A Scenic Netherlands Cycle – From Maastricht to Aachen
If you love cycling, chances are you have positive feelings towards The Netherlands. Today, Seamus Murphy tells us about his ride from Maastricht to Aachen. It’s a ride that Seamus tells me I must do one day….and here’s why.
A Scenic Cycle – From Maastricht to Aachen
by Seamus Murphy
If you ever find yourself on a cycling trip through the southern half of the Netherlands, make sure you research the route between the charming Dutch city of Maastricht and the impressive German city of Aachen. Of course, there is a fast motorway connection between the two, but the winding back road is far more interesting and scenic. It will take you into the very heart of the Dutch province of Limburg, one of the country’s most remarkable regions. In contrast with the rest of the Netherlands, Limburg is hilly and more sparsely populated, making it unique. It’s the perfect place to broaden your life on and off the bike.
Maastricht Railway Station is a good starting point. From here, the city’s red and white Veolia buses trundle back and forth along the route to Aachen. If you ever get lost along the way, just follow the bus! Take Schamerweg and cross the tracks and head east before turning right onto Oranjeplein. Cycling in this old city is an absolute delight (apart from the bumpy cobblestones) and the infrastructure is exceptional. Cycling paths are well thought out and marked, complete with their own traffic lights.
The Netherlands is really a biker’s paradise. Take The Hague for example, the seat of the Dutch government. In an area of 37 square miles, it has 229 miles of cycling paths and 43 miles of cycling lanes. Compare this with the United States – San Francisco is America’s most bike-friendly city with 5.6 miles of dedicated bike facilities per square mile, still well short of the Netherlands.
The only hazards on the cycle paths in and around Maastricht are hoards of students making their way to the city’s thriving university and those terribly annoying mopeds that are allowed utilise cycling paths for no apparent reason. If you smell petrol, hear a loud noise and then a blaring horn, move out of the way!
The going gets tough as soon as you hit Akersteenweg, a street that slowly increases its gradient as you leave the last buildings of Maastricht behind you. The Netherlands is renowned for being flat but once you cycle on Akersteenweg, you might wonder if you started your trip in Salzburg rather than Maastricht. Welcome to Limburg! It certainly is manageable, but if you feel tired, take a break and admire the view over the medieval city below you. On a warm summer’s day, it’s absolutely stunning. You can make out the steeples of the blood-red Saint Servatius Basilica on the Vrijthof square as well as the 11th century Basilica of Our Lady at Onze Lieve Vrouweplein.
The scenery along the route is quite impressive as well. Trees line both sides of the road and rolling green fields stretch as far as the eye can see. The slope finally levels out as soon as you reach the small town of Cadier en Keer. There’s nothing to see here apart from characterless redbrick houses and some auto dealerships, so it’s best to put your head down and plough on. As you leave the small town, you might spot an owl taking flight from some of the tall majestic trees lining the cycle path.
There isn’t too much going on in Margraten but if you take a left on Eijkerweg, you will reach the village of De Linde where a very unique cycling experience exists – cave biking. Here, you meet your guide 40 meters underground before exploring a dark labyrinth of marlstone tunnels with only your headlamp for illumination. It really is one of the more entertaining cycling experiences in Holland, though it is relatively expensive.
So back to Margraten. Apart from several quiet cafes and that splendid deviation, there is not too much to see. The next town is a bit more interesting – Gulpen. There is a Romanesque tower dating from the 11th century and the town hall is also worth seeing – it was formerly a monastery. Perhaps most interesting of all to a tired and thirsty cyclist is the brewery, unmissable on the route between Maastricht and Aachen, home to Gulpener beer.
Founded in 1825 by Laurens Smeets, Gulpener makes a golden lager found throughout the Netherlands. You can join a tour of the brewery and sample one of the company’s 17 different beer variations. You’ll also learn about the ecological production process and the history of beer consumption in Limburg. Taking a break from a mid-summer cycling trip to drink a cold Gulpener is the truly the height of satisfaction. When you feel rested and refreshed, it’s time to return to the cycle lane.
As you exit the small village of Vaals, just before the German border, you’ll come across one of the uglier sites along the route – the village police station. While some architects might describe it as a reflection on the relationship between architecture and landscape, most sensible people would describe it as a horrific edifice. Basically, three boxes are joined together, adjacent to a long walkway jutting out over a green field. The building is grey, made from layers of zinc, concrete and wood. There are few windows and the whole structure is so depressing that you automatically increase the speed of your cycling to get away from it.
It’s an ugly end to a beautiful trip. As you approach the border, you’ll pass plenty of discount supermarkets where you can purchase cheap coffee and alcohol. Dutch supermarkets like Albert Heijn are usually clean and pleasant but the ones here, including the particularly shabby C1000 right at the border, are quite dated. However, you can still find exceptional bargains. Once you’ve finished shopping, it’s just a few more paces to the border and that blue ‘Bundesrepublik Deutschland’ sign. The well-planned red cycle lanes disappear and the architecture changes. Welcome to Germany and welcome to Aachen. Looking back towards the Netherlands, soak in the last of the Limburgian summer. Then head in the direction of the Aachener Dom where a whole new adventure awaits.
Seamus Murphy writes for Trenditionist.