The words hill and Netherlands are rarely used in the same sentence. With over a quarter of the country below sea level, thanks in part to the clever Dutch practice of reclaiming land from the North Sea, the Netherlands is an almost uniformly flat country. This, combined with bicycling infrastructure that is the envy of many a U.S. cyclist, makes the Netherlands a great place to visit, rent a Dutch bike and act like a local for a few days. On a recent visit to Maastricht I did just that, with plans to head east and explore the countryside.
Head to Maastricht, located in the southeast province of Limburg, and the landscape changes. In this region bordering the Belgian Ardennes, centuries of limestone deposits have built up to form low hills, which were later mined, creating underground caves in the process. In fact, the nearby city of Valkenburg presents an annual Christmas market inside these limestone caves. As I rode through the countryside east of the city, I soon realized that my heavy, single-gear city bike was not the best equipment for the road ahead. This may be the only place in the Netherlands where a bike with gears is needed. A hybrid city bike with an electric motor is also a good option to do the hard work up the inclines.
I was cycling alongside roadside farms, when the sight of bicycle racers in their colorful spandex gear suddenly got my attention. It turns out, this is a training ground for competitive cyclists who ride in the Amstel Gold race, held here every summer. Soon I reached the town of Sibbe and pulled into the Cafe Aan de Kirk for a well-earned tosti, the Dutch version of a grilled cheese sandwich. The bicycle route between Maastricht and Valkenburg is full of hills, but it also has a few strategically placed rest stops with light meals and great local beer like Leeuwen and Gulpener to refresh and reward you for your pedaling efforts.