Holland is known for its flat landscape but nonetheless we have “mountains” (“Mountain” means “Berg”in Dutch). This blog is about the top four Dutch “mountains” : The Mount of Vaals, Pietersberg, Grebbeberg and the Duivelsberg. Except for the dunes, which mount up to 38 meters, the West and the North of Holland is completely flat indeed. The North has no dunes. Dams protect the lowlands against the sea. Travelling from Amsterdam to the east and the south-east of the Netherlands the landscape changes. We approach the Dutch mountains. These mountains each played a significant and striking role in the Second World War and offer excellent opportunities for trips into the countryside. Nowadays our mountains are National Parks (Natuurmonumenten). Great places for a outdoortrip.
Pietersberg Maastricht (170 meters)
Pietersberg is not the highest point in Holland. But it is our favorite Dutch mountain. The mountain is part of a Altiplano of marlstone. The ambivalent relationship of the Dutch with mountains is well demonstrated as we approach the Sint-Pietersberg. The Dutch cement company ENCI is deconstructing the mountain. The marl mountain provides Holland with the raw materials needed to produce cement. The company excavated the Altiplano at such high-speed that nature conservationists feared that in the future there only would only stay a hole in the ground. And strolling over the Altiplano around the Pietersberg you will discover ponds where today rare vegetation is discovered by divers. The conservationists stopped deconstruction of the highest Dutch mountain and its plateau to “a certain extend at some point in the future”. The remains of an Altiplano of marl which served as a stone pit for centuries are impressive by Dutch standards, though. Underground there is a vast network of thousands of tunnels stretching out over 150 km. So your effort should not be climbing to the mountaintop but you rather descend into the tunnels and reach the deepest point underneath the mountain.
To descend under the Pietersberg you need a guide. You definitely get lost and you would not survive a trip through the tunnels on your own. It is so dark and the silence is so heavy underground that you would lose each sense of direction as soon as the flashlight of your smart phone goes off. So the tunnels are forbidden territory, but almost every day you can book a guided tour down under the Sint-Pietersberg: T + 31 (0)43 325 21 21. You can book tickets for the daily guided tours in different languages.
The Dutch Mountains each played their specific role in the Second World War. The Pietersberg was a depository of Art Treasures during the war. Rembrands painting the “Nachtwacht” was stored there. Moreover the underground network of tunnels was an ideal hide-out for the citizens of Maastricht during the war. How many people stayed in the mountain is unknown. Rumors go that there were living so many people in the tunnels that they exploited their own underground bakery. There is no proof for that though. But underground we do find a chapel at a point where 5 tunnels cross.
Where to stay? In Maastricht you can spend the night on the Maas on a hostelboat.
From the boat you walk along the Maasboulevard straight in to the city centre were there are lots of nice things to do. I sure love Maastricht, the say its the Amsterdam of the south of Holland.
Grebbeberg (53 meters)
The hill is 52 m high and was significant in the Dutch defense line called “Water Linie”. This defense line starts at the Grebbeberg and stretches out to Amsterdam. The defense line consists of fortified cities (e.g. Naarden) and fortresses. This defense line was created in 1815 and tried to response to its purpose till 1940. The idea of this defense line was to put the land under water and defend the passages with fortifications. This defense line could not stop the Germans in 1940. On the 13th of May 1940 a Dutch Military force of 14000 men was defeated on the Grebbeberg by a German Army of 23000 men on a battlefield measuring 4 square kilometers. There was heavy fighting on the Grebbeberg. My uncle served there in these days. We – children then – asked him questions about his adventures in the war. But he never really wanted to talk about it. And when we insisted too much to tell us his stories my father would end the conversation and send us away. Maybe my uncle – my fathers eldest brother – was traumatized by his experiences on this battlefield. It was a memory he rather forgot. Nowadays on top of the Grebbeberg you find the National Military field of Honour. A war cemetery with the graves of the 423 men who fell in the Battle on the Grebbeberg. On the cemetery is an information center where video’s take you back in time to the period between May 11 till May 14 1940 when the Dutch army was defeated. In fact Holland was overrun by the Germans in 5 days. Germany broke al resistance with bombarding civilian targets. Germans bombarding Rotterdam finally brought the Dutch on their knees.
Address War Cemetery Grebbeberg: Grebbeweg 123, 3911 AV RHENEN, tel.: 031 – 76 12 507, Opening hours: 09.00 – 17.00 (also in the weekend)
Things to do on Grebbeberg:
- War monuments: Walking over the Grebbeberg you will come upon monuments of war. Try to imagine over 30.000 men fighting heavily over this hill – measuring 4 square kilometers – on the 11th of May 1940.
- Zoo: On the Grebbeberg you find a fine Zoo where wolves and bears live in a larger habitat then a cage. Your children will love the playgrounds.
- Outdoor trip: The Grebbeberg offers a wonderful view over the landscape. Specially the south-east side of the Grebbeberg where the river streams along the plateau is beautiful. Archeological investigations revealed that there were already fortifications at this place 4000 years ago. In 2002 the Grebbeberg was connected to the nature reserve the Blauwe Kamer in the floodplain. This allows the free-living herds of horses and Galloway cattle at high water to reach the safety of the mountain.
- Botanical Garden: Navigate to Hotel de Wageningsche Berg, Generaal Foulkesweg 96, 6703 DS Wageningen. The hotel – 10 km from Grebbeberg – offers a nice terrace with an ample view over the delta landscape. Beside the hotel is Belmonte Aboretum, the botanical garden with the largest collection of plants in Holland.
Mount of Vaals (323 meters)
The mount of Vaals, also called the Vaalserberg, is the highest peak of the Netherlands. On top of the mountain you’ll find the triple point (Drielandenpunt) where frontiers of three nations: Belgium, Germany and Holland come together. There are lookout towers on the hill with a wide view to the City of Maastricht in the West; the city of Aken to the East in Germany and the lovely Belgian countryside, with its promise of bee r and cheese (Voerstreek), in the South.
The Vaalserberg is a tourist attraction. People from all over the world are tempted to visit the place. There is not very much going on there, though. Of course you can stroll around the woods; have a meal in a restaurant; climb the view towers and make a selfie at the point where the three borders meet. The fascination for this place is a mystery to us. Maybe it’s just magic. We were wondering if lay lines could be crossing underneath border lines as we saw dowsing runners at the spot.
Devil’s Mountain (Duivelsberg 76 meters)
The Devil Mountain is a “natural monument” today where rare plants and animals find a habitat. Since old history it was a place of great military interest. There was a Roman fortification established 2000 years ago. During the second World War there was heavy fighting on Devils Mountain during the operation “Market Garden” also known as the Battle on Arnhem. The Allied lost this battle but this only was postponing an execution. The Germans lost the War a year later. And with their capitulation Devils Mountain – among many other small pieces of land along the Dutch-German border – became Dutch territory. In 1963 Holland gave the annexed German territories back to Germany except Devils Mountain. After the war Holland wanted 42 billion repair payment from the Germans. And what did we get: Devils Mountain. And that was it. So we better go off to Devils Mountain from time to time to enjoy nature and eat a pancake in the restaurant on the hill. Soon we make a trip there and after that we will add photo’s to this blog.