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186km (115 miles) SE of Amsterdam; 70km (43 miles) SE of Eindhoven

An exuberant center of history, culture, and hospitality, Maastricht (pop. 118,000) is a city of cafes and churches, and it's hard to tell which of these has the upper hand. Maastricht is generally reckoned to be Holland's most user-friendly city, blessed with a quality of life the northerners can't match. In between eating, drinking, church going, stepping out for Carnival, and hanging onto their rich heritage, the citizens of Maastricht have created a modern, prosperous, and vibrant city. Discovering how they do it all can be quite an education.

The capital of Limburg province -- its name is Mestreech in the local Limburgs (Limburgish) language -- owes its name and existence to the Maas River and repays the debt with a handsome riverfront. The city traces its roots back to the Roman settlement of Mosae Trajectam, founded in 50 B.C. at a strategic bridge across the Maas at the foot of Sint-Pietersberg (Mt. St. Peter).

The Lost Musketeer -- Maastricht was where d'Artagnan, the hero of Alexandre Dumas's The Three Musketeers, lost his life during King Louis XIV's siege of the city in 1673. Dumas's musketeers are fictitious, but the siege actually happened, and d'Artagnan was based on captain of musketeers Comte d'Artagnan Charles de Batz-Castelmore, who was indeed killed at Maastricht.