One of the best and most challenging areas to hike is to be found in the very south of the Netherlands, close to the Belgian border. Among the hills of southern Limburg, along the winding riverlet Geul, and in the forest of Vijlen you can find miles and miles of undisturbed hiking paths. It is quiet here, except perhaps in the summer season when Dutch hikers and bikers come here en masse to enjoy the fine scenery.
I try to visit southern Limburg at least once a year. It’s a bit of a hassle to get there, but I’ve never regretted my trips. To us, Dutchies, Southern Limburg province feels a bit like a foreign country. Everything is different: the landscapes, the language, the food and the architecture. It’s almost like a trip abroad.
If you’re visiting Holland as a tourist, the polders and windmills of the west may be what you are looking for. However, if you’re roadtripping around Holland for a couple of weeks I would suggest you include southern Limburg in your itinerary. Because there’s more to this country than polders, dikes, wooden shoes, cheese and windmills.
The town of Epen
A good base for your hiking trip in the hills of southern Limburg is the small town of Epen. It may not be the quaintest town you’ve ever been to, but it is located conveniently, right in the middle of the hills, with hiking routes stretching out in every direction.
Epen has many hotels as well as self catering apartments, restaurants, bars and a supermarket selling local products. We stayed in a nice apartment overlooking the hills in apartment-hotel Geuldal. This is a friendly place with a sunny garden in the main street of Epen.
Hiking around Epen: finding hiking routes
There are many signposted hikes around Epen. In our apartment, we got a free map with hiking trails.
You could also check out the excellent online hiking guide for southern Limburg. This is a list of towns with the hikes surrounding them. It offers free GPX files, maps and route descriptions in Dutch, German and French.
On the first day of our trip, having arrived in the early afternoon, we went for a short hike south of Epen. This hike follows the riverlet Geul and gives one a good impression of the area. On our second day we hiked in the forest of Vijlen and the hills west of it. And finally, on the day we left, we went for a hike through the green hills north of Epen, enjoying the panoramic views. Something new every day!
What to expect: the landscapes
Expect sandy country roads, paths right through the fields, muddy paths along the winding Geul river and the regional specialty: hollow paths. These are deep paths, worn out deep by a combination of human use and rainwater. Expect hills as well and lovely views of the surrounding landscapes.
What to expect: local architecture
During your hikes you will almost certainly pass by half timbered houses, the typical building style of this area. In the past, this building style belonged to the poor, who couldn’t afford to build stone houses. Now they’re the attraction of the area. I even passed by a tiny village (close to Epen) with half timbered holiday houses.
What to expect: signs of religion
Southern Limburg is a traditionally catholic area. I guess that, like the rest of Holland, most people are rather agnostic nowadays in this area too. During your hikes though you will come across many religious signs, particularly many crosses along the roads.
What to expect: local food and drinks
Southern Limburg is known for its wineries and its breweries. And for its good local cuisine. Last time I was there, all bars and restaurants were closed, due to the covid-outbreak. Still, many bars offered take away service, so we did manage to grab a piece of local vlaai. Vlaai is a fruit pie that’s famous all over Holland.
Getting to southern Limburg by public transport
The gateways to the hills of southern Limburg are the towns of Maastricht and Heerlen. Both cities have intercity train stations connecting them to Eindhoven, and the 4 main Dutch cities in the west of Holland. A local train runs between Maastricht and Heerlen, passing by towns such as Valkenburg and Schin op Geul. These towns offer plenty of hiking possibilities too. They’re also rather touristic and attract a crowd that’s perhaps a bit more interested in drinking beer than in hiking.
The finest hiking base is the town of Epen. To get there catch a bus in Maastricht. This will take you another 45 minutes. Find your schedule via the 9292-public transport website. Bus stop Julianastraat is right in the middle of Epen.
Check your schedule on the public transport website 9292.nl and read my tips about using public transport in Holland. Mind that there are extra rules for users of public transport during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example: you have to wear a face mask when using public transport.