Did you know that visitors to Maastricht can also have a very Belgian experience? The city bears traces of its unique, centuries-long relationship with its neighbouring country, which has been best preserved in Maastricht’s culinary scene. And who better to share these places with you than our own city guide, Viviane, a bona fide Belgian! Let’s go on a tour of Maastricht’s Belgian side.
‘I remember going to do shopping over the border in Maastricht as if it was the most normal thing in the world. I was born in the Belgian town of Riemst, just across the border from the city, and grew up in Tongeren, also in Belgium. I have especially fond memories of my grandma taking me to Maastricht’s weekly markets, which are still a big favourite with many Belgians. The huge range of different products in combination with those southern vibes and the terraces around the market all make it feel as if you’ve never crossed the border.
It’s no wonder it feels that way. After all, this part of the country could easily be part of Belgium. And there was a time when it actually was. We need to go to Vrijthof square to explore that bit of history. From a religious point of view, the connection between Belgium and Maastricht starts here with the arrival of Saint Servatius from Tongeren, the first bishop of Maastricht. At that time, Maastricht was undoubtedly part of the Duchy of Burgundy and Diocese of Liège – it wasn’t in the Netherlands. The statue of De Perroen on Vrijthof square reminds us of this, and similar statues can be found in many cities of the Prince-Bishopric of Liège, such as Verviers and Tongeren. At the time, everything reminded inhabitants and visitors to the city that Maastricht was aligned with the south rather than the Netherlands to the north. The Belgians declared independence in 1830. When the border had to be drawn in 1839, it was General Dibbets who, at the very last minute, stopped Maastricht from becoming Belgian territory and made sure it was part of the Netherlands. This was to the great dissatisfaction of most residents of Maastricht, who cared little for Holland and felt much more connected to Belgium. Belgium is still our favourite neighbour to this day. And maybe we get along a little bit better because of that fact.
Maastricht has faithfully kept a number of Belgian customs and recipes. Many bakers, such as Patisserie Royale in Wyck or Bakkerij Hermans just outside the centre along Zakstraat, know exactly how to prepare their products in that delicious, refined way that Belgians truly love. Even the traditional Limburg “vlaai” (sweet tarts) are lighter and more polished, as is the local chocolate. People in Maastricht don’t use the word “chocolates” but the French term “friandises”. Visit Chocolatier Friandises in Wyck and you’ll see (and smell!) what I mean. Just by tasting what’s on offer, visitors to Maastricht from the rest of the Netherlands know they’re in the country’s most southerly city.
This Belgian influence also pops up on cafés’ food and drinks menus, especially when it comes to beer. And you’re sure to spot a few Belgian classics. Beer bars like De Gouverneur near Markt square, Cafe Falstaff on Sint Amorsplein square, and De Poshoorn in Wyck are just a few examples. Open up the menu and you’re truly spoilt for choice: there are so many craft beers, lots of them Belgian! They’re great with dishes such as stoofvlees (stew) or the Belgian “Koninginnehapje”, a chicken vol-au-vent, for lunch (if you’re ordering in Maastricht, ask for a “Videeke”). Shrimp croquettes or a good steak with Béarnaise sauce with a generous portion of Belgian fries (with that authentically fresh and sour mayonnaise, of course) are also recommended. Head over to Café Sjiek (the “zuurvlees” stew is their speciality) or Pieke Potloed (for stew or “boulettes de Liège” meatballs). Or Restaurant Witloof, whose menu (in English, Flemish, and Walloon) is packed full of Belgian delicacies, including traditional chicory gratin with ham and cheese, as well as excellent Belgian beers. You can really taste the Belgian influences in many places here.
And if you haven’t tasted it yet, you’ll definitely see it – on the fashion scene. It’s all just a little different and much more influenced by the southern countries of Belgium, France, and Italy. Go window-shopping in the chic Stokstraatkwartier, where you’ll find boutiques of luxury Belgian fashion houses such as Natan and Essentiel Antwerp. But these influences aren’t just in the shops – they’re on the street as well. You’ve made sure you look smart before heading out the door, and it’s time to go for a stroll: something you’d do in Maastricht but wouldn’t elsewhere in the country. People are here to see and be seen. They probably won’t say anything, but that doesn’t matter. That care for your image is something typically Belgian – and so typically Maastricht, too.’
Looking sharp? Now you know where to soak up some Belgian vibes in Maastricht!
See you soon!