Dan & I have now been married for 6 years. We’ve known each other for 10, so when I say it “feels like forever” I mean it in the nicest possible way. We’re not particularly romantic people, but this year we took a trip to the Vaals countryside, to relax and do some hiking or biking.
In short, the trip was wonderful. In long, you’re just going to have to keep reading.
When I wrote over the last couple weeks about the differences between Limburg and their neighboring regions to the north, I had no idea just how unique things were a mere 30 minute drive away on the western side of my tiny providence. The area Vaals is in is much hillier and more thickly forested that the area around Maastricht. The architecture also shows a real Germanic influence, with lots of timber frame houses (nearly everything in Maastricht is stone only).
The rolling hills and black and white cows actually put me strongly in mind of my home in Vermont, which made the area feel very restful to me. I love all the city travel we do, but I’d forgotten how much I missed the calm aura of a rural landscape.
Since we didn’t know how accessible Vaals would be, Dan & I rented a car for the weekend. That, in turn, let us pick an out of the way bed & breakfast for our visit. The Raren, a small B&B run by two very friendly guys, was the best of all possible sleeping options for us. Located in a converted farmhouse, the B&B has the typical timber-frame appearance on the outside, and is decorated inside with a beautiful mix of African objects and 1950s Germen pottery. Our hosts were very gracious, eager to show off their home, small orchard and garden, and offering us the use of their pool, sauna, and bikes. When we told them it was our anniversary, they gave us a bottle of South African wine to celebrate with and were absolute fonts of information about Vaals, Drielandenpunt and hiking the the area; which is, of course, what we were doing there.
They also have the most adorable chocolate lab.
Hands down the best, most relaxing bed & breakfast experience I’ve ever had, I would encourage anyone wanting a calm get away to go stay at the Raren. Heck, I can’t wait to go back.
One of the main reasons we visited this area was to see Drielandenpunt, a tourist attraction marking the point of contact between the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany. Not unlike Four Corners in the US, Drielandenpunt is a bit trumped up. It’s just a spot on the ground of course, but it was a lot of fun to hike too and there’s something special about places where several places meet. An observation tower allowed us to look far out over all three countries well above the forest. Slightly more interesting is that Drielandenpunt is on the top of the tallest mountain in the Netherlands.
In addition to the Drielandenpunt photo-op, an English style labyrinth can be explored. The design is changed occasionally, but the objective always remains the same. Get to the middle. When we explored it, the path was actually quite complex and it took a while to get to the middle. Toss in a few bridges and water hazards, and the maze turned into quite a fun diversion.
To give you an impression of how easy it is to walk and hike in this area, we walked all the way to Drielandenpunt, down to Vaals, and back to our B&B all before dinner; approximately 10-12 km. Rolling hills and lots of walking paths through the woods makes the area pretty accessible.
The other activity we wanted to try in the Vaals area was a bit of hiking through the Vijlenerbos. The Vijlenerbos is one of the Netherland’s protected forest reserves and it covers a pretty sizable area in Limburg. There are tons of crisscrossing trails for hikers, bikers, and even horseback riders to enjoy this natural treasure.
On Sunday we opted to take a short 5.5 km hike from the Boscafe we ate dinner at the night before. The loop trail didn’t go anywhere in particular, but it was a nice, relaxing stroll without many sounds of traffic. The tracks were generally marked by low colored posts, not unlike the blazes you normally see in the US. Of course we decided to follow the “green” path, which faded into the green of the forest a little too often. Lots of tall trees and intersecting paths took us down the hill and back up to the Boscafe where we had a bit of lunch; including our first taste of stroop; an apple-flavored dark spread popular in Limburg.
Of course no discussion of a Potter trip is complete without a mention of the food. Since we were in Limburg, we munched on the usual Dutch fair including friets with zuurvlees and various pork based meals. Our anniversary dinner itself was at the Boscafe ‘t Hijgend Hert which is up in the hills at the beginning of the hiking area we visited on Sunday. The fare is hearty and quite Dutch, but with some definite German overtones. Dan’s ham in orange sauce was very good; my own pork medallions in a Trappist beer sauce pretty dry. But we did get to wash it down in the boscafe’s own Blond and Bruin Hert wheat beers. The blond was delicious and (predictably) strong.
For dessert Dan had a chocolate banana split and I got to try the Dutch variation of eggnog: Advocatt. Advocatt is bright yellow and pudding thick, with a strong brandy flavor. As part of my hazelnut sundae it was perfect.
And then, of course, our wonderful hosts gave us some walnuts and jam fresh from their own garden to take home with us. A little piece of Vaals is currently sitting in my fridge, waiting to be bake into a pie or spread on toast. Yum.