This is the time of year to enjoy a German tradition that seems to have spread over much of Europe: the weihnachtsmarkt or Christmas market.
Normally held outdoors at night, often in the shadow of a dom or cathedral, a weihnachtsmarkt has numerous booths with handicrafts and toys, lots of singers and other holiday musical offerings, plenty of food and perhaps some hot apple cider or glühwein (spiced warm red wine) to keep everyone toasty.
For a unique Dutch twist on this event, visit the southern Limburg (Zuid-Limburg) region of the Netherlands, near Maastricht, to see how the town of Valkenburg puts on a Christmas market inside the caves that surround the town.
Talk about perfectly climate-controlled holiday festivities!
There is the Kerstmarkt in de Gemeentegrot “in the Town Cave,” and the Kerstmarkt in de Fluweelengrot “in the Velvet Cave.” Both offer a beautifully-decorated and unique underground Christmas shopping and cultural experience in the marl caves that were mined for building stone (starting with the Romans) for hundreds of years in this part of Limburg.
From the Velvet Cave event English translation description:
“Twinkling lights and magic illumination that reflect the soft marlstone walls break through the rustic darkness of the cave. Gentle Christmas music breaks through the (normally) every day serene silence. A tour of capricious passages will lead you past caverns, decorated niches, stalls with various quality (Christmas) items for sale, and a few stalls that demonstrate old Dutch trade & (handi)craft. Don’t forget to visit our enchanting catering garden in the ‘heart’ of the cave, to have a bite to eat and experience our famous Dutch Christmas drink ‘Glühwein’ (sparkling hot wine)…”
(I think it’s a famous German Christmas drink, but never mind….)
South Limburg is jokingly called the “Dutch Alps” and there are a few rolling hills that call to a lot of Dutch cyclists in training. The Maas, Geul and Gulp rivers also run through this area, with a lot of picturesque little castles and farmland.
It’s a very pretty and generally undiscovered part of the Netherlands, so you should stay awhile. There’s even a casino and a well-known thermal/hot springs spa in town. Accomodations are certainly available since many Dutch like to vacation in Limburg, so put Zuid-Limburg on your “must see” list in Europe.