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MAASTRICHT

By many considered to be the most beautiful city of the country, Maastricht is the southernmost city in the Netherlands. It's the capital of the province of Limburg and famous for what the Dutch call the "Burgundian" way of life. Dutch and international visitors alike flock in to enjoy this "joie de vie" and indulge in the many fine dining, arts, culture and shopping opportunities in town. The river Maas runs right through the city, offering some scenic views, and the lovely cobblestoned centre is full of historic buildings and impressive cathedrals.

Perhaps one of the best sights of Maastricht is simply to admire the two town squares in the centre of the city and the many old buildings around the street near the university and town wall. Vrijthof is considered by many to be the beating heart of the old city. It features the massive St Servaas Church and St Jan's Cathedral and hosts a range of large festivals throughout the year. The Carnival before Lent is an amazing occasion where (it seems) the whole city dresses up in costume and parties until the early hours. It really has to be seen to be believed, this is a North European Mardi Gras, hence colder and darker than its American cousin.

St Servaas Basilica is believed to be built on top of the grave of Saint Servatius. The first known bishop of the Netherlands, he is said to have died here in the 4th century. The current grand, Romanesque structure in the shape of a cross was first built around the year 1000, and substantially expanded over the centuries. Pope John Paul II made the church a basilica after his visit here in 1985.

The main shopping area is between the Vrijthof and the river south of the Markt. Shoppers should also check out the more specialist shop over the other the side of the Sint Servaasbrug.

There are many excellent places to eat in the town. Key areas to peruse are around Onze Lieve Vrouweplein, Vrijthof, Maaspromenade and Wycker Brugstraat. Eating out in Maastricht is not always cheap, with most restaurants catering more to a posh older crowd rather than the student population. On weekdays there are a number of good and relatively low-priced sandwich outlets, as well as the usual fries based take-aways.

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