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Such short, dark, rainy days where we can't do much besides sit indoors (still!) don't do much to lift people's mood. Many of us are counting down the days to the New Year in which everything will be better, more fun, and above all more sociable. It's safe to say that things at the moment seem rather lonely and dull... That is, until you walk into Maastricht's city centre! From the moment you arrive at Maastricht's main railway station, the brightness is almost overwhelming, Maastricht is here to brighten up your winter! As a gift to all its residents and visitors, the Municipality of Maastricht has given the city an illuminated makeover, decorating the city with hundreds of lights for the last few months of this year. What makes it even better is that Maastricht has created three safe, wintery light routes that you can walk along. This means that you can discover Maastricht by night, while keeping a safe distance from other people. I was lucky enough to walk along the romantic light route.
My spirits already lifted on my way to the starting point. A swing has been put in the tree next to the Jeker river. Nearby the imposing Helpoort gate, you can sit on a swing beneath a number of illuminated branches. The trickling water and the rocking movement help calm and relax me. This area is part of the route, so make sure to stop here.
From the true start of the walking route – on Vissersmaas street – I go through the grand street of Stokstraat and look in awe at the fabulous shop windows and many lights illuminating the street. It's so cosy here.
Before I continue into the park, I discover that the Gelateria Luna Rossa ice-cream parlour is still open in these cold winter months. As I'm already cold, I don't think twice about enjoying some tasty Italian ice cream. It really is a moment of pure heaven.
I decide to continue my journey through Maastricht's city park, before it really gets dark. When people feel down, spending time in nature has been proven to have a calming effect and lift your spirits. The fun of the route through the city park is that it takes you along hidden paths and walkways. This means that there's always something new to see, and the dark adds an extra bit of mystery.
But the most unique feature is the alcove in the city wall that leads you back into the old city centre, guiding you into a sea of light. This part of the route may not be known to everyone, but it's still a great part of Maastricht. Make sure you don't miss it!
Beautiful, old, stately buildings, the most wonderful hidden restaurants, and as soon as you turn the corner, you can see both the tower of St. John’s church (Sint Janskerk) and the Basilica of St. Servatius (Sint Servaasbasiliek) bathed in light and towering above the rooftops. It's like walking into a fairy tale. Everywhere is calm as well as dark, making you feel as if you have the area all to yourself. You really get taken into the moment and let go of all your worries for a brief moment. That's what true happiness feels like.
Before continuing my journey, I stop at the Boekhandel Dominicanen bookshop – surely one of most beautiful bookshop in the country. Once you step inside, you can instantly recognize the church's gothic elements which give it an almost magical appearance. Naturally, the scents of coffee and books put an instant smile on my face. I could wander around here for hours, losing myself in the most wonderful stories. I personally recommend my book Happy in 100 dagen (Happy in 100 days, Lev. Uitgevers), which recently went on sale here.
At Vrijthof square, I am dazzled by all the sparkling lights in the trees. The Museum aan het Vrijthof looks more beautiful than normally, the same goes for the theatre. Walking hand-in-hand across the square might even be more romantic now, than sitting down together in one of the many cafés. Thankfully, almost every place on the square has delicious snacks or drinks for sale, so I stayed for a bit longer while enjoying my treat and taking in the view.
After leaving the Vrijthof square, I continue on my way to the Jekerkwartier district. After all these years, it still feels like stepping into France when I walk on the cobbled streets between the centuries-old buildings. I know that there are many fantastic restaurants and cafés here, so I left the light route for a little while. I make it to KOFFIE bij Joost en Maartje just in time to have a piping hot latte with oat milk. It's a great treat and a lovely way to warm up.
If the route hasn't brought out the romantic in you so far, it definitely will here. With my cup of coffee in hand, I walk towards Onze Lieve Vrouweplein square. Each year, the many trees here become part of a fantastic display of lights: giant balls of light are put on the treetops, as far as the eye can see. This really is a sight worth seeing. If you want to add a special touch to this route, then light a bougie (candle) in Onze Lieve Vrouwebasiliek (Basilica of Our Lady) Briefly reflecting on the things you are thankful for has been proven to contribute to happiness.
All good things come to an end, and so did today. I walk through Wolfstraat, with all its beautiful shops, and head to the end of the light route.
My final thoughts? Maastricht is as magical as ever this year. The light route helps you let go of your worries for a while, as you can enjoy the dark, wintery days in a safe way. There is an added bonus, as the lights will be kept in place for even longer this year! You're more than welcome to walk along the light routes until the spring. See you soon!
Josje Smeets is a happiness psychologist as well as the owner of HelloBetty.nl. She advises companies and private individuals on everything that makes people happy. Her book ‘Happy in 100 dagen (Happy in 100 days) is available online and offline now.