Did you know that Valkenburg in the Netherlands is one of the best towns to visit during the holidays?
That's because many of its Christmas activities take place in... caves.
The Fluweelengrot (Velvet Cave) houses one of Europe's prettiest Christmas markets. The otherwise dark corridors are decorated with garlands of lights; dozens of stalls have ornaments and gifts on offer.
Outside the Christmas season, you can visit the Velvet Cave through a guided tour that lasts fifty minutes. The tour focuses on the several century-old murals and sand sculptures, their backstories, and some town history.
Most tourists who visit Valkenburg buy a combination ticket for the Velvet Cave and the Valkenburg castle.
The castle once belonged to the Lords of Valkenburg but was bombarded and destroyed in 1672 by order of William II. All that is left now are ruins, but they make for quite an impressive visit and offer a good vantage point over town.
In the lit dens of the marl corridors of the Wilhelmina Cave, you'll find several sand sculptures depicting the Christmas story. The tour ends with Europe's biggest nativity scene, inspired by The Star Of Bethlethem, and sculpted entirely out of sand.
Inside the Wilhelmina cave, there's a cozy wooden chalet where you can enjoy a hot chocolate and mulled wine.
After visiting the Wilhelmina cave, you can take the cableway to a café/restaurant on top of the hill where you'll have a beautiful view over the Geul valley.
The town of Valkenburg is magical to explore as well. As soon as you arrive, you're submerged in a fairy-like atmosphere. Valkenburg is already pretty outside of the holidays (eighty percent of the houses are made out of marl stone from the caves), but during the Christmas season every house, shop, and restaurant is decked out more abundantly and more beautifully than in many other towns. There is also a small outdoor Christmas market called Santa's Village.
I stayed at the Valkenburg Parkhotel whose interiors and atmosphere reminded me of the Overlook Hotel from The Shining. With its old-style interiors, comfortable bed, and excellent breakfast, the Parkhotel is definitely a place I want to return to.
I especially loved writing from the lovely decorated bar of the hotel (where I drafted this post), with soft Christmas music playing in the background. It was so warm and snuggly there that I seriously didn't want to leave.
What do you think of Valkenburg? Have you ever been?