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Dutch countryside/villages

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Did You Know … ?

  • Nijmegen, with a 2,000-year history, is deemed the oldest city in the Netherlands.
  • The country first imported bicycles in 1869; Deventer hosted the first bicycle club (1871).
  • In the 16th century, the Oudewater weighhouse was used to weigh humans — to determine if they were witches.
  • The world’s tallest windmill (147 feet) is in Schiedam, in the Rotterdam metro area.
  • Cape Horn at the tip of South America was named for Hoorn.

From A to Zutphen

The Dutch countryside is characterized by dikes, windmills, castles, flowers (especially tulips and others raised from bulbs), bicycles (cyclists have the right of way) and well-kept farmhouses and barns. Options include farm visits and open-air museums for those most interested in country life. Terrain is generally flat, even below sea level, and encompasses polders (land reclaimed from the sea), plus canals and inland seas good for boating and sailing. There also are hills and woods, good for walking and cycling.

Countless villages boast charming and walkable (sometimes car-free) town centers. Some date from medieval times and include canal systems, historic city gates and, occasionally, intact ramparts. The towns host numerous festivals in warmer months, and many have Christmas markets, too. All this is accessible by car or train.

As to the villages, the following is a small sample of the country’s appealing choices:

  • Deventer, a medieval Hanseatic town on the Ijssel River. Its well-maintained historic center is wrapped by the river plus a canal on the other three sides. De Brink, a large car-free market square, is the setting for outdoor cafes and a stunning weighhouse, now a museum.
  • Dordrecht, a medieval trading center on an island, boasting picturesque harbors and 1,000 monuments all within range of Holland’s iconic dikes and polders.
  • Giethoorn, a picturesque village famed for its canals. High wooden bridges connect various parts of the village, and garages house boats not cars.
  • Hoorn, a harbor town not far from Amsterdam noted for its beautiful yacht marinas and 17th century gabled houses. Another treat: lunch in the Hoofdtoren, once a defense tower.
  • Hulst, an example of a well-preserved small village with its ramparts still intact.
  • Middelburg, the capital of Zeeland, claiming more monumental buildings per square mile than any Dutch town, noted for its Gothic-style town hall and Lange Jan church tower.
  • Zutphen, another Hanseatic town, notable for its pedestrian-only city center which supports lively outdoor cafe, market and street fair activity — also, its large collection of well-kept old houses, medieval St. Walburg’s church, canals, sections of old ramparts and the 15th century Drogenapstoren (tower gate).

Things to do for Venturers

  • Go scuba diving in the Oosterschelde National Park, which is primarily salt water and bound by dikes and dams, to get a look at its unique sea life. Use the charming town of Zierikzee, which retains large parts of its ramparts, as your jumping-off point. Bird watching, fishing and sailing are options here, too.
  • Take a long walk. Join Nijmegen’s International Four Days Marches in July. Every year, thousands of people walk about 20 to 30 miles a day through the town and its surroundings, in what organizers call a “walking achievement event.”
  • A town called Sneek (no kidding) is considered Holland’s No. 1 destination for those who prize water-based recreation. Attend sailing races here, or do some sailing yourself.
  • Hire a boat and punt on the canals that characterize the tiny Giethoorn.
  • Climb the 207 steps up the 295-foot Lange Jan (Long John) church tower for a good overview of Middelburg’s city center, particularly its impressive Gothic city hall. Take advantage of the opportunity to climb towers and steeples in other towns that also cry out for an elevated review. How about the 220 steps to the top of the Lebuinus church tower in Deventer?
  • With Dordrecht at your home base, head to the National Park De Biesbosch, where you can sightsee from a canoe or discover the park’s attractions on hiking paths. Or, hop a bicycle to explore the polders on the island of Dordrecht, or cycle right on the dikes.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Remembering that life in the country can mean life at water’s edge, search out appealing fishing villages. Egmond aan Zee is a two-for-the-price-of-one choice. Here, you have access to an attractive beach, as well.
  • Travel, on foot, among the so-called “triangle of fortified towns” — Gorinchem, Loevestein (really a castle) and Woudrichem, linked by foot ferries. Follow signposted walks that take you onto the ramparts, too. There are two working flour mills on the Gorinchem ramparts.
  • Look for the world’s tallest windmills at Schiedam. The town is also noted for its jenever (gin) industry, and rich distillers built many of its monuments. Have lunch in one of the eateries found in an old warehouse or a windmill.
  • See the countryside from the seat of a bicycle. And/or use bikes as transport in villages and parks.
  • Arrange a guided farm visit in the Dordrecht area. Visits may emphasize traditional cattle raising practices or maybe cheese and other dairy products or fruits and vegetables. Or, visit the local distillery and sample jenever, a juniper-flavored predecessor to gin.
  • Come to Deventer for some fun, either the springtime medieval festival called Op Den Berghe or the July street theater fair called Deventer on Stilts. All the players perform on stilts.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Have lunch on the market square of Zutphen, the municipality considered to have best town center among all Holland’s small cities. Most of the streets are for pedestrians only. Parts of its historic town walls are intact, too.
  • Make a visit to the National Liberation Museum 1944-1945 southeast of Nijmegen, which tells the story of Holland’s experience of World War II and post-war reconstruction.
  • Take something of Holland home with you: Buy cheeses, wooden shoes and tulip bulbs. As for the windmills, take a lot of photos. There are plenty of mills to be seen.
  • In Deventer, sample the honey gingerbread for which the town is famous. The tradition for this bread goes back 500 years.
  • For a sense of Holland’s countryside in history, visit any one of several living history museums, such as the large one in Arnhem, or a smaller example at tiny Ootmarsum.
  • See where the Dutch hammered out their (secret) declaration of independence from the Spanish in 1572. The building where the Dutch resolved to fight still stands in Dordrecht.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions at www.holland.com