One of the most beautiful towns in the Netherlands is the white village of Thorn. This charming village in the southernmost province of Limburg has a historic centre filled with cobblestoned streets and whitewashed houses, creating a charming sight and officially protected cityscape. Strolling around the village is the best way to explore Thorn and enjoy the picturesque streets. You’ll quickly notice how different this village is from all the other Dutch villages, known for their typical red-brick buildings and canal houses. The white village has tons of historical monuments, cute chapels, white buildings and picturesque streets. As Dutchies, we’ll give you the best tips for your visit to this hidden gem in our home country.
The intriguing history of female-reigned mini-country
Thorn is one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands and has a long history as an independent mini-state. In 990 a monastery for noblewomen was founded in what we now know as Thorn. The old abbey became a large estate over time, including the surrounding villages of today’s Thorn. The abbess of Thorn ruled the estate like other, usually male, noblemen in those days. The small independent country had its own currency, legal system and a small army and was recognized by the larger states of the time. For eight hundred years, noblewomen ruled this area during a time when men ruled pretty much all of Europe. This created a popular place for ladies from all over Europe to live, creating a great mix of European architecture and a much different town from the rest of the Netherlands.
Napoleon eventually put an end to this female rule and historical girl power. When he conquered Europe and the Netherlands, Thorn was taken over as well. The abbess and the other noblewomen of the monastery fled their mini-state and the French took over. A tax was introduced based on the number and size of the windows of the houses. Because the wealth from Thorn was also strongly connected with the monastery and the noblewomen had abandoned their abbey, the poor population decided to brick up their windows. The houses were painted white to hide these unsightly patches in the walls – also dramatically called ‘scars of poverty’ – creating the white hidden gem in Limburg we can still visit today.
In 1973 Thorn reached a protected status as protected cityscape.
The best sights of Thorn
#1 The historic center
The main attraction of Thorn is the historic centre itself. You’ll see straight away why this unique place is a protected cityscape, when walking around this kind of open-air museum. The cobbled streets are all picturesque and make you feel like travelling back in time town. The historic centre is low-traffic and cars are parked outside of the centre, further enhancing the historic character of the old town. The streets are all equally charming and are full of the white houses and beautiful monuments the town is known for.
#2 The Abbey Church
The most striking sight in Thorn is obviously the Abbey Church in the heart of the city. It is nowadays opened as a museum. Admire the beautiful stained glass, cross ribs on the ceiling of the Gothic church and the crypt. The crypt has old burial niches and relics, but the mummy of Thorn is especially a unique thing to see. The mummy was examined in 2007 and research showed that it dates from around 1600. Since then, the mummy has been preserved in a climate cabinet in the crypt.
The Baroque interior of the abbey is also striking. The Baroque-style interior was added to the church in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The present-day Netherlands was then predominantly Protestant and such an extravagant architectural style did not suit its sober tradition. That is why there aren’t many baroque churches in our country. But the Abbey Church of Thorn in Catholic Limburg is a great exception!
The base of the church tower clearly shows how the history of the church goes back much further than the Baroque interior. The tower was rebuilt later on the remains of a much older church tower in Romanesque style. The church was restored in the nineteenth century by the well-known architect Pierre Cuypers, known for designing the Rijksmuseum and Central Station in Amsterdam and Castle De Haar near Utrecht.
In addition to the Abbey Church, Thorn has a second museum. The museum tells its visitors more about the history of this Dutch white town.
#3 The monuments of Thorn
The white village is full of historical monuments from the time of the abbey principality. Near the church is a useful map of the historic centre with all the monuments. But even if you don’t use this map, you will see them everywhere when strolling around the white streets. You’ll clearly see signs on the white building, telling you more about the use of the monument in the old days, like the signs at the old Beguinage, the remains of the monastery, stately mansions or an old city gate.
#4 The Chapel under the Linden
The Chapel under the Linden, also known as the Loreto Chapel, is located on the northern edge of the village. It is a short walk from the old town to the chapel, which is well worth the effort. The chapel was built in 1673 by abbess Clara Elisabeth van Manderscheidt Blankenheim, the female ruler of Thorn at the time.
From the outside, you might not immediately notice that there is a chapel in the white building, as it looks like a normal house. The cross on the roof and the tower only show the link with a church. The Chapel under the Linden is also called the Loreto Chapel of Thorn in reference to the house of Saint Mary that is said to have been moved to the town of Loreto by angels. To resemble the house of Mary, this chapel in Thorn also looks like a normal house. You can find this type of Loreto chapels all over Europe, including one in Thorn.
Make sure to go inside and admire the interior, which was built in Baroque style just like the Abbey Church. Look up and enjoy the decorations, ornaments and paintings on the ceiling. Next to the Chapel is the Chapel House with a terrace to enjoy some coffee and cake.
#5 The chapels of Thorn
Besides the Chapel under the Linden, Thorn has many more chapels. You will see small white buildings everywhere around town. Many of them are protected as national monuments. If you’d like to see as many as possible, make sure to go to the local tourist office to buy an itinerary along all the chapels of Thorn. You can find a chapel itinerary here online for free as well. We didn’t specifically look for chapels during our visit though, but we did visit three of them. When walking to the Loreto Chapel, we also passed the Chapel of Saint Anne and the Chapel of Saint Nepomucenus.
Tips for a visit to Thorn
The white village is located in the southern province of Limburg, halfway through the province and close to the Belgian border. It is more than half an hour’s drive to the southernmost town of the Netherland, Maastricht, and 40 minutes to the more northern cities of Venlo or Eindhoven.
Thorn is not very big, so half a day should be enough to visit this white town. It would be enough time to see the old town, the Abbey Church and the Chapel under the Linden. Also make sure to sit down for a while at one of the terraces or cafes to enjoy a typical Limburg pie, as those are quite famous in the Netherlands.
If you have more time and want to stay a bit longer in the white village, we recommend you to visit the nature reserve next to Thorn. De Koningssteen nature reserve is right next to the town and on the Belgian-Dutch border. It has Koniks horses and Galloway cows. The Maasvallei nature reserve is also not far from Thorn and definitely worth a visit.
You’ll have to park your (rental) car outside the centre, as the old town is a car-free area. There are several paid parking lots on the edge of the historic centre. We didn’t bring our baby stroller and took our baby with us in a baby carrier. We didn’t even think about it, but we would definitely recommend you to do the same, as the cobblestone streets don’t work well with a stroller.
We visited Thorn on a sunny Monday in October. Unfortunately, the Abbey Church itself was closed on Mondays, but perhaps that was also the reason why the white village was so quiet. Thorn can get quite busy during the high season, when there are even tour buses stopping at this unique Dutch town.