for homemade Limburgse vlaai pastries) are in the church’s original nave. A red runner leads through the vast space to the mezzanine apse at the end. This is now Kruisheren Restaurant, where classic white tablecloths are juxtaposed with flying-saucer chandeliers. A breakfast buffet, multi-course dinners, and local wine are served here. While pop-up art exhibits are scattered throughout the rest of the vast, open space.

Modern art is the focus of the hotel’s 60 rooms, as well. Huge, colorful murals spread across an entire wall in each room. The rest of the space was smartly left spare and minimal with exposed support beams, oak parquet floors, and Artemide lamps. Prestige rooms have king beds and Nespresso machines. Upgraded suites add whirlpool tubs and Zeppelin Air speakers. It’s easy to forget that monks once lived here. Now it’s time to go discover the rest of their gorgeous city.

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