Holland: A haven for every traveller

 A visit to historic Holland is a feast for the eyes as well as the other senses

TEXT BY NAMITA GUPTA

You’ve probably ticked some of the most visited tourist hotspots off your checklist in Amsterdam – the Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank House and the Rijksmuseum, the world famous Dutch tulips at Keukenhof (The 2018 theme is Romance. Keukenhof will be open from March 22 – May 13 in 2018), guzzling in on the Heineken experience, or just cycling around the streets, canals and squares by now…but there’s so much more beyond the Dutch capital, where you can lose yourself and be one with the locals. And that’s what we did on our recent trip to Holland.

We arrive at the Schiphol Airport in one of the most comfortable-lie-flat beds with Herringbone seat configuration giving easy aisle access for every seat onboard Jet Airways 9W 236 Premiere Class with dreams of swanning across the typical Dutch classics like tulips, cheese farms and windmills to historical cities and marvel at the artworks of the Dutch Masters; traipsing across the beautiful canals lined with monumental houses that show the success of the 17th-century merchants, and the beautiful landscapes. Jet Airways is the only airline to offer non-stop flights between Amsterdam and Bengaluru (10 hours 45 minutes) and back (8 hours 45 minutes). No wonder their flights are fully booked every single day.

Landgoed Duin & Kruidberg: A half an hour drive will transport you to Landgoed Duin & Kruidberg, a magical world that you would have probably fantasised about or read only in fairy tales. Duin & Kruidberg was formed by the merger of two centuries-old country estates, Duin en Berg and Kruidberg. In the mid-nineteenth century the two estates were acquired for the first time by the same owner and purchased in 1895 as Duin & Kruidberg by Jacob Theodoor Cremer, who built a new house on the estate with the help of architect JJ Van Nieukerken and sons. Stay at this gorgeous Duin & Kruidberg Estate that has been open to guests and diners to stay and dine at since 2002 and amble around to soak in its quaint and verdant views.

Zaanse Schans: A visit to the Netherlands would not be complete without experiencing the picture perfect Dutch countryside of Zaanse Schans, a 20-minute drive from Amsterdam. If you’re looking for a real Dutch experience, then drive straight out of the bustling alpha world city to explore Netherlands like never before. There’s lot to pique the interests of an inquisitive traveller like me. With the wind blowing through my hair, the chilly air caressing my skin and a spring in my step, I set out to explore the unique mill village admiring the windmills and watermills as a monument of ingenuity and craftsmanship, flanked by green-timbered homes and warehouses. The Netherlands has over 1048 windmills and 108 water mills that represent the age-long battle against water.

Do not miss the clog making workshop at Zaanse Schans by Justin Kooijman, a third generation Dutch. Justin showed us the swift process of turning patten to objects d’art; a flat piece of wood (poplars thrive in Netherlands as their wood is supple and flexible making it ideal for clog making) into a beautiful and inexpensive wooden shoe with artistic carving and paintwork. One often comes across these typical poplar avenues in the Dutch landscape. The highlight of Zaanse Schans was learning about the history and production of cheese with a cheese-making demonstration at the Catharina Hoeve, Zaandam, where their staff – in traditional Dutch costumes informed us on Henri Willig cheese that was founded in 1974. They also took us through the sampling of Gouda cheese besides many other varieties of cheese made from traditional Dutch recipes by Henry Willig that is exported to over 30 countries. Holland is home to an area known as Cheese Valley, made up of four regions: Gouda, Bodegraven-Reeuwijk, Woerden and Krimpenerwaard.

Gouda cheese isn’t typically produced in the city of Gouda itself, rather in the villages and farms of the surrounding area: Cheese Valley. The name Gouda cheese stems from the Middle Ages, when the city of Gouda acquired the sole marketing rights to sell cheese in the County of Holland, causing all the farmers to flock to Gouda’s market square to sell their wares. Today, there are still around 300 Dutch farmers producing ‘boerenkaas’ (farmers’ cheese) in the region. On an average, the Dutch eat 20 kilos of cheese per person per year and 500 million kilos of cheese are exported per year. After tasting their cheese, I know exactly why they love their cheese and eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We also tasted and bought some Stroopwafels (a traditional delicious Dutch waffle made from two thin layers of baked dough with a caramel-like syrup filling).

Land of castles and gardens: In the centre of the Netherlands near Utrecht and only a 30-minute drive from Amsterdam lies Kasteel de Haar that will leave you spellbound with its panoramic views. A stroll around De Haar Castle with Joop van Kooten, Zaalgids, is a journey of discovery and a real peek into the image of a medieval fortress with towers and ramparts, canals, gates and drawbridges as De Haar.

The largest and most luxurious castle of The Netherlands it was restored and rebuilt partially. The gardens are worth a visit too and for those who have arrived in life, the De Haar Castle can be hired for memorable fairytale weddings. Do visit Kasteel Amerongen which is at driving distance for its large collection of artworks and interesting stories.

The Hague, the political center of Holland: Amsterdam is the capital, but the government is in The Hague. The third largest city in the Netherlands and home to the Royal Family, this is where you’ll find the seat of the Dutch government, and many international organisations, International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Arbitration. The Binnenhof is a highlight of The City of Peace and Justice and has a rich and diverse cultural heritage and is home to many theaters, museums and festivals. World-class works of modern art and fashion are at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, while The Mauritshuis is home to the Best of Dutch painting from the Golden Age with masterpieces such as Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring (a 17th-century painting that sparks the imagination. Her enigmatic gaze, Vermeer’s use of colour, and the outstanding play of light in this work captivate everyone who sees it. Researchers are also fascinated by the painting, and have a number of unanswered questions about how Vermeer painted this iconic work of art and the materials he used.

The project The Girl in the Spotlight aims to come closer to resolving these issues using the latest technologies to investigate the canvas, pigments, oil and other materials that Vermeer used to create his renowned painting), The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp by Rembrandt, The Goldfinch by Fabritius, The Bull by Potter as well as many other old masters in the intimate rooms of the 17th century monument. King William I gifted his collection to the state and a large part is here in one of the loveliest museums. We took a walking tour of Hague with our very informative and knowledgeable guide Remco Dorr who helped us eulogise the monuments, statues and palaces in his animated style. Since The Hague is situated near the North Sea, you can reach the beach resorts of Scheveningen and Kijkduin by a 20-minute bicycle ride.

World port, world city of Rotterdam: Rotterdam is the second largest city in the Netherlands and is one of the five largest ports in the world. Often referred to as the ‘Manhattan on the Meuse’ for its impressive skyline, it is often said that when you’re here take a picture of the skyline now, tomorrow it will be different. The city is an architectural and cultural metropolis with many attractions, festivals (North Sea Jazz Festival, International Film Festival Rotterdam, Viktor&Rolf: Fashion Artists 25 years exhibition and many more) and museums (Boijmans van Beuningen Museum, which has one of the largest international art collections in Holland), a vivacious, young urban culture and a superlative selection of shops, restaurants and cafes. Well-known architectural highlights are the Erasmus Bridge, the Van Nelle building, the Cube Houses, the Euromast and the Kop van Zuid. We recommend the Rotterdam Street Art Tour (RSAR), a Rewriters project that starts at Rotterdam Central Station and guides you through the beautiful harbour city. Daniël Claessens and Dave Vanderheijden of Rewriters Rotterdam told us many interesting stories behind each graffiti & street art, as we discovered the many faces that Rotterdam has to offer with new eyes.

Now, I knew that Holland is a country in northwestern Europe, known for its flat landscape of canals, working windmills, tulip fields in full bloom, and scenic cycling routes, but little did I know that besides the breathtakingly beautiful architecture and some of the most stunning sights in the world, I would have the added bonus of running into some of the most amicable and cordial locals, unlike some of the other European countries. As one of the August novelists Cees Nooteboom once wrote, ‘Holland doesn’t have mountains. Everything’s out in the open. No mountains, no caves. Nothing to hide. No dark places in the soul.’ There’s no two ways about it…the Dutch are undeniably the most direct, warm, happy and friendly people across the entire Europe and that’s reason enough for me to go back and explore more of the charming countryside and enjoy het goede leven (the good life). For further details visit www.holland.com.

Culinary melting pot: Eat your way around Holland: Dutch cuisine is unique for it’s freshness and flavours. In Holland, you can gorge on fresh and regional high quality produce. Holland is also home to many excellent restaurants, hotels and top-level chefs. The basis is always the produce, while the original and creative chefs make sure that they reach your table in a proper and healthy fashion. The unique local and seasonal produce of Holland is always given preference. Discover the pure, delicious and honest cuisine of Holland at some of these must-try restaurants. Take a Water taxi to Fenix Food Factory – the alternative Markthal for some great dining options and innovative cocktails at NY Basement, Hotel New York in Rotterdam. Gourmet restaurants that offer a real gastronomic experience include- De Vrienden van Jacob and Duin and Kruidberg’s brasserie DenK, Brewery Hoop, Eetcafe De Toog, Oogst, Restaurant Bentinck, Las Palmas, Thoms, Ayla, Parc Broekhuizen and Jamie’s Italian.

DID YOU KNOW?

  • When you arrive at Schiphol Airport, you are four meters below sea level. Holland has more than 4,400 km/2,500 miles of navigable rivers, canals and lakes.
  • The Netherlands and Holland are one and the same place. 26% of the Netherlands is under sea level.
  • Holland has no less than 32,000 km/19,900 miles of dedicated cycle paths. Every Dutch person owns a bike and there are twice as many bikes as there are cars.
  • Holland has the highest concentration of museums in the world.
  • Amsterdam has over 1200 bridges. The canals of Amsterdam, the former island of Schokland, the fortifications around Amsterdam, the windmills of Kinderdijk-Elshout, the Beemster Polder, the Wadden Islands, D.F. Wouda Steam Pumping Station and the Rietveld-Schröderhuis are all on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.