You can argue that Christmas markets are not museums or art galleries of course. But, in this case, I beg to differ and felt compelled to enlighten you about some very special Christmas markets that exist inside caves and that are works of art in their own right. These are markets filled with arts and crafts, nativity scenes, sand sculptures and even illustrations on cave walls.
These special Christmas markets are situated inside the Valkenburg caves in the very south of the Netherlands in the province of Limburg. The town of Valkenburg is only minutes from the Maastricht central station by train. And the town is in fact recommended as one of CNN’s Top 10 World Christmas Destinations. So if you haven’t heard of Valkenburg yet, this is a good reason to plan a trip there.
From the onset it is evident that Valkenburg is a pretty small town and probably quite dead during the rest of the year with the exception of those who visit for the casino or to escape the rat race of the city. But it is nonetheless lovely, with many very nice restaurants, interior decor stores and chic boutiques. And it is small enough to explore on foot from the train station.
The little Christmas market you see below is the general outdoor market mainly for food and drinks and it’s the first one you encounter as you enter the town from the train station. This market is called Santa’s Village, is situated on Theodoor Dorrenplein and is currently open until the 4th January 2015.
Europe’s largest singing Christmas tree is also situated in Valkenburg. It has 5000 lights, Christmas balls, candy sticks and singing candles with little faces on them. Quite a sight!
There are four magical Christmas markets inside caves and within walking distance (a couple of minutes) from the town centre. Two are currently closed for the season (at the time of writing) and there are still 2 open until the 4th of January 2015 – so don’t miss out:
1. Kerstmarkt Gemeentegrot (closed already on the 23rd December 2014)
This market is considered Europe’s largest and oldest underground Christmas market! There are plenty of stores selling Christmas goodies and a little bar where you can get a gluhwein (or two!).
2. Kerstmarkt Fluweelengrot (closed on 23rd December 2014)
The ‘velvet’ cave takes the concept of Christmas markets within a cave to a whole new and exciting level. Here you’ll see mural paintings, sculptures, an 18th century chapel and market stalls with Christmas gifts and trinkets.
3. Kerststal Wilhelminagrot (closes on 4th January 2015)
This market is the largest underground nativity scene in Europe and it absolutely blew me away! Magic sand sculptures tell the Christmas story unlike anything you’ve ever seen before! The sheer size of the main hall is magnificent. This cave definitely has the ‘wow’ factor…
4. Kerst in Mergelrijk / De Feestgrot (closes on 4th January 2015)
If you enjoy arts and culture then the Mergelrijk cave is up your alley. Here you’ll find a lifesize sand sculpture replica of Rembrandt’s Nightwatch as well as many other sand sculptures that tell the story of the caves and the history of Valkenburg area. This cave is comparable to a museum or gallery as each sculpture has a little board describing the scene and the history. As an arts and culture lover this was for me the most exciting of the caves.
The Valkenburg caves and Christmas Markets are open until the 4th January 2015, so if you’ve missed out you still have this upcoming week to make a trip there and to visit two out of the four cave markets! You can also read more about the general festivities on the Kerststad Valkenburg website prior to your trip. Enjoy the rest of the festive season!