A DUTCH MAASTERPIECE! from Roman Ruins and Ancient Caves to Modern Art and Designer Hotels -- the City of Maastricht Offers Perfect Harmony

Article excerpt

Byline: by Victoria Gooch

THE MIGHTY Maas waltzes effortlessly between the two sides of the Dutch city of Maastricht -- both markedly different. Rising from the west bank is an old town of Renaissance houses crammed on to cobbled alleys built atop Roman ruins (giving weight to the claim that this is the Netherlands' oldest city).

To the east is the gleamingly hip Wyck-Ceramique area, where antique shops are complemented by contemporary designers.

You can walk from one end of this diminutive city to the other in half an hour, taking in enough sights to make your heart sing.

Being twice as far from Amsterdam as it is from Brussels, the city, in the province of Limburg, feels more Continental than particularly Dutch.

Limburg has only been a permanent part of the Netherlands since 1839. Out on a limb down in the far south of the country, it's resplendent with undulating hills, vineyards and sun.

Add in its multilingual population, proximity to the German and Belgian (both the Flemish and Walloon regions are within easy reach of the centre) borders and international institutes, including the University of the United Nations, and it's no wonder the European Union was born here in 1992 when the Maastricht Treaty was signed.

If you have time to spare, its location is perfect for countryhopping.

you could start the day in Maastricht, follow the river south to the Belgian Ardenne, lunch in northern France, a digestif in Luxembourg, then wend your way back through western Germany. How sjiek (great), as they say here.

But if you're only here for a weekend, save it for another trip as the city itself will more than satisfy.

Maastricht is home to worldclass galleries, fairs and festivals, and exquisite shopping streets filled with boutiques.

It also has more pubs than there are days in the year -- music to the ears of the 13,000 students here.

Speaking of music, a tune has it that 'Maastricht is the city for fun and for song', and nowhere is that better encapsulated than at Andre Rieu's annual summer concerts in the grand, leafy Vrijthof Square.

Here, when the local-boyturned-global-superstar performs with his orchestra under a twinkling sky, I'm told it's like the Last Night Of The Proms.

Apparently, he brings out great emotion in his audience, especially when he plays in his hometown.

To me, it's this sense of deep pride among locals that makes the city so appealing. The former Roman settlement manages to preserve its history, while welcoming the modern.

ALMOST every one of its 1,450 monuments and historic buildings -- nearly as many as Amsterdam -- has a current use.

Take my accommodation, the Kruisheren Hotel, a converted 15th-century monastery that makes spectacular use of the box-within-a-box idea, leaving its gothic interior intact while spaceage lighting and modern art vie with the original frescoes and stained-glass windows.

Just off Grote Staat, one of the main shopping streets, is a similar renovation project. …