The town now lies aside from all the more important lines of traffic, in the extreme S. portion of Limburg, projecting into German and Belgian territory, and owes its present prosperity entirely to its manufactures (pottery, glass, crystal, paper, and beer).Baedeker’s Belgium and Holland (1905)
Europe has just as many quirky borders as it does quirky bathrooms, toilet flushing mechanisms, and light switches, and the border between Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany offer several that must create complicated identity crisises. One of these is in the vicinity of the Dutch city of Maastricht, or Mestreech, in the local Limburgish dialect.
You know that thingie that hangs down from the back of your throat called the uvula? If the intersection of the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium was like the throat of Europe, then Maastricht would be on the uvula. The uvula is what keeps the throat lubricated and prevents food and beer from shooting up your nose when you swallow. It is then somewhat appropriate that in 1992, the economy of Europe was lubricated and protected against shooting inflation when the signing of the Maastricht Treaty created the Euro currency.
While you are considering how unexpected a uvula reference is in a travel blog, note that Maastricht’s unique location gives it historically much more in common with the neighboring cities of Aachen, Germany and Liege, Belgium than the better known Dutch tulip cities like Delft, Den Haag, and Amsterdam. This is Charlemagne country which makes it all the more appropriate that the re-unification of Western Europe happened here… 1200 years after Charlemagne became the Father of his own version of unified Western Europe.
So what better way to celebrate the Euro than to spend a few of them enjoying the prosperity of a city which depends a lot on beer, at least in 1905. In 2020, Maastricht’s beer culture seems much more like a modern revival than one characterized by distinguished old beer. Maastricht will probably forever be relegated as a hidden gem to the outside world, but it has a lot of character within its old city walls, fortifications and unique churches.
Onze Lieve Vrouwkerk
Outside the city is a well-known hiking paradise with the nearby Fort Sint Pieter situated on Sint Pietersberg. Sint Pietersberg is more of a plateau than a mountain, and it is the site of the impressive remnants of a limestone quarry which today is a nature reserve. The area is criss-crossed with hiking trails and makes for a perfect warmup for diving into the Maastricht beer culture.
|Starting / Ending Point||Maastricht Train Station|
|Total Moving Time||3:39|
It’s Not Just a Beer, It’s a Journey
As you head out on this hike, you get a good look at the 13th century Sint Servaisbrug, the oldest pedestrian bridge in the Netherlands. You will cross over this on the final leg of this journey to visit two of the city’s breweries.
The first part of the hike leads up to the impressive 18th century Fort Sint Pieter. This hill was often used by invaders to gain a strategic advantage over the city, so in 1701, the city finally decided to build a fort there. Visited by Tsar Peter the Great in 1717.
Just beyond the fort are the remains of an old limestone quarry. The area around the mine is catacombed by some 200km of tunnels.
After the quarry, the hike heads into a small wooded area and brings you out on the Belgian side of the border to the village of Kanne. Along the way, copious European Peacocks were fluttering about like brewtiful memories.
Kanne lasts only a couple hundred meters and you are back across the Dutch border and passing by the elegant Chateau Neercanne.
Behind the Chateau, the hike leads back into some woods. In this area is a cave called De Jezuïetenberg which was used by the Jesuits in the late 19th century. A chapel has been carved out inside and contains paintings and sculptures. Unfortunately, it requires a reservation for a guided tour, so I only got to admire the entrance.
Fascinatingly, just nearby is also a former Cold War NATO Headquarters.
Coming out of the forest and heading back toward Maastricht, the fields here are quite beautiful.
Just as you cross by these fields, an addition to this post that I was not expecting. So let’s get to the drinking highlights.
Out of nowhere came this vineyard. Never in my life have I tried Dutch wine. Enthusiatically disturbed a family gathering to buy a bottle of Reisling.
The rest of these are all in the city center of Maastricht.
Cafe de Knijnspiep (Brouwerij Klinker)
This narrow cozy beer bar is also the home of Brouwerij Klinker. No outdoor seating leaves it a little lonely during a sunny day, but it has a nice atmosphere.
A nice bar/restaurant hidden away on the Sporenstraat. It has a good selection of beers including a house beer and a van Hoppen Tripel.
A pure beer bar with a big selection of local and craft beers.
This nearly waterfront beer bar feels like the most authentically local bar of the ones listed here. Has a cozy brown bar feel to it.
Now head across the Sint Servaisbrug for the final two stops.
This brewery has waterfront and indoor seating along with a bottle shop. The most commercial brewery of the three in Maastricht.
Also referred to as Brouwerij “De Keyzer”, this brewery seems like the most traditional of the breweries on this visit. Although it offers tours and has a small tasting room for their two beers, it seems to be content to just pull in the occasional curious passersby rather then indulge in the flamboyance and advertisement of the Stadsbrouwerij.
Other Brewtiful Experiences
Maastricht Christmas Market
Maastricht has a wonderful Christmas Market which sits on the Vrijthof.
Just a few minutes by train is the village of Eijsden which makes a good homebase for the area if Maastricht is booked. It is recommended to take a stroll down to the River Meuse which serves as the border with Belgium and the gardens of the Kasteel Eijsden before enjoying some brews from the local brewery Breuster Brouwers at the Bie Meijs cafe.
Dutch cities probably don’t get the credit they deserve for their contribution to beer culture. The Netherlands has to live in the shadows of two great beer nations, Belgium and Germany. Maastricht is literally sandwiched in-between them. Yet I have never found a Dutch city that didn’t impress me. I don’t know about pottery, glass, crystal, or paper, but the beer culture in Maastricht is thriving. Admittedly though, Dutch beer doesn’t excite my tastebuds like Belgian beer despite the many Belgian-style Dutch beers. But the act of drinking a beer is no less enjoyable and atmospheric than in Belgium or Germany. The Netherlands has a certain charm that Belgium doesn’t have which I have never been able to adequately describe. There is sort of a refined attention to detail, a certain aesthetic that I just can’t put my finger on. Next time, I will ask the butterfly.