Castles in the Netherlands 18 – Kasteel Valkenburg

Kasteel Valkenburg  from Cauberg / Image from Wikipedia

The Dutch Wikipedia article about Valkenburg calls this castle the only “hoogteburch” in the Netherlands, i.e., the only real castle on a sort of height or hill, the sort found so often elsewhere in Europe, but not in this land of plains.

The town itself is found near Maastricht in the far south of the Netherlands, in the province of Limburg, which is like a wedge between N-E Belgium and Germany, almost precisely between Genk and Aachen (or just as near Liège if you like). The main road from Maastricht takes a motorist in an almost straight line (over the famous Cauberg) to the town, which can also be approached from there by train.

As I first cycled from Valkenburg to Oude-Valkenburg to visit the castles there, I came back in the valley of the Geul and first saw Berkelpoort, a part of the old town walls:P1140085To the left of these gates, we can already see some of the castle itself, towering above the town,P1140084from where stone steps lead up the hill among nice marl rocks, which partly gave the material to the walls of the castle from the 11th to the 17th century. It is a beautiful path but not really worth climbing as the castle cannot be accessed through the little gate up there, only after climbing downstairs and turning right again, missing most of the town.P1140091P1140090Better walk through the busy Grotestraat from Berkelpoort (above),P1140095make some plans about what else to see later and then head towards Grendelpoort,P1140096from where, keeping left, it’s real easy to reach the entrance to the castle. There are enough steps to climb here, but there’s also a huge new lift to take up those needing it.

Above, one arrives on a nice plateau with a restaurant and lots of room for sitting outside, and this terrace also provides great views of the town, first over Grendelpoort of course:P1140098 From here the visitor has a wonderful view of the outside of the inner castle:P1140100It is only here that we have to pay an entrance fee to the inner castle as everything is free up to this point. Then a long walk takes us around in two directions, both leading to further steps inside.P1140101P1140102.JPGThere’s a very good view, complete with Belkerpoort, over the inner city towards the north from these walls:P1140103.JPGThen we can visit what has remained of the former palace buildings after the French blew it up in the Dutch War in 1762: the chapel, the knights’ hall and some more.P1140107P1140112.JPGP1140108.JPGP1140109.JPGIn a corner of the knights’ hall, we can wonder why there are two such a huge piles of raw column basalt in the corner. But we can understand soon …P1140113.JPGFirst we may circle the area to have further views, for example towards the quarries and the Wilhelminatoren, which can be reached by cablecar as well as on foot.P1140116.JPGP1140114.JPGThen on towards the southern side of the palace remains:P1140117.JPGP1140120.JPGAnd it’s here that we can understand the huge columns of basalt:P1140122.JPGthat is, they were used for strengthening the inside of that walls as the outer surfaces of marl may not be strong enough to withstand attacks. They were now used for reconstructing some of the old walls of course.

From here we can look around the area towards the Casino on top of the Cauberg:

then we can head back into the palace to look around once again

before heading back to town. Enjoy your stay in Valkenburg!P1140123.JPGIf you are cycling, you can climb Cauberg instead of staying – but be prepared for a real steep climb. Afterwards, however, it’s real fast downhill to Maastricht, almost directly to the station to catch your train.P1140124.JPG

by P.S.

 

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Maastricht, the Netherlands

Maastricht, the Dutch city famous for the treaty of the EU signed here decades ago, is in a very far, Southern corner of the Netherlands, in the province of Limburgh, of which it is the capital, but at a distance of many hours of drive or train journey from almost everywhere, wedged between Belgium and Germany. As distance is translated into travel costs, I never really hoped to get there, but an action by HEMA, a chain store in the country, helped me out with a cheap offer (a quarter of the usual price) of day tickets I could tap into.

A few words of warning for tourists in order here. People other than residents of the Netherlands can only dream of receiving such deals except if the tourist has local friends. For a start, if you have internet access, you have to have a Dutch bank account to pay for the ticket as well. That’s a tall order, but foreign banks are not accepted. Then you need a printer to print the ticket after you’ve run the full gauntlet of the complicated procedure successfully. Further, be warned that the country is on the cusp of getting rid of paper tickets so you need to buy daily chip-cards to put money on before you get on a train. For the sake of the relatively large numbers of Dutch people visiting other countries, I wish other countries also introduce such systems almost fully shutting off travel possibilities so that they get an experience of their own medicine. With a venom. Talk about free travel in the EU.

Well, no problem for me, so I went to see this beautiful, intercultural city a few weeks ago, and to full satisfaction. One can hear as much French and almost as much German in the streets as Dutch, quite unlike anywhere else in the country, and it is a beautiful city on top of local hospitality. Its history goes back to the early middle-ages, which is reflected in a large part of the inner city and the ring around it, though there is not much as a surprise for continental Europeans.

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The inner city is dominated by a number of great churches, of which St. Servaasbasiliek is the oldest and most respected one with a wonderful collection of religious relics inside, some of which dating back to the 5th century as the city and this church was involved in the old Franc empire of the Karolings, Karel Martel, Karel de Grote, Barbarossa and others right after the fall of Rome.

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