Xmas Caves in the Netherlands
As I watch my desktop candle flicker, I am reminded of where it was purchased.
In Limburg, the southernmost province of the Netherlands, the Valkenburg Christmas Market takes place in the enchanting dark cool caves carved out of the cliffs. This ultimate Christmas experience is a specular event that takes place every year during November and December during the Christmas season.
The Velvet Cave (Fluweelengrot) is the largest of the Christmas markets beneath the 11th c Valkenburg aan de Geul castle ruins. These set of tunnels were once the creation of labyrinthine secret escape passages from the castle out to the countryside during medieval sieges. In an era of wars, kings, lords, knighthood and rugged cold weather fortifications were a necessity around this region. The only hilltop fortress in the Geul Valley, the ruins are the final remains from the destruction left by the 17th C Dutch Spanish war.
Gunpowder was introduced to Europe by the Silk Road trade around 13th c. “One of the most important technological developments of the Middle Ages was the adoption of gunpowder weapons in medieval Europe. From the fourteenth century onwards, this new technology was to eventually transform the conduct of warfare beyond all recognition with important implications for European and global history. Guns came to be used in all aspects of military operations, with kings, nobles and burgesses all spending large sums of money on these prestigious weapons. The growing effectiveness of gunpowder artillery prompted major changes in the design of fortifications, the composition of armies, the management of logistics and administrative systems.” (CITED)
The history of the caves have seen its share of pain and some people are still alive to share their stories. During the European rise of Hitler’s Nazi Germany, the caves served as a hideout for Jewish people escaping German occupation and shelter for the locals. Other uses these caves served included a war hospital when the town was liberated by the Americans. Today, the area commemorates its 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Valkenburg.
The festive lights, the aromatic smells of alpine greenery, impressive art sculptor, and wall murals are delightful, and I went through these tunnel caves twice to absorb the ambience and take to solidify my shopping choices.
The art of Fluweelengrot are etchings and murals that tell stories. During the French occupation, Napoleon closed the Roman Catholic churches, so the priests and followers went underground to create secret chapels.
The booths are lit up with festive twinkling light, vendors wearing their earmuffs and gloves, and artists and crafters showcasing their finest creations. The miniature village displays have always been a joy to watch; I was especially amused by the electric trains going around the intricately creative set ups.
I really enjoyed slowly sipping a mug of Bischopswijn, Dutch mulled wine, warming my bones while appreciating the Alpine Christmas cuteness.
Baby, it’s cold outside. Inside the caves have warmer and milder temperatures. Many cafes provide heating lamps, yet, this one did not but did offer a pretty table setting.
Hopefully, there will be a next time to visit this area and it will be during the Summer season sipping wine Holland style. Zuid-Limburg is a wine region around the southern Netherlands and gaining prominence in the trendy wine scene with its tasting notes of Sapidity (bright acidity).
Went to church for a bite to eat!
The festive experience at Valkenburg is a Christmas destination experience. Today, the battery operated candle sits on my desk year-round and nostalgia rolled in when I turned it on today because it’s Christmas time and this memory of a small Dutch town brings back a smile and a twinkle in my eye.
Dan Spencer, Royal and Urban Gunpowder Weapons in Late Medieval England (Boydell Press, November 2019)
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