Valkenburg is a little town located near Maastricht in the south part of the Netherlands. It is as charming as it is surprisingly active. The Valkenburg Castle is now mostly in ruins but it still makes for an interesting visit and the tour of the Velvet Caves will surely enchant you!
The Valkenburg Castle
The Castle was first built in the early 12th century by Lord Valkenburg who ruled over the region. It was destroyed besieged and rebuilt bigger several times during the following centuries and the ruins you can admire today are what remains from the 14th century version of the castle.
Some models of the castle are displayed in glass cases, in what remains of the Knights Hall, and show the evolution of the castle from a wooden keep, to a massive sixteen-sided tour built in 1160. Such tour was later replaced and in the 13th century and additional buildings and the curtain wall was built.
The Valkenburg Castle is unique in the Netherlands as it is the only castle in the country to be built on a hill! As you know the Netherlands doesn’t have that many hills.
The Velvet Caves
The Velvet caves were originally formed when marl, a sort of limestone, was mined from the ground to build the city. Some of the mines around Maastricht dates back to the Roman Empire. During Medieval times, the tunnels created were used as escape routes from the besieged Valkenburg castle and during WWII, they were used as shelter.
In 1853, the railway reached Valkenburg which became a popular destination. A simple yet genius idea was implemented: To make the caves attractive to tourists, let’s decorate them! The walls were smoothed out, blackened with charcoal and the drawing were created by scratching just the surface, or in more depth, depending on the desired effect.
The first part of the visit is mostly about the block cutters and the technique used to extract the marl.
The waiting room! at the entrance of the caves.
Above: Tools and marl blocks – below: fossils found in the caves
The drawings of the Velvet Caves
There are a couple themes in the drawings of the Velvet Caves including:
Scenes from the life around the city and the castle of Valkenburg, like the one below which shows the town and its castle. The tree in the foreground has a map of the caves in its foliage.
There is a portraits gallery where head profiles of WWII soldiers are depicted.
Toward the end of the tour, religious drawings can be found around the chapel.
An Hainosaurus, a relative of the Mosasaurus of Maastricht, a gigantic prehistoric reptile has been carved into a wall.
And my favorite series of drawings: The tale of Walram de Rosse! Walram de Rosse was the ruler of Valkenburg and the drawings depict his ‘Romeo and Juliette’ love story. Walram and his brother, Reginald, were both in love with Alexis of Cleves who chose to marry Walram. Reginald was so jealous and angry that he murdered the young couple on their wedding night.
Picture above: Walram de Rosse in a battle over inheritance.
Picture above: Reginald about to murder Walram and Alexis
Valkenburg wasn’t on our radar until we stayed at the Chateau Saint Gerlach. Mr A. and I stayed there for a long week-end because I wanted to go back to Maastricht but rather than staying in the city, I wanted to be in the countryside to relax and unwind. And at the end, I got everything I could hope for: An incredible hotel with its mesmerizing sanctuary, a delightful and romantic diner, some relaxing time at the spa and pool, a bit of shopping in Maastricht of course, some morning me time in the natural reserve around the Chateau and some sight seeing in Valkenburg with the visit of the castle and the Velvet Caves. Everything I was hoping for and more!!
The Technical Bits:
The official website for the city: Visit Valkenburg
You can visit the castle at anytime whereas the caves can only be toured with a guide. It is pitch black in there so someone has to hold the light and make sure you come out alive!
Valkenburg also has Roman Catacombs! These are actually detailed copies of the fourteen most beautiful parts of the catacombs that can be found in Rome. Sounds pretty cool too. And of course, Maastricht has it’s own caves.
Now the caves I still really want to visit are the Jesuit caves! These seems, by far the most impressive of all!
If you need some relaxing time after your visit, I highly recommend you to try El Castillo, a mexican restaurant in the main street of Valkenburg. They have an all you can eat buffet, a vegetarian menu with vegan options and perfect margaritas!!