Brian loves castles, but somehow he remained a "castle virgin" until our trip to Ethiopia (of all places) and I think has only seen a handful since then, so when it came time for me to plan our 11th dating anniversary, I knew we had to take a trip south.
I did a little research into castle hotels, with a few requirements in mind. It needed to be old and relatively intact as a castle, it needed to have a stately atmosphere with a garden and moat, it needed to be in a serene location, and offer decent rates and great service. I found exactly what I was looking for in Kasteel Wittem!
Kasteel Wittem in the province of Limburg dates back to the 11th century. It's not a large castle, but its location relative to the cities of Aachen, Maastrict and Liège means it has welcomed many names straight out of history books including Charlemagne, Emperor Charles V, William of Orange and Peter the Great. The castle originated with a large stone tower built by the De Julemont family, and as this tower played a role in local skirmishes, the family built protective walls to form a stronghold with seven towers. The castle passed hands several times and fell into ruin after the French Revolution. It was eventually restored and was first opened as a hotel and restaurant in 1958, reopening in March 2011 under its current management.
Kasteel Wittem has 12 hotel rooms, each unique and named for the months of the year, a conference and event hall, the Brasserie Violin restaurant, a lounge bar, a library, two moats and 300 year old gardens. South Limburg is one of the only places in the Netherlands that you can find hills, and Kasteel Wittem is nestled in the beautiful valley of the Geul river.
By Netherlands standards, it's somewhat in the middle of nowhere, and from Haarlem it took us about four hours to arrive. We took a train from Haarlem Station to Amsterdam Central, and then another train from Amsterdam Central to Maastricht, and then caught a bus which took us within ten minutes walking distance of the castle. I was able to keep Brian in suspense up until the entrance signs.
When you walk into the castle, there's no front desk, which confused us for a minute or two until we found out that the front desk is the bar. The bar! It's here, when we were offered complementary drinks while check in got sorted out that we realized this is an extra special place. This sentiment was echoed by a guest just checking out, giving rave reviews to us about both the hotel and the food.
Hotels can so often be as transactional as they are relaxing. From cleaning up before the maid gets to your room to figuring out tips for the bellhop, there's a bunch of minutia that goes into leaving your home space for a temporary one. At Kasteel Wittem, where the bartender checks you in and the owner carries your bag up to the room, it's different right off the top. I had received an email a few days prior asking if they could make any arrangements for us (reservations and whatnot) and they didn't need to check the computer to know who I was or what had been arranged. A reservation had been made for that night's dinner at the Brasserie Violin on location, and we were given suggestions for Monday night when Violin was closed which ranged from Michelin Star rated restaurants to local pubs.
Once we finished our welcome drinks, we were taken to our room named "February," where we relaxed with another drink before getting ready for dinner.
We got all fancy, even though it wasn't strictly required and went down to dinner. The Bassiere Violin has one of the best deals around and Brian convinced me to get a five-course Chef's choice meal for just €58. Unfortunately I can still be a bit picky when it comes to fancy food, but all the more reason to believe me when I say this meal was unreal. We dove right in and and didn't even remember to take photographs of each course. Each course was a full meal in and of itself, we were losing track of the courses, and our full stomachs were begging for it to end...only for the meal to get better and better.
A little walk around the castle garden closed out the evening, and in the morning we went down for breakfast, to a table set just for us, for another feast. We didn't eat lunch for the next two days! We'll cover what we did outside of the castle grounds in another post, but Kasteel Wittem ensured we were well fuelled for our adventures outside its gates.
One of the things that we found charming was that nothing in Kasteel Wittem or surrounding area was in English. For us, this just added to the thrill of being in a place few English-speaking people visit, but it's important that we let you know what to expect. Menus, information pamphlets, museum placards and even tours will be in Dutch, German or French due to its proximity to Belgium and Germany.
Checking out the following day was truly sad as we really enjoyed our time. Kasteel Wittem gets our recommendation for being above and beyond our expectations in every way.
~ Erica ~ Brian