Holland might be best known for its historic cities like Amsterdam and Utrecht, but it’s a common misunderstanding that nature lovers should skip a trip to the Low Countries. Sure, we lack dramatic mountain ranges. But don’t underestimate our peaceful hiking and cycling trails. Actually, I have a bit of a confession to make. The lovely Valkenburg is probably my all-time favourite autumn escape in Europe! This historic town, which used to be part of the Roman Empire, can be found in Limburg: the southern tip of the Netherlands. And trust me, there are so many wonderful, autumnal things to do in Valkenburg! A weekend away may not even give you enough time to fully experience the area. Let me show you what I mean.
See the Vista from Valkenburg Castle Ruins
After walking around the town centre (1-2 hours), you should head to the Valkenburg Castle. The old, ruined Castle of Valkenburg stands proud on one of the only hills that can be found in the entire country. Certainly, she is weathered by the many centuries that have gone by. Nonetheless, her regal and intimidating aura is still intact. The castle dates all the way back to the 14th century, although there were earlier versions that were destroyed. This was a tumultuous time, when medieval lords, kings and emperors were still in constant battle.
The crumbling knight’s hall, old chapel, and gloomy dungeon are all silent witnesses to an age so different and far away from ours.
As you climb the centuries-old stairways and walk around the ruins, you will recognise the remains of the grand interiors: the knight’s hall, the dungeon, and the old chapel are all silent witnesses to an age so different from ours. When you turn around, you can look right through the missing walls and see the hundreds of houses that form the ancient town. If you squint your eyes just a tiny bit, you can almost sense what it must have been like to quietly scan the landscape for incoming invaders.
Explore the Labyrinth in the Valkenburg Velvet Cave
Just below the Valkenburg Castle lies a hidden treasure: an entire network of underground passageways, dating back to the 11th or 12th century. The cave system was the result of extensive marl stone mining, which was done to supply the town with building stones for houses and castles. A combi-ticket (adults €12) will grant you access to both the castle and the cave.
Soon, the passageways became a strategic advantage. Knights and footmen often escaped the castle and attacked the enemy from behind. Often, they used the cave to secretly bring supplies into the castle when Valkenburg was under siege. Later on, during the German Occupation in the Second World War, the caves became a safe place for the citizens of Valkenburg and American troops.
The secret passageways became a strategic advantage, and the knights and footmen often escaped the castle to sneakily attack the enemy from behind.
Go on a Little Forest Walk to Schaloen Castle
After spending a 1-2 hours at the Valkenburg Castle and Velvet Cave, it is time to explore the calming landscape around Valkenburg aan de Geul. Head in an easterly direction towards Schin op Geul and continue on the ‘Oostervoetpad‘ to go on a relaxing forest walk. This path will take you to the Oost Castle, as well as the gorgeous Schaloen Castle a little bit later on.
In the 19th century, a family of noble blood built the Oost Castle (Kasteel Oost). Later, the luxurious manor hosted the International Butler Academy. It is currently inaccessible to the public. However, there are whispers that say it may soon become a hotel and restaurant.
The current Schaloen Castle (Kasteel Schaloen) dates back to the 16th century, as it was rebuilt after Spanish troops destroyed it. It is now a hotel, and the surrounding castle grounds are accessible to the public. There is a pleasant little restaurant near the monumental gate.
Take a Break at ‘t Koetshoes
Of course, all those gorgeous castles and calming views should be accompanied by a break. Preferably one that includes a steaming hot beverage and wholesome meal. I recommend sitting down at the incedibly cosy ‘t Koetshoes, which is right on route. The restaurant is located in-between Oost Castle and Schaloen Castle, so you won’t be able to miss it. Try one of their local beers and have a hearty bite of one of their traditional Dutch dishes. Don’t be afraid to try the uitsmijter (bread with eggs and various vegetables) and appeltaart (apple pie with whipped cream).
Climb Schaelsberg Hill for Some Amazing Views
After you’ve explored the town and its surrounding castle grounds, it is time to properly head up into the hills. The area around Schaelsberg hill simply looks like it came right out of a classic landscape painting. The vista from the top of the hill gives you an overview of the Geul river valley. Just look at all those little houses and gorgeous trees with leaves that slowly transform into different shades of red, orange, and yellow. You will find a path that leads up the hill nearby the path that takes you to Schaloen Castle. Look for the three statues (De Drie Beeldjes) of Virgin Mary, Jesus and John the Baptist.
Feeling Those Travel Itches?
Hopefully I’ve managed to convince you that Valkenburg is a wonderful location for a spontaneous autumn escape. I just adore the historic atmosphere and cosy vibes in Limburg. But there is much more to discover in this tiny European country! I’ve already made so many more adventures in the Netherlands. Here are a few that I have already written about: