DUTCH TREAT: While Amsterdam is an obvious destination for tourists wanting a taste of the Netherlands, more adventurous travelers need only take a short two-and-a-half-hour trip south to Maastricht to further their introduction to Dutch culture. This sleepy town is located on the banks of the River Maas in the province of Limburg, a hilly area in the southern region of the country. Maastricht is truly a mix of the new and old worlds. It boasts cobblestone streets and a history that dates back to 50 B.C., as well as charming boutique hotels, Michelin-starred dining rooms, and world-class shopping.
WHY NOW: Once a year, Maastricht turns into the most influential art destination in the world during The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF). More than 220 international art dealers and countless art collectors converge annually for the event, which takes place in early spring. In 2008, close to 75,000 people attended the fair to buy, sell, and gawk at art and antiques worth more than $1 billion. The event featured the first-time sale of The Child With an Orange, a painting by Vincent Van Gogh owned by a Swiss family since 1916.
WORKS OF ART: Even though TEFAF is attended by eminent public and private collectors, you can buy a daily ticket (55 euros) and rub shoulders with the artsy elite. Grab a glass of Champagne and browse the 300,000 (all carpeted!) square feet of exhibition space and showrooms decorated with fresh flowers, trees, and fountains. Stop and eavesdrop as dealers haggle with collectors over the price of classical antiquities, rare manuscripts, a French diptych, a yellow diamond, or a painting by Van Dyck. If you’re lucky, you’ll witness a purchase. We watched a woman pick out a pair of $500,000 earrings and pay for them like they were a point-of-purchase item at Home Depot.
WHERE TO STAY: Kruisherenhotel-Maastrict (800-337-4685) is the ultimate place to stay during TEFAF. The luxurious 60-room hotel is made up of a collection of buildings, including a Gothic cathedral and its cloisters, and is located in the center of town. Despite its historic trappings, the hotel has modern-day amenities such as satellite TV and high-speed Internet. The restaurant on the ground floor has marvelous views of Maastricht through huge cathedral-style windows.
WHERE TO EAT: Maastricht may be a small town, but the restaurant scene is booming. The cuisine is strongly influenced by Germany and Belgium, both of which are a just a bike ride away. Restaurant Beluga, with two Michelin stars, offers exquisite tasting menus that change daily with “the taste and smells of the seasons.” When you decide to visit Maastricht, reserving a table at Beluga should be your first move—it’s a tough reservation to snag. One dining rule to remember: coffee shops in Maastricht sell something a bit stronger than coffee. If you’re looking for java, head to a cafe.
HEAVENLY BOOKS: After spending days feasting your eyes on the glittering arts and antiques at TEFAF, make sure to check out Selexyz Dominicanen, a bookstore located in an 800-year-old Dominican church. Make no mistake: visiting Selexyz Dominicanen is a religious experience for book lovers. The beautifully restored church has a towering, three-story black-steel bookcase in the nave and a cozy cafe where you can enjoy your new selection and sip a cappuccino while seated at a cross-shaped table. The second floor houses the faded remains of glorious ceiling paintings dating back to 1337, and on the ground floor you can peruse European newspapers while standing on old tombstones. For those who aren’t multilingual, a large selection of books in English is available for purchase.
HOW TO GET THERE
KLM offers nonstop service from DFW to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. Transfer to a train at the airport for a two-and-a-half-hour ride to Maastricht.