The Low Countries: Amsterdam to Brussels - Page 3
|Hip to be Square: The 13th-century Grand Place (PhotoDisc)|
Day 8: Zutphen to Maastricht (125 Miles)
Tonight's goal is Maastricht, a 2,500-year-old city on the southwestern tip of the Netherlands' border with Belgium, about 125 miles south of Zutphen. Roll through the hilly region of Limburg, peppered with woods, castles, and picturesque villages. Take a breather in Arcen, about halfway, to see the Kasteeltuinen (+31.77.473.6020; www.kasteeltuinen.nl), a 1653 castle on 80 acres of gardens of roses, rhododendrons, and herbs. Soak in Arcen's thermal baths (Thermaalbad Arcen; +31.77.473.2424; www.thermaalbad.nl), then push on to Maastricht, where you can tour the Bonnefanten Maastricht (Avenue CÃ©ramique; +31.43.329.0190; www.bonnefanten.nl), a large museum with works by old masters and contemporary artists. Also stop by Maastricht's 7th-century Basilica of St. Servatius (Keizer Karelplein; +31.43.321.2082; www.sintservaas.nl) and the Museum Cellar Derlon (Plankstraat; +31.43.325.2121), an archaeological site with a Roman wall, gate, well, and cobblestone square. Mosey through the main market squareÂ—if it's a Friday or Wednesday, you'll see the fruit, veggie, and meat marketÂ—then rent a canoe and paddle the river Maas, which runs through town and the wine-making countryside.
Day 9: Maastricth to Leuven (55 Miles)
From Maastricht, plow west into Belgium and the city of Leuven. In 1425, the town became a hub of European learning with the founding of a Roman Catholic university, and today it is Belgium's scholarly center. Not surprisingly, the town is also a center of brewing and the beer capital of Belgium. Rent a bike to tour the 15th-century spired town hall, the lively cobblestone Grote MarktÂ—where you'll likely be surrounded by students yapping away in cafesÂ—and the university area, with its historic academic buildings. The Stella Artois brewery is worth the trip (Vaartstraat; +32.1.624.7461; www.breweryvisits.com; tours twice daily by appointment only), or taste some of the brews in Domus (Tiensestraat; +32.1.620.1449; www.domusleuven.be), a popular local brewery famous for its honey beer.
Day 10: Leuven to Brussels (20 Miles)
After breakfast in Leuven, drive about half an hour west to your final destination, Brussels. The capitol of the European Union and the HQ of NATO, Brussels has a distinctively international flair, but it also hosts a surprising number of novel and unconventional attractions. Dump your stuff and explore this French-Flemish city on foot, starting with the Grand Place, a 13th-century market square that still acts as the city center and hosts concerts and events throughout the year. (In summer, a daily flower market brightens the scene.) Shop in the Galeries St. HubertÂ—the oldest shopping arcade in EuropeÂ—and see the evolution of Tintin and the Smurfs at the Belgian Center for Comic Strip Art (Zandstraat; +184.108.40.2060; www.cbbd.be). If you happen by town on a weekend, roam the Place du Grand Sablon, a lively neighborhood with boutiques, cafes, restaurants, and a weekend antique market. Last, amble the royal greenhouses (Brederodestraat; +32.2.551.2020; www.monarchie.be/en/visit/greenhouse), an impressive complex of 16 glass-and-metal structures with thousands of species of exotic flowers and plants, including an extensive collection of camellias. If you have an extra day, consider the 35-mile trip to Ghent, the pleasant gateway city to Flanders, to see St. Bavo's Cathedral (St. Baafsplein; +32.9.269.2065) with Hubert and Jan van Eyck's stunning 1432 masterpiece, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.