Maastricht is one of the most vibrant cities in the Netherlands. With its cobbled streets and fashionable boutiques in the old town, contemporary architecture in the Céramique district, a fantastic art fair and excellent cuisine, the city literally buzzes with excitement and its multilingual, multinational population epitomizes the most positive aspects of the European Union.
Though its claim to be the oldest town in the Netherlands is disputed by Nijmegen, Maastricht was certainly settled by the Romans, who took one look at the River Maas and dubbed the town Mosae Trajectum or “Crossing of the Maas”. An important stopoff on the trading route between Cologne and the North Sea, the town boasted a Temple of Jupiter, whose remains are now on view in a hotel basement. A millennium later, Charlemagne beefed up the city too, though his legacy is ecclesiastical, his two churches representing some of the finest extant Romanesque architecture in the whole of the country.
Maastricht has also had its hard times, hitting the economic skids in the 1970s after the last of the region’s coal mines closed, but its fortunes have been revived by a massive regeneration scheme, which has pulled in foreign investors by the busload. The town is now popular as a day-trip destination with the Dutch, the Germans and the Belgians, and it is also home to students from around the world studying at over forty international institutes, including the European Journalism Centre and the University of the United Nations. Redevelopment continues apace today with the addition of ’t Bassin, a spruced-up inland harbour north of the Markt, with a handful of restaurants, cafés and galleries. The most recent construction in the centre of town is the Mosae Forum, a shopping centre with an attractive blend of classical and modern architecture. Finally, Maastricht is especially appealing during Carnival, with colourful parades and locals and visitors alike dressed up in the most creative outfits, mostly handmade.