The most challenging area to go hiking in the Netherlands is in the far south, in the hills of southern Limburg. In this blog you can read all about a half day hike in the hills south of the city of Maastricht. The hiking trail passes by limestone caves and mines, the river Jeker, vineyards and the tiny Belgian village of Kanne. You can easily combine this attractive hike with a visit to Maastricht as it starts and ends in town.
Why visit southern Limburg?
To the Dutch southern Limburg is the most exotic part of their country. That’s partly due to the atypical hilly landscapes offering excellent hiking and biking opportunities. Another reason is that Maastricht and its surroundings have a good culinary reputation, with lots of nice restaurants serving local specialties. Southern Limburg produces both wine and beer. The hike I’m describing in this blog passes by several vineyards.
For all these reasons southern Limburg is a popular area to spend a day, a weekend or even an entire holiday. Be aware of this, especially when travelling here in summer.
Downloading the trail: hiking south of Maastricht
The hiking trail I describe in this blog is the ANWB krijtrotsen en wijn-trail. This is an 11 kilometer hiking trail that starts in the southern part of Maastricht, near the limestone caves. Though the route description is in Dutch, you can easily use either the GPS track or the print-version of this trail. Both are available on the ANWB-website.
The starting point: Fort Sint Pieter and the north caves
This hike starts at Fort Sint Pieter on the southwestern edge of Maastricht. The address is Luikerweg 71, Maastricht. This is a half hour hiking away from Maastricht Central Station.
Fort Sint Pieter, Maastricht
Fort Sint Pieter dates back to around 1700. It was built to protect the city of Maastricht against foreign (specifically French!) attacks. The fort connects to the limestone caves underneath by an intricate system of secret corridors.
The north caves, Maastricht
There is not much northern about these caves, as they are located south of Maastricht. We call them north caves because this is the northern entrance to the huge system of limestone caves (a total of 80 kilometers of corridors!) in these hills. Actually these are not real caves either, as they are man made. In the course of the centuries people have removed huge amounts of limestone from these hills and created this cave-like corridor system. Don’t go in there by yourself! It’s easy to get lost here, so always use a guide if you want to visit.
Visiting the fort and the caves
If you have time to spare you should absolutely visit the fort and/or the limestone caves underneath. For this you will need to book a guided tour with an organization called Explore Maastricht. They offer tours in English too. Check out their website for the schedule and to make a reservation.
Hiking across the Sint Pieter mountain south of Maastricht
You will start this hike by climbing a Dutch mountain: the Sint Pietersberg. Don’t worry about bringing your climbing gear! Sint Pietersberg is only 101 meters high and the climb from the surrounding area is only about 50 meters. Pretty impressive for the Dutch though!
The first part of the hiking trail will take you across the forests on Sint Pietersberg. You may spot one or two limestone quarries on your left hand side, if you’re not too occupied enjoying the views on your right hand side. I always enjoy climbing to elevated areas because of the views of the surroundings. There are some nice viewpoints during this hike and the fun thing is that you’ll be able to follow your own trail as this is a round trip circling one valley.
Kanne, a short Belgian detour
Coming down from the Sint Pietersberg you suddenly find yourself in Belgium, in the tiny village of Kanne. A lot of its inhabitants are actually Dutch. You will pass by a lovely old chapel made of limestone and some well kept gardens. Kanne has a couple of bars and restaurants, in case you fancy a break.
Up towards Château Neercanne
Its French name says it all: this is not just a miserable Dutch castle, no, this is a fancy Chateau with lovely gardens and its own vineyards. The chateau is – as you might expect by now! – built of limestone. The limestone was actually taken from the limestone caves underneath the very hill that the chateau is built on. The limestone caves that were created this way now serve as wine cellars for the wines that they produce here.
If you are into fine dining you may want to return here later on (in fancier dress!) to enjoy the wines and cuisine of the chateau. Check out their website to learn more
The hiking trail passes right through the Chateau’s courtyard, from where you’ll climb further uphill towards the Cannerbos (a forest).
Into the vineyards south of Maastricht
After your climb uphill and your walk through the forest, landscapes open up again. You’re right in the middle of wine country! There are several vineyards on these hills and how lovely it is to wander by these pretty places! Check out the websites of Hoeve Nekum and Apostelhoeve to learn more. Both sites are only available in Dutch, but that shouldn’t stop you if you are a true wine lover. Google translate is your friend, right?
Hiking back towards Maastricht
Leaving the vineyards it’s downhill back towards Maastricht again. The trail will take you through the southwestern outskirts of town and through a park like area along the Jeker river before it turns back towards Fort Sint Pieter where you started your hike.
What to do after your hike south of Maastricht?
Check out Maastricht city! There’s a lot to see and do in Maastricht to keep you occupied for at least another day. If you’re in for more hikes check out my previous blog about hiking around Valkenburg. Valkenburg is only a short train ride away from Maastricht. It’s so close that you could decide to hike there as well! In fact, there are lots of hiking opportunities all over southern Limburg.
How to get to Maastricht by public transport?
There are direct trains to Maastricht every hour all the way from Alkmaar, passing by Amsterdam Central Station, Utrecht, ‘s Hertogenbosch and Eindhoven. Coming from anywhere else you’ll need to change trains in one of the aforementioned towns.