Maastricht is perhaps the most Italian city in the Netherlands, thanks to its Roman history and its wealth of Italian culinary establishments. In the previous part of this blog, Saskia of Ciaotutti.nl introduced you to the Italian feel of the Wyck district, the Stokstraatkwartier district, and the Onze Lieve Vrouweplein square. This time, she will show you Italian hotspots in the Jekerkwartier district and Maastricht’s historic city centre.
Saskia: ‘Because of the cobblestones, cosy terraces, and Italian-themed venues, Koestraat resembles a narrow street in an Italian village. Firstly, you have wine bar Via Mucca (the Italian translation of Koestraat) where you can sample wines from Italy among others. There is a great assortment of famous and lesser-known Italian wines to choose from. A little further down the road, Tomato is the place to be for delicious pizzas and pastas. Cheese lovers can also head to De Kaasbar, which features a number of Italian cheeses and wines on its menu.
Follow Koestraat, and turn right onto Stenenbrug, and at the end of Stenenbrug turn left onto Sint Pieterstraat. Turn right at Café De Pieter, into Lang Grachtje. To your left you will see the impressive remains of the medieval city walls, one of the charming features of the Jekerkwartier district. On the corner of Sint Hilariusstraat lies the most photographed house in the city: Huisje Hoogerwaard. It would blend in perfectly in an Italian village like Spello in Umbria...
Turn left at the end of Lang Grachtje and traverse Grote Looiersstraat, to get a taste of what life would be like on a village square in Italy. Turn right into Looiersgracht, cross the small bridge over the Jeker river, continue along Looiersgracht and turn left into Kakeberg at Ezelmarkt. Follow Kakeberg to the little square at the intersection with Tongersestraat. Here, a mural by Roland Topor is showcased next to a statue of St Servatius which is facing Tongeren, where he was a bishop before his time in Maastricht. It is a replica of the bishop's statue which stands on the Sint Servaasbrug bridge. Across the street lies RistoPub Paletti, which offers a wide range of delicious southern Italian cuisine. The dishes here feature many Pugliese and Neapolitan influences, from wood-oven pizzas to panzerotti, from different pasta dishes every day to amazing antipasti.
Walk back along Tongersestraat to Ezelmarkt square. Cross the street and continue on Bouillonstraat, opposite the Toneelacademie institute of performative arts. Turn left and continue along Sint Servaasklooster to Henric van Veldekeplein square. From the square, take the small street between the Saint John’s Church (Sint Janskerk) and the Basilica of Saint Servatius (Sint Servaasbasiliek), with the dark name of Het Vagevuur (Purgatory). Resist the urge to think of Dante's depiction of this place of purification, because instead of taking you to hell this Purgatory takes you to Vrijthof square – the city's most famous square.
Before we reach the square, let me tell you a bit more about the Basilica of Saint Servatius. Like the Papal Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican in Rome, this church was built on the grave of its namesake. The final resting place of Saint Servatius is said to have once been a Roman burial ground. During excavations which took place at the end of the 1980s, the remains of a Roman building with a water basin were found under what was the floor at the time. Two Roman coins were also found. The Bergportaal portal (opening) does not date back to Roman Times, but closely resembles Italian design as it features splendid scenes from the life of Mary and detailed sculptures of Biblical figures. The labyrinth on the floor has Maastricht as its starting point. The four corners are formed by the cities of Aachen, Cologne, Rome and Constantinople; the centre is the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Thanks to Il Bacaro, you can get a taste of Venice when standing on Vrijthof square. As is Venetian tradition, accompany your glass of wine or Aperol Spritz with a selection of cicchetti, an entirely Venetian type of tapas. You can choose from the most delicious dishes, such as baccalà mantecato, sarde in saor, polpette, arrosticini, zucchini fritti, bruschetta... If you would like a more substantial meal, you can choose from a number of well-filled panini options as well as large plates of pasta.
Depart Vrijthof square via Helmstraat. To your right, you will find the Dominicanerplein square, which is host to Boekhandel Dominicanen. It’s the perfect place to purchase a nice book about Italy to savour la dolce vita a bit longer. If you walk to the end of Helmstraat, you will enter Grote Gracht – with Thiessen Wijnkoopers on the right across the street which is home to a wine shop, featuring a veritable treasure trove of a wine cellar as well as a vineyard. The oldest part of the cellar was once part of Maastricht's fortifications. On request, you can attend a guided tour and/or a wine-tasting session.
Continue down Grote Gracht to Markt square which boasts the city’s stately City Hall building. Unfortunately, you cannot enter the building which is home to a beautiful piece of Italian history. Between 1735 and 1737, the Italian-Swiss stuccoer Tomaso Vasalli created a number of magnificent ceilings here, including in the mayor's chamber. The stucco in the Gagini room was done by his colleague Pietro Gagini. On the mantelpiece you can see the personification of caritas, charity. The walls feature gorgeous mountain landscapes surrounded by flowers, birds, putti (cherubs); and mythological figures, including Venus (the goddess of beauty), Diana (the goddess of the hunt), and Amor (the god of love). Would you like to know what that looks like? Then click on this link to take a virtual tour. You can also watch the Grandeur on the Market video, to take a look inside the City Hall building.
From Markt square, follow Muntstraat, turn left into Mariastraat and then right into Kesselskade for the last stop of this walk: Il Fiore (at number 59). Here, Italian cuisine flourishes thanks to Dino's cooking and Diana's hospitality. Dino would welcome the challenge to choose a meal to amaze you. Make sure to order a nice bottle of wine to toast to Mestreech. Cin cin!
If you would like to know more about Italian locations in Maastricht, then try Ciao tutti’s City Walk Maastricht – Italy on the Meuse to discover them all. You can order via this link. Buona passeggiata, enjoy your walk!