CONTRIBUTED BY SARAH FORTE
Note: This article was published in 2012, but the information at the bottom has been updated for the 2015 Christmas market season! Enjoy!
Valkenburg Castle and Velvet Cave with Christmas Market (Kasteelruïne & Fluweelengrot)
Within easy driving distance? Check!
Shopping and restaurants? Check and check!
What more could you want from a European town?
My husband and I recently took a day trip to visit Valkenburg in the Netherlands and had a wonderful time. If you are looking for a town that meets the criterion above, we’d suggest it for you too!
Valkenburg lies on the southern border of the Netherlands. This area is different topographically from the rest of the Netherlands. Where the Amsterdam area is flat and near sea-level, by comparison, the southern province of Limburg is hilly.
On top of one of these hills, in the middle of the town are the castle ruins, or Kasteelruïne. The first castle was built on this site just after 1000 AD. The final castle was destroyed in 1672 when the king, anticipating the might of Napoleon’s troops, decided to destroy the castle before it was over-taken.
Now, the castle has been excavated and is very well marked even in English. The signage explains the history of the castle and even has models from various points in history. From the top, there is a nice view of the town below and the valley spreading beyond.
From the town center, with many paid parking spots, the castle is easily visible. Find the steps leading up. The tickets are sold at a gate at the top. The walking tour is self-guided. The path is not stroller friendly or handicap accessible.
The town below is very pedestrian friendly. Many restaurants and shops lie at the foot of the castle hill. Even though we were there in late November, almost every restaurant had outside seating, complete with heating and blankets.
Nearby the castle is the velvet cave or Fluweelengrot. The cave started as a marl (type of stone) mine and has a pretty interesting history. The knights at the castle used it for a supply an escape route.
During one siege, the enemy couldn’t figure out how the castle inhabitants still could survive, even party, since they thought they had cut off all the supply paths. It turned out the that knights were using the cave to escape, then raid the towns of their enemies, pass under their enemies feet and bring back supplies for the castle.
Under captivity by Napoleon the churches in the town were closed, so the worship moved underground. You can still see the chapel carved and drawn into the cave walls.
Other artwork depicts different eras: from dinosaurs, to knights and up to WWII. In one spot the American liberators signed their names to the cave walls as well.
Guided tours are available from April until the end of October and also the last week of December. Although in given in Dutch, there is printed information in English and the guides are able to answer questions in English as well.
From mid-November until the end of December the cave transforms into a Christmas Market. Upon entering the caves, you will find many vendors with everything from handicrafts to imported gifts. At about the mid-point a café is set offering snacks, drinks and even a light meal.
Santa has found the Velvet cave too! He roams the Christmas market and even has bedrooms for himself and his elves inside.
The cave floor is not always smooth and even, but there are no steps. Space for a stroller might be at a premium at the busiest times.
One bonus to the cave market is that the temperature remains a constant 53°F, so when the weather outside is “frightful” it’s nearly “delightful” underground.
The caves without the Christmas Market are historically interesting, but the underground Christmas Market is a truly unique experience!
Open nearly every day from April until the end of December. Opens at 1000 and closes at 1500-1800, depending on the date. Check the Valkenburg Castle website for specifics.
Open nearly everyday from April until the end of October. Guided tours are given in Dutch (with English written material) every our or half-hour. Check the Valkenberg Velvet Cave website for specifics.
The cave reopens as the underground Christmas Market in mid-November. (November 13 – December 23, 2015). Guided tours are only given once the Christmas market closes until the end of the year.
Combination ticket for castle and cave:
Adults: € 9,50
4-11 year old children:€ 7,50
3 and under are free
6301 BJ Valkenburg aan de Geul (the Netherlands)
Valkenberg website for both the castle ruins and velvet cave.
Visit Gemeentegrot Caves website for information about another cave in Valkenburg.
Here are other Germany Ja articles about Christmas markets.