Americans think of Maastricht (if at all) as the less-sophisticated sister of Amsterdam and Rotterdam. But Europeans have long known Maastricht's civilized charms: Michelin-starred restaurants, castle hotels, and boutiques and galleries that offer everything from old masters to high fashion. In March, international art collectors and dealers arrive at this border town—located minutes from Belgium and Germany—for the annual European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF). Here they can find such diverse items as the world's largest flawless octagonal step-cut diamond, 15th-century illuminated manuscripts, and a Damien Hirst butterfly painting, all for sale under one roof. Second stringnever looked this good.
WHERE TO STAY La Bergère (40 Stationstraat; 31-43/328-2525; www.la-bergere.com; doubles from $201) is Maastricht's only boutique hotel. Its 67 rooms are pleasantly minimalist: white walls, oak floors, and recessed lighting. What the guest quarters lack in amenities (there are no closets or desks), the hotel makes up for with a rooftop gym, afternoon tapas, and a groovy lounge. • Hotelier Camille Oostwegel bought the ruins of Château St. Gerlach (1 Joseph Corneli Allée, Valkenburg aan de Geul; 31-43/608-8888; www.chateauhotels.nl; doubles from $288) for one Dutch gulden and then spent $26 millionmaking the 18th-century castle into the most luxurious hotel in the region. In addition to two excellent restaurants, the château has a Roman-style swimming pool and a Kneipp spa. • Fresh flowers welcome guests at Hôtel Les Charmes (18 Lenculenstraat; 31-43/321-7400; www.hotellescharmes.nl; doubles from $116), a 15-room inn in the historic Jeker quarter. Owner Marco Immers restored two adjoining 1725 town houses, retaining the original Italian terrazzos, Dutch tiles, and creaky wooden floors, and filled rooms with gilded mirrors, vintage wardrobes, even claw-foot tubs. • The year-old Hôtel au Quartier Petit Bonheur (32 Kapoenstraat; 31-43/321-5109; www.auquartier.nl; doubles from $116), at the end of a quiet cobblestoned street, is an understated gem. All 14 rooms are furnished with 18th-century desks and wardrobes. • Though Kasteel Wittem (3 Wittemer Allée, Wittem; 31-43/450-1208; ; doubles from $189) has 12bedrooms, its regal restaurant (part of the Alliance Gastronomique Néerlandaise since 1976) is the main draw (dinner for two $152). "It's a restaurant with rooms, not a hotel with a restaurant," says owner Peter Ritzen. The 18th-century castle—complete with a moat—is just 20 minutes east of town by car, in the Geul Valley.
WHERE TO EAT When a town of only 122,000 has four Michelin-starred restaurants, it obviously has a lively food scene.
Don't be fooled by the hip look of Restaurant Beluga (12 Centre Céramique, Plein 1992; 31-43/321-3364; dinner for two $164), located in the Céramique complex. Behind its glass-and-steel exterior, Beluga is resolutely old-fashioned. Only the men are offered menus listing prices, and dishes tend toward the lavish: sweetbreads covered in foie gras, for example. • The open kitchen at Ca' del Biro (66-68 Hoogbrugstraat; 31-43/326-4152; dinner for two $116) allows diners to watch as the chef prepares sautéed scallops on artichokes with Parmesan sabayon or grilled veal entrecôte over risotto. An intimate dining room—outfitted with high-backed red-and-yellow-striped chairs—is the perfect spot to pick up art-world gossip. • Before you've selected a cocktail, the attentive waiters at Toine Hermsen (2 St. Bernardusstraat; 31-43/325-8400; dinner for two $208) will present you with anamuse-bouche. Another arrives moments after you've ordered your main course, which might be filet mignon in truffle sauce, served with warm spinach salad, or poached turbot with black salsify, Roseval potatoes, and champagne sauce. • At Tout à Fait (16-18 St. Bernardusstraat; 31-43/350-0405; dinner for two $128), chef and owner Bart Ausems turns out inventive dishes such as tenderloin carpaccio with foie gras and red-onion marmalade. The wine list includes unusual wines—dry Australian whites, Cabernets from Chile, and hard-to-find French Merlots.
BROWN CAFÉS Not to be confused with those other, notorious Dutch cafés—Amsterdam's coffee shops—brown cafés are tiny wood-paneled pubs that serve hearty, inexpensive meals.
Pilgrims have refilled their pints at In den Ouden Vogelstruys (15 Vrijthof; 31-43/321-4888), Maastricht's oldest brown café, since the 14th century. The menu is written not in Dutch but in the local dialect. • Not brave enough to sample specialties like Bloedworst (blood sausage) or Zoervleis (minced beef with sweet-and-sour sauce, applesauce, and mayonnaise)?Chef Robin Berben of Café Sjiek (13 St. Pieterstraat; 31-43/321-0158) also makes delicious global dishes like Thai salad, linguine al pesto, and fried trout with almonds. • De Bóbbel (32 Wolfstraat; 31-43/321-7413) is a smoky hole-in-the-wall just off Onze Lieve Vrouweplein full of shoppers refueling on goulash and quiche lorraine. Try a nip of the Bóbbelke, a strong Dutch gin, or a bottle of the locally brewed Imperator beer.
WHERE TO SHOP Maastricht's most famous shopping street—Stokstraat—was saved from reconstruction and modernizationafter World War II because the town lacked funds. As a result, high-end fashion designers inhabit buildings dating from the Middle Ages. A word of caution: most shops close at 6 p.m., andare shuttered from Saturday evening to Monday afternoon.
Local design diva Kiki Niesten (28-32 Stokstraat; 31-43/321-6432) keeps the women of Maastricht on the cutting edge with suede patchwork Marni coats and flirty twill skirts by Marc Jacobs. • Christian Lagerwaard, who spent a season in Paris working for Emanuel Ungaro, designs luxuriously feminine ensembles. Schedule a fitting at his atelier (64 Wilhelminasingel; 31-43/326-4440; open Saturdays; weekdays by appointment only). The silk suits and cashmere jackets in his new ready-to-wear collection, Future, are sold at Château Gronsveld (Gronsveld; 31-43/408-5504), five minutes outside of town. • Jules & Co. (3 Platielstraat; 31-43/358-1708) stocks inventive kitchen gadgets by Koziol (Germany's answer to Alessi) and colorful felt "hangbags" by Amsterdam design duo Gewoon. • Interior decorator Gay Jongen (59 Rechtstraat; 31-43/321-6824) displays the latest in European home wares—from Bisazza tiles to SMEG appliances—in his 3,800-square-footshowroom. • Among the rare pieces on display at Philippe Kersten's Zenith Oriental Art (29 Lenculenstraat, 31-43/321-4961; 2 St. Pieterstraat; same phone) are an elm medicine chest from the 1800's ($4,900) and a marble Buddha torso from the Tang dynasty ($43,000). Many of his finds are restored by skilled craftsmen in China's Guangdong province. • Though old masters dealer Robert Noortman has a booth at tefaf (he was a founding member of the fair), it's worth ducking into his gallery, Noortman Master Paintings (49 Vrijthof; 31-43/321-6745), to catch a glimpse of paintings by Rembrandt, Brueghel, and French artists such as Monet and Corot.
ESSENTIAL CULTURE The striking, torpedo-shaped Bonnefanten Museum (250 Ave. Céramique; 31-43/329-0190; www.bonnefanten.nl), designed by Italian architect Aldo Rossi in 1995, houses old masters on the first floor and contemporary art on the second. Highlights include numerous Rymans, Rubenses, and Van Dycks, Robert Mangold's Red with Green Ellipses, and a minimalist steel sculpture by Richard Serra. Visit the gift shop to peruse ceramic plates designed for the museum by Sol LeWitt.
Christian Lagerwaard, MAASTRICHT'S STAR COUTURIER
WELL SUITED "I buy my Canali suits at van Overeem van Wissen (25 Stationstraat; 31-43/325-5039), near the train station. They are handmade in Italy and fit like a glove!"
HISTORY LESSON "When I'm on the Rechtstraat, I always peer in the window of Dr. M de Bruijn's Kunsthistorisch Kabinet (66 Rechtstraat; 31-43/325-0623). They have beautiful hand-drawn antique maps of the city."
BEST-KEPT SECRET "The ambience at Restaurant Château Neercanne (800 Cannerweg; 31-43/325-1359; lunch for two $70), a mile from town, is hard to beat. There's a calm that you don't find in Maastricht."
COCKTAIL HOUR "The new lounge-bar at the Hôtel Derlon (6 OLV-Plein; 31-43/321-6770) is superb. The design is very modern, with mirrors everywhere, and the restaurant has this red light in the center that's surrounded by a curtain of glass."
Quick Stops: Five Local Favorites 1. There's always a line at Olivier Bonbons (55 Kesselskade; 31-43/321-5526), where the handmade chocolates come in every shape and flavor: liquor-filled, topped with nuts, or just plain and delicious. 2. Most brown cafés serve vlaai, the region's version of pie. Try apple or cherry. 3. The strongest cup of coffee in town can be found at Blanche Dael CoffeeLovers (2 Ruiterij; 31-43/356-1944). Buy some freshly roasted to take home at the Maison Blanche Dael shop (28 Wolfstraat; 31-43/321-3475). 4. Dutch women adore the creams and scrubs made by Kruidvat (32-36 Wycker Brugstraat; 31-43/325-8206), a drugstore chain. Stock up on the "anti-rimpel" vitamin E eye cream ($3.50) and the abrikozen scrub ($3). 5. 't Bassin harbor is an up-and-coming neighborhood north of the city, where brasseries, cafés, and shops spill from the 19th-century warehouses.
Art Market The European Fine Art Fair, which has been held in Maastricht under various names since 1975, is considered the most important art and antiques fair in the world. "It's like the Metropolitan Museum with red dots," according to one New York collector. Dealers save their best work for TEFAF, where it is vetted for quality, authenticity, and provenance by a committee of 130 international experts. And thanks to London gallery owner Leslie Waddington, who spearheaded the fair's modern-art section in 1993, 35 contemporary galleries now show at TEFAF, occupying 25 percent of the total floor space at the Maastricht Exhibition & Congress Center (100 Forum; www.tefaf.com; 888/388-2427; admission $37), where the fair is held. This year's fair (March 5-14) will include 203 dealers from 14 countries.
40 Number of people who arrived at last year's TEFAF in private jets
365 Number of pubs in Maastricht (one for each day of the year)