A weekend in Zuid-Limburg
Another great thing about living in Belgium is that there is so much to discover just beyond the borders. Case in point: Zuid-Limburg. This Dutch region that's adjacent to Belgium in the East isn't quite like the rest of the Netherlands and holds many surprises. With its mix of nature, history and contemporary lifestyle, it has something in store for everyone. Let me guide you through Zuid-Limburg the 'Gerrit and the City' way, meaning a little street art, some design, fabulous food and a trip to the province's fashionable capital Maastricht!
Street art in Heerlen
The first stop is Heerlen, a city with a tumultuous past. What used to be a prosperous city in the beginning of the 20th century thanks to a booming coal mining industry, turned into a grey landscape once the industry died out in the 70s. For a long time, the city suffered a very poor image but luckily it regained color and interest in recent years through the medium of street art. With the support of the city's board, Heerlen's concrete jungle was turned into a blank canvas for street artists from around the world. The result is more than 50 highly artistic murals, with an immense diversity in styles and themes. You can discover them by yourself with a little help from the 'ENNE' book (available at the tourist info 'VVV') or you can book a guided tour with Sanne! Not only will she tell you all about the rich community of street art, she'll also help you spot the so-called 'mini-murals' such as DaveTwo's black ravens or Isaac Cordal's miniature business men that are scattered across the city.
Lunch at Brasserie Mijn Streek | Bongerd 18, 6411 JM Heerlen
Standing in the middle of the city, the Glaspaleis (or 'Palace of Glass') is a building that strikes by its modern architecture. Surprisingly it dates back to the 30s when it was commissioned by tailoring magnate Schunck. Nowadays the Glaspaleis houses a cultural center as well as a lovely brasserie called Mijn Streek. With its location on the 5th floor, it is the highest restaurant of Heerlen and it boasts panoramic views over the city. The atmosphere is laid-back and the menu is very accessible with a mix of soups, sandwiches, salads, etc. Most of the ingredients they use are local and so are their wines. If the sun is out, their terrace is the best spot in town!
Visit of the Cube Design Museum | Museumplein 2, 6461 MA Kerkrade
Leave Heerlen and head to another small-scale city of the region called Kerkrade. The surprising element of this place is that it is home to the Netherlands' first museum entirely dedicated to design! On the first floor you'll find a permanent exhibition that reflects on the meaning of design and its impact on our daily lives, whereas the next three floors are ever-evolving with temporary exhibitions of trend-setting design. For example objects by local creatives, extraordinary shoes or even espresso machines. The building itself is an architectural prowess through an interesting mix of materials and the exhibition spaces are minimal, with a strong industrial vibe, to really highlight the items on display. After your visit, you can have a drink in the museum's stylish café.
Stay at Haas op het Vrijthof | Vrijthof 20A, 6211 LD Maastricht
Time to head to the Limburg capital Maastricht! To really experience the best the city has to offer, I recommend staying at Haas op het Vrijthof. Like its name suggests, this hotel is located on the Vrijthof, which is known as the most beautiful square of the Netherlands. The hotel itself is housed in a gorgeous mansion with lots of character and style. The hallways breath 20th century grandeur with white marble walls and intricate moldings, whereas the minimal, Scandinavian furniture of the rooms perfectly complements the vintage elements. Although it is standing in the middle of the city, Haas op het Vrijthof is an intimate location where you'll feel right at home!
Dinner at Brandsøn | Het Bat 2, 6211 EX Maastricht
Located near the St. Servaasbrug, the Netherlands' oldest and possibly most picturesque bridge, Brandsøn is the new place to be! In a stylish interior, they offer a fine dining experience complemented with a friendly and dedicated service. Their chef wants to accommodate all of your cravings and the team will always have the right wine to accompany it. On their menu you'll find a beautiful selection of fish and meat dishes, but if you're vegetarian they'll gladly make up something for you. You can order à la carte or you can choose from one of their menus. Seats are limited, so make sure to book a table. (Fun fact: Brandsøn's logo is the Mosasaurus, a species of huge reptiles that used to rule over the seas millions of years ago and of which the first fossils were found around Maatricht!)
Stroll through Maastricht's historic center
Sunday is chill day. So after you've enjoyed a lovely breakfast at the hotel, I suggest exploring the small, paved streets of Maastricht. The city center is rather small and really pleasant to wander through. There's no better way to discover it than getting lost among the historic buildings and monuments, the beautiful squares and terraces. I say 'getting lost' but actually it's fairly easy to find your way through the compact web of medieval streets. Some of the highlights to look out for are the St John's Church where you can get panoramic views over the surroundings after climbing up the 80 meter high tower; the Helpoort, the Netherlands' oldest city gate that was part of the city's fortification; and the Basilica of Our Lady where it's tradition to light a candle to the 'Star of the Sea'.
Of course Maastricht is also a fashion spot with many, many shops and luckily these are also open on Sunday as off 12:00! The most popular streets for shopping are located South of the Markt (the square where the City Hall stands) and some of my personal favorites include Men at Work (Spilstraat 6) for its fresh selection and cool vibes, as well as Boekhandel Dominicanen (Dominicanerkerkstraat 1), the epic bookshop housed in a former church.
Lunch at Le Fernand | Stenenbrug 6, 6211 HP Maastricht
Among the many vibrant café terraces, one stands out for its quintessentially French character: welcome at Le Fernand! Whether you're enjoying the sun in front or sitting in the cozy interior, this is French bistro at its best. Let the sympathetic team walk you through their selection of fine wines and classic French cuisine, go for one of their tartines or mixed plateaux and enjoy yourself!
Discover the Sphinxkwartier
If you have some time left, why not discover the new, up-and-coming part of town known as the Sphinxkwartier. Located North of the Markt, this industrial part of town is slowly becoming one of its trendiest thanks to creative entrepreneurs and surprising projects. Stroll around the old inland port known as 't Bassin and have a drink on the terrace of the Lumière Cinema to take in the neighborhood's vibes and reflect on the many discoveries you did in Zuid-Limburg...
Stay at Winselerhof | Tunnelweg 99, 6372 XH Landgraaf
If you really want to escape daily life, perhaps you could start your Limburg weekend on Friday night already? Located in Landgraaf, a location that is representative of the green character of Zuid-Limburg, Winselerhof offers a unique experience. This ancient farm that dates back to the 16th century has been converted into a 'small luxury hotel', complete with inner courtyard and rooms that boast original vaulted ceilings and wooden beams. The charm of this traditional farmhouse is undeniable and it's very convenient: you can park your car for free and the restaurant offering Italian inspired cuisine is excellent!
Considering this travel guide takes you from one city to another within Zuid-Limburg, it is advised to go there by car. It will take you about 1h30 to go from Brussels to Heerlen. Once you're in Maastricht, you can either leave your car in front of the hotel (they'll park it for you in their private space for €22.50) or you can park right outside the city center at Parking Stadspark for €6.00 per 24 hours (it will take you about 15 minutes to reach the hotel by foot).