Valkenburg – The Christmas Town of Holland
There are only a few towns in the Netherlands which fully turn into Christmas towns, and Valkenburg (not to be confused with the town in South Holland) is undoubtedly the most noticeable one. Far down south, almost on the border with Belgium and Germany, Valkenburg aan de Geul is nestled between the green hills of South Limburg and boasts some of the most famous Christmas markets of the country.
Underground Christmas markets
Each December, the caves of ´The Christmas Town of Holland´ get turned into huge underground Christmas markets. Wooden stalls, Christmas lights and live Christmas music create a magical scene that attracts thousands of visitors each year. If you plan to make a visit next year, make sure to book far in advance, as the event is highly popular and quickly fully booked. Check out the official website for more information.
This year, I visited Valkenburg on the Dutch Second Christmas Day (known in other countries as Boxing Day) and most of the Christmas markets where already closed for this year. Only the market at one of the atmospheric squares was left. However, the ambiance in this small town in South Limburg is always great and very ‘gemütlich’ as they would say in German. Terraces quickly filled up with people, eating and drinking, and enjoying the gorgeous Christmas decorations in town.
A castle, underground chapel and Roman catacombs
A castle ruin is impressively set on top of a hill and can be visited, just as the caves in town. The two caves most interesting to visit – all-year-round – are Velvet Cave (Fluwelengrot) and Town Cave (Gemeentegrot). Two old limestone caves, they both offer different experiences to guests. While Town Cave features art dating back 2000 years, Velvet Cave was used during Second World War as a hiding place and even houses a underground chapel. The extensive labyrinth of tunnel system in Valkenburg is over 200km (124miles) in length.
Other activities, such as ghost tours and ‘cave biking’ – literally mountain biking inside the caves – are also great ways to spend your day in underground Valkenburg (talking out of experience!). Or what about a visit to the Roman Catacombs?
Speeding down the hill
This Second Christmas Day, our visit also brought us to a cable car that led up to the Wilhelmina Tower and the adjacent alpine coaster. And for old memories’ sake, I took a ride down the hill of course. The view from the top of this hill (68m) over the other South Limburg’ landscape is quite a sight!
Burgundian South Limburg
For the ones who don’t like to enter dark caves, or go on an alpine coaster, there are plenty of other activities on offer. South Limburg is famous for its Burgundian lifestyle, which means that the eating and drinking options are endless. Craft beer and delicious dishes are available from one of the tens of cafes and restaurants.
Still high on my list of things to do is a visit to Thermae 2000 – the most famous wellness center in the Netherlands. And a hike I took last year in this region’s hills convinced me: life is good in this part of the country!