Maastricht, the oldest city in the Netherlands, has a contemporary appeal to shoppers. Founded in 50 BC by the Romans, the city straddles the Maas River near the borders of Belgium and Germany.
Although Maastricht's buildings and ambiance are ancient, the town's shops sell luxury clothing and collectibles with Dutch and international origins. The most sophisticated shops are in the oldest part of town, on and around Stokstraat, which is considered the finest shopping street.
Georgette (No. 4) has women's day clothes by European designers. Tristano Onofri makes casually elegant two- and three-piece ensembles out of easy-to-wear silk or linen beginning at $180.
Zapa's suits of floral prints or tiny checks often mix flowing skirts with fitted jackets. Zapa's double-breasted 1940s-style jumpsuit costs about $380. Jean-Claude's cotton day dress has cheerful yellow tulips on a black background (about $275). His pretty print blouses (about $70 to $140) are finely tailored.
Creation Desiree (No. 8) supplies yarns and needles for do-it-yourself knitters. Sample sweaters with easy-but-stylish or complicated patterns hang from the rafters. Friendly salespeople help shoppers put together packages of yarns.
In stock are standard and fine wools, or mohair in a rich palette of colors (from about $6 per skein), plus cotton yarn (from $2.50 per 90-yard skein) and synthetic blends (about $7.50 per 50-yard skein) resembling strings of leather in pastel colors. There are glittering metallic threads (about $1 for three yards) and silk-like strands ($3 per 68-yard skein) covered with soft fuzz with which to make fuzzy sweaters.
Gifts to Take Home
Rob Stegen's (No. 14) selection of gift items ranges from authentic Delft blue porcelain plates (from $85 for small plates, from $178 for large plates) to Herend's porcelain window bowl ($608) with its delicate cutout pattern and a large choice of Hummel figurines. Popular as souvenirs are the hand-painted porcelain miniatures of Dutch houses ($50 and up).
Jaspariny (No. 17) is Stokstraat's \o7 haute couture\f7 shop, with the latest styles by Lanvin, Feraud, Ricci and other well-known French designers. Prices are astronomical.
Maaslands Antiquariaat (No. 20) is a delightful domain where antique books and maps are sold amid enthusiastic conversation about collecting.
Items include Pierre Belon's leather-bound volume describing bird species ($6,250), printed in Paris in 1555 and with many beautiful hand-colored illustrations, and a 14th-Century Italian prayer book ($5,000). Maps and prints ($60 and up, unframed) of various vintages are mostly of Maastricht and environs.
R. Bakker's (No. 22) sells functional antique clocks that are at least 100 years old. In the collection are clocks from 1690 ($15,000) and early 19th-Century Japan ($4,250). The owner is also an expert clockmaker who occasionally makes special timepieces on commission. His latest is a copy of an 1808 patent clock featuring a ball that rolls back and forth, releasing levers that tick off the seconds. It's made of brass and sells for about $6,000.
Belle Epoque (No. 25) turns to Italian, French and German labels for fashions to fit the young at heart. Iceberg's amusing collection offers navy and white nautical-theme sweaters ($200) and sturdy waterproof hooded rain jackets ($400), enhanced with appliques of slogans or roses.
Chantal Thomas' elegant suits in \o7 pied de poule\f7 , a wool with a small check pattern, have high-waisted skinny skirts and tightly fitted jackets with a long row of small buttons down the front ($600); a cream-colored linen suit features a double-breasted embroidered vest ($300). Prices are steep, but they're up to 50% less than in the United States.
Take a Chocolate Break
Chocolaterie De Vree (No. 31), the Netherlands' first nonsmoking tearoom, is filled with rich scents of coffee and chocolates. The shop serves hot drinks and cakes, and sells its own delicious handmade Maastricht chocolates.
The specialty is a rich dark-chocolate, five-pointed star, a symbol from Maastricht's coat of arms ($3 for 150 grams to $10 for 450 grams), and 50 types of bon bons with fillings from marzipan to liquors, and including nine types of fresh cream.
Most popular is the dark chocolate cup filled with soft white chocolate flavored with maraschino. Assortments from $4 per 200 grams to $24 for 1,300 grams.
Rodin Couture (No. 32) displays the best of Genny, Umberto Ginocchietti, Complice, Moschino, Byblos, Basile and other labels. Styles range from Iceberg's velvet poof miniskirt ($315) to Girbaud's Bermuda shorts jeans ($100).
The shop specializes in complete wardrobes. The staff will spend from half an hour to three hours to help shoppers select the right combinations. No charge for this service.
Fong Leng (No. 34), an Amsterdam designer who is of Dutch-Chinese heritage, uses silks to create fantasy outfits. Her one-of-a-kind silk coat has broad bands of ruffles extending from the shoulders down the back and sleeves ($2,500).