It may not seem like anyone's idea of a dream winter escape.
But for serious art collectors, the quiet, quaint Dutch city of Maastricht is the hottest destination around. From March 9 to March 18 the city hosts the European Fine Arts Fair (TEFAF)--a gathering of 219 of the world’s most prestigious art dealers, exhibiting art worth an estimated $1 billion.
“Art dealing is a very private affair,” says Jack Kilgore, president of the private, New York city-based dealer Jack Kilgore & Co. and an annual visitor to Maastricht . “But at the art fair you are at an open booth with competitors across the hall from you. It’s a very strange and unnatural environment for art dealers, but great for a collector or museum.”
Last year more than 84,000 people attended the fair, known for the accessibility of the art itself.
“At TEFAF you can touch a lot of objects and have a really close look,” says Barbara Veldkamp, TEFAF public relations and marketing manager.
With over 70% of the Old World Masters on the market displayed,TEFAF not only puts the general public face to face with some of the rarest and most expensive art for sale, but it also creates a perfect backdrop for those looking to purchase.
Tucked in the southern-most tip of Holland, “[Maastricht] is a strategic location between Belgium, France and Germany,” explains Dr. Walter Liedtke, curator of European paintings at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. “It’s the most important fair for Dutch and Flemish paintings."
The city, divided by the Maas River, has two identities.
On one side of the river lies an old-fashioned Dutch town, perfect for taking historic walks or grabbing a pint in the local bars. On the other side is the trendy Wyck-Céramique area where shoppers browse for the latest in European fashion during the day and students from the local University of Maastricht check out the hip nightclub scene at night.
Maastricht offers stunning contrasts in architecture as well. Here, historic cathedrals are juxtaposed to modern office buildings.
The Kruisherenhotel captures both the ancient and modern elements of the city. Built inside the former Kruisheren (Crutched Friar) Cloister, which dates back to the 15th century, the hotel showcases fading frescoed walls and ancient tapestries against a sleek and ultra-modern décor of one-way glass bathrooms and a glass elevator that connect diners to the restaurant level. (Hotel rates during TEFAF are around 335 euros, or $435, per person, per night.)
This unassuming town of only 130,000 has five Michelin-starred restaurants as well as several Michelin-rated hotels.
Fair-goers have the luxury of dining at such eateries as Beluga, a two-Michelin star restaurant that offers an eight-course dinner for 230 euros, or $300, or they can bed down at such world class hotels as the Kruisherenhotel, the four-star Hotel Winselerhof, a gentleman’s farmhouse built in the 16th century, (rates around 350 euros, or $445 per person, per night), or the Château St. Gerlach, located at the former homestead of the St. Gerlach country estate (rates around 550 euros, $713, per person, per night).
All of which puts TEFAF on par with international art fairs such as Palm Beach, in Palm Beach, Fla., PAN in Amsterdam, Biennale Des Antiquaires in Paris, and the Armory Show in New York City.
“It’s just like walking into a shop," says Dr. Liedtke. "Private [collectors] can buy immediately and walk out the door. Hopefully they’re smart enough to offer less than the asking price.”