Maybe this is your first Christmas market season in Germany or maybe you feel like you’ve visited every one you can handle. What if I told you about one that is underground? When I say underground I don’t mean it’s a secret. I mean it is literally in caves!
About six weeks before Christmas, the small Dutch town of Valkenburg, Netherlands, transforms its famous Velvet Caves called “Fluweelengrot” into a Christmas market and Santa’s residence. These passageways date back to the 12th century and are directly below the remains of the city’s castle. They are lined with lights and decorations where you can shop at more than 60 stalls offering unique handmade crafts and traditional holiday food.
It is the oldest, largest and most visited underground Christmas market in Europe. In 2015, CNN’s website named Valkenburg one of fifteen top places to visit for the Christmas season. The Huffington Post United Kingdom’s online travel section named Valkenburg one of nine totally unique Christmas markets last year, as well.
Now in its 31st year, visitors can enjoy galleries and sculptures while listening to the echoing voices of carol singers below the famous Cauberg hill. Strolling through the caves, you might catch a glimpse of the many beautiful murals lining the walls. The Velvet Caves are home to sculptures dating back to Roman times. There is even an 18th century chapel.
If you’re just a window shopper, there are plenty of other activities to keep you busy. Within the caves are informative tales about marlstone and the history behind the sculptures. There are films and interactive tablets for patrons to observe. For a more in-depth look, be sure not to miss the special film created by the marlstone wizard, Mergeltovenaar, where he’ll sketch the Christmas story into the stone! You’ll even be able to create your own souvenir made from marlstone.
When you’re in need of some fresh air, there are a variety of activities above ground, including a sand sculpture display, Sinterklaas Village and a Christmas parade every Wednesday and Saturday evening in the town center. Kids will enjoy the Fairytale Forest, where the can meet the forest’s inhabitants, explore the inside of the Dangerous Dragon Cave and watch an indoor puppet show. Cost is €7.50; children under 2 years are free. For more information about the Fairytale Forest, check out their website at www.sprookjesbos.nl/activiteiten/.
If you’re more interested in wine and food tasting, don’t miss out on the Route D’Amuse. This walk takes you through Valkenburg, all while enjoying delicious food from five renowned restaurants. Cost is €11.50 per person. Information for the walk is available on their website at www.route-damuse.nl.
Valkenburg is the perfect option for a day trip. The drive is about three hours from the KMC area. The Christmas market is open through Dec. 23. Sunday through Thursday it is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Friday and Saturday it is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. On the final day of the market, Dec. 23, hours are
11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The market costs €7 for adults 12 and older, €5 for children 5 to 11 years old, and children under 5 years old are free.
Dogs are not permitted during the Christmas market, with the exception of guide or assistance dogs. The entire trail is wheelchair accessible. All proceeds benefit Foundation Valkenburg Castle. For more information, visit www.kerststadvalkenburg.nl.