Maastricht received attention when it became the birthplace of the European Union—the political agreement linking the continent's major countries was signed there. Linger a few minutes in the main square (Vrijthof) to soak up the city's cosmopolitan atmosphere. Afterward, stroll the cobblestoned streets and visit the oldest market in the country. We were impressed by the silver trove in the 1,000-year-old St. Servaas Basilica.

Located 125 mi/200 km south of Amsterdam, Maastricht hosts the European Fine Art Fair in March, one of the largest in the world, where you can pick up everything from Rembrandt paintings to Chinese furniture. If you are looking for a place to stay overnight, check the local castles (some have rooms for rent). While you're in Maastricht, try limburgse vlaai, a great local pastry.

About 8 mi/13 km east, the charming town of Valkenburg has a casino, nice cafes and caverns decorated with murals and charcoal drawings. During your visit, take the chairlift up the Wilhelmina Tower for a spectacular view of the area and then tour the Fluwelen and Municipal grottoes, which have been in use since Roman times. You can also treat yourself to the natural thermal waters of the Thermae 2000 Spa.

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