Valkenburg is a small town in the south of the Netherlands known for its Christmas market caves. I had visited the town when I was young, but I can only remember the mulled wine and hot chocolate smells while walking through the caves.
When my mum suggested visiting Valkenburg before heading to my home town in Belgium for Christmas, I couldn’t say no. So I found myself jumping on a train heading to the Netherlands as soon as I arrived in Brussels on the Eurostar from London.
The weather wasn’t great when we finally arrived, grey and drizzling, but it didn’t stop my excitement. After dropping off our bags at the hotel, we made our way to one of the 3 caves in Valkenburg: De Gemeentegrot. We walked through the main street, full of cosy restaurants, and passed the entrance to the castle ruins, which is perched on top of a hill and can be seen from almost anywhere in the valley.
The queue for tickets to the cave wasn’t long, and so we found ourselves walking through the cave in no time. Cave is a misleading name as the caves are man made instead of the traditional caves which are naturally created through various geologic processes.
There is a substantial amount of marl to be found in Valkenburg and the Romans started mining the ground for its natural resources 2000 years ago. The mining created the various tunnels which are now the caves of Valkenburg.
Over the centuries, the caves have been used as escape routes during the numerous sieges on the Valkenburg castle during the Middle Ages and as a hiding place during the Second World War.
Today, you can visit the caves throughout the year and learn about its history. Over the Christmas period, the caves are transformed into a Christmas market.
There are three caves you can visit: De Gemeentegrot, de Fluweelengrot and de Wilhelmina grot. Our hotel host told us de Gemeentegrot was the most interesting one if you only have time to visit one.
I was a little bit disappointed with the Christmas market. Apart from the very touristy items on display, there weren’t many real Christmas stalls to be found. I never encountered the delicious smell of hot chocolate or mulled wine, nor was there any real Christmas food to be found.
Apart from a few cheesy Christmas stalls selling lit up Bavarian style houses, the other stalls were very disappointing. Since when are electric toothbrushes, shaving utensils and handbags part of a Christmas market?
Luckily, there is a ‘real’ Christmas market outside near de Geul river if you feel like you need a quick boost of Christmas cheer after visiting the caves. I only briefly passed this Christmas market as I happily walked around the main street with its numerous cosy restaurants.
Even though it’s very cold outside, all restaurants have pretty effective heaters and blankets, so I didn’t mind sitting outside, sipping my Glühwein (you’ll find the best Glühwein on mainland Europe!).
Even though the caves were a little bit disappointing, I did enjoy my time in Valkenburg. Apart from the caves, Valkenburg has a very interesting castle ruin in the middle of the town which is definitely worth visiting and which I will be writing about in my next post.