Maastricht sits astride the Maas river, as it has since Roman times. The river has a shallow section in this area that supports a crossing, otherwise the town lies in a bowl (the Maasvallei) surrounded by (not very Dutch-like) hills. And, to the southwest is a particular and prominent hill: St. Pietersberg.
On the surface, it’s famous for dominating, capped with Fort St. Pieter. This structure, thick stone walls surrounded by a deep moat, dates back to 1700. The French besieged the city from this hill (and others) in 1673, overwhelming the defenses in just three weeks. After the Treaty of Nijmegen returned the city to the Dutch in 1678, the fort was constructed as a (very) forward defense and was a major part of the city’s fortifications throughout the wars against the French through the entire 1700’s.
In 1987, I visited Maastricht to interview for a job with Diva Medical, a startup creating wireless diabetes monitoring systems. The company was lodged in a chateau donated by the city; engineers filled the turrets. I was offered the position of Engineering Director and we visited a gourmet restaurant in the Fort, now long gone, to celebrate. My son was due to be born in two months so I ultimately did not take the job, although it’s always been funny that life curled around to Maastricht again, decades later.
Today, there is a smaller café alongside the fort with a (pay) entry to the limestone caves that honeycomb the hills. These were used as refuges and hiding places through the ages, and tours are still given of the old storerooms and fortifications beneath. A large quarry craters the far side of the hill, due to be fully closed in a few years and then restored to a more natural state. Otherwise, the mountain is filled with forest and farmhouses, some converted to guest houses and offering wonderful views across the valley.
Further down the face of the hill is a former casino, now converted to the restaurant Buitengoed Slavante. The enormous terrace has wonderful views of the river and the city, a great place to sip coffee and swap stories after hiking over the hill.
And, coming back around the base towards the Fort, you pass Andre Rieu’s home (sadly, no sign of the famous musician, who’s been laid up with back problems lately). There were, however, some lovely exotic pigs in the nearby fields, eager to roll over for a belly rub.
‘really a nice tour for a sunny weekend afternoon.