Experience the Odd Beauty of the Dutch Seaside
As usual in this time of the year, the weather conditions, where I live, are unbearable. This is the perfect time for us to do some summer holiday planning!
Since my childhood, I adore the Dutch seaside. More precisely: the Dutch North Sea coastline. It can be found in the Dutch province of Noord-Holland, between the northern suburbs of Amsterdam, and the north-western corner of the continental mainland (take a map, search for the city of Den Helder and you will find it). At first glance, somebody, who has never been to this seemingly distant and boring piece of miraculously-still-not-swallowed-by-the-sea kind of land, would probably not consider it a very desirable destination for holiday and recreation, unless given very good reasons to do so.
Why is it a good holiday destination?
Well, first of all let me name a few reasonable points against it. In fact, there are pretty good reasons not go to Holland: the weather is often kind of rough (much rain, heavy winds); the water temperature is rather low, even in summer; Dutch cuisine is probably not everybody’s favorite; and culture and nightlife programs are hard to find, if not mostly absent, even during the main season.
This is all reflected in the usual tourist audience of that region.
For some reason, this part of the Netherlands attracts mostly older generations of visitors from Germany, who like to dig huge holes into the sandy beaches, in order to create some kind of sunshade strongholds, which are protecting them from the rough weather. Apparently, this stereotype is often true. I have seen it many times with my own eyes. Next to the hole-digging Germans, also elderly couples or families with younger kids mostly from Western Europe belong to the regular visitors. That is the standard audience, the tourism industry of the region can always rely on.
But the Dutch seaside has never been really attractive to a broader international group of people. Probably many do not know this place, because they have never heard of it before or they never had an actual reason to go there. Who would hold it against them? From the distance this place looks uninteresting, unspectacular, and utterly boring. And besides, if you plan to spend your valuable vacation time at a beach, why not choose a more welcoming place, with warm water and air temperature, exciting night life, and fancy bars, such as so many locations at the Mediterranean Sea? These are valid objections. And you cannot even argue that accommodation or food is cheaper, than in most other beach holiday regions.
So, why the hell should somebody visit that hopeless rainy swampland at all?
That’s a good question. But despite all the points I have already mentioned above, many people still visit the Dutch North Sea cost during the whole year, and especially during the summer months. Let me give you an idea: the countryside, empty and strange as it is, has a unique power of attraction, which is based on the historic development of the area. It is natural and artificial in the same time.
The Dutch are real masters of the sand fortification business. Because of its geographical position, the Netherlands always had issues in protecting its territory from its natural predator: the North Sea. And over the history, storm floods had frequently devastated parts of the Dutch coastline, which forced the country into several measures to protect itself ((https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flood_control_in_the_Netherlands)). Large parts of the area were constructed from tons and tons of sand, which were necessary to maintain the mighty wall of dunes behind the beach, and to regularly renew the beach lines as well.
Without these measures, the countryside, which can be found there today, would certainly not exist in the same way. So, one of the special attractions for the tourist is an odd natural scene, which is absolutely impressive and unique, and furthermore it is full of recreational options for hikers, cyclists, or anyone, who just likes to spend a lot of time in the nature.
Here is another point, which supports the idea of going to Holland: the weather! Yes, I listed the weather earlier as one reason not to go there. But the rough Nordic Sea climate has some certain advantages, compared to “friendlier” weather conditions: the air is always fresh and has a nice salty flavor; and the constant blow of wind on the windier days, of which there are many, can have a mind-clearing and relaxing effect (at least that is true in my case. Other people may experience otherwise here).
The cuisine: highly controversial. It’s all about cheese, fish (preferably swallowed), seafood, and fried stuff. Also food machines (“Febo”), fatty fries, and honey waffles. Some people dislike this kind of stuff. But I love it. It would be worth a separate article.
Now here are some examples of places and activities, which I consider particularly interesting and worth trying in that area. They are all kind of connected, and located in a way that makes it possible to check them out even during a short trip.
The Dunes: Hiking and Cycling Wonderland
First of all, let me give you a great advice and explore the landscape by bike. There are several bike rentals and the well-established bike network allows you to get to know the different places and get on from one place to another in no time. If you prefer walking on foot, the dunes offer a great network of hiking paths next to the coast line. If both walking and cycling are not your cup of tea piece of cheese, but you’d still like to check out the dunes: no problem! These places are quite accessible by car and often have good public transport access.
The Beach: Underrated Beauty
The coast line goes along with a beautiful and broad sand beach. Compared to many beaches I have seen elsewhere, this beach is not very crowded and outside of the summer main season at times completely empty. The sand beach strip starts in the northwest at the south borders of Den Helder (up to the north you will only find a cement beach, which is also cool, because of the bike way next to the water, but not as nice as the sand beach). The sand beach continues to the southern direction until Petten, where it is interrupted by another cement beach (but continues a few kilometers further south). The distance between Den Helder and Petten and back is a good choice for a day hike trip along the sand beach, if you are into stuff like that. Theoretically, you could walk 60 kilometers along the uninterrupted coast line until you reach Ijmuiden, where the Nordzeekanal flows into the North Sea. But that might be a bit much for one day. There are mostly no beach chairs, permanent umbrellas or something, which would block the view across the beach. That is one thing, which I like a lot about this beach. Every ca. 500 meters you will find a beach entrance area cut through the sand dunes, which connects the sand beach to the main land behind. At these entrance areas you will also usually find a lifeguard station, sanitary facilities, waste bins, and a small beach bar. If you plan to swim in the North Sea, which can sometimes be dangerous, it is advisable to do so next to the entrance areas, which have a lifeguard station. My favorite beaches in the region are the ones at Julianadorp and Sint Martenszee. But there are many other similar beaches.
Schoorlse Duinen: Dunes and Forests
At one point of the bike route, you will find the Schoorsle Duinen. Named after the village of Schoorl, which is located at their eastern border, this is a large parkland, consisting of dunes, forests, and swampland. It also contains a great network of various bike routes and hiking trails, which make it easy to explore the area and enjoy the countryside. Take your time and park your bike somewhere (there are several opportunities to lock it), to check out the side trails. It’s definitely worth it.
Close to this park, you will find the village Schoorl. They have a few nice food places (including stuff, like sea food, which is very common in the area), and it also has a little “sledge dune” consisting of sand, which is especially interesting for kids (or anyone else keen on sliding down a hill) and it’s great fun.
Zwanenwater: Natural Reservoir in the Dunes
If you follow the bike route along the North Sea coast, you will pass by several smaller and larger natural reservoirs. One of them is “Zwanenwater”, which you will find next to the village Callantsoog. Here again, it is a good idea to have a break. Take some time to explore the vegetation and check out some of the little hiking paths, which lead you through the forests in the area.
Donkere Duinen: Sandy Forest
“Donkere Duinen” means “Dark Dunes”. This is a forest between the sand dunes and “Huisduinen“, the historically oldest part of the city Den Helder. The forest is full of pine trees, partially covered with sand, being part of the dune arrangement (therefore probably the name), and contains a little pond, as well as an animal park. It’s a great place to take a walk, and it is actually quite close to the nice little city of Den Helder, which is worth a visit as well. Next to the forest, there is also a steel tower, which can be climbed up. It is a good opportunity to explore the area around. Moreover, at the parking lot between the forest and the main street, you will find a snack place, where you can try some more of the Dutch cuisine, including stuff like Matjes, mussels, bake fish, and other seafood.
Texel: Cycle Around the Island
Texel is an island that can only be reached via ferry from Den Helder. You can bring your bike or car on the ferry. It is also possible to rent a bicycle directly at the Texel ferry station, which will reduce the cost of your ticket. There is a bike route surrounding the entire island (approximately 40 km distance), which will lead you through dunes, forests, little villages, and often along the North Sea and the Waddenzee tideland. One of the biggest attractions of the island is the southern beach of “De Hors”, which is characterized by a huge sand strip and an extensive line of sand dunes behind. If you decide to cycle around the island, it is advisable to park the bike around the area (for instance at the end of the bicycle lane at “Horspolders”.
Sounds tempting? So, how to get there?
In case I caught your interest with my lousy tree-hugging nature-fetish, here is some useful information on how to access this beautiful place by means of transport.
If you are travelling from far away, take a plane to Amsterdam. Schiphol is the largest airport of the country, has good flight connections, and is basically perfectly connected to anything in the area. If you prefer cheap flights, Eindhoven is also a very good choice. From Eindhoven, you can take a train directly to Amsterdam. Amsterdam is a place, you won’t miss on the way anyway. So if you are still missing the fun and entertainment part from the holiday I suggest here, there you go. Enjoy a fun party weekend in Amsterdam, and then continue to relax at the seaside… The train from Amsterdam will stop in all larger villages and settlements and make it easy to reach the mentioned locations in a short time.
Regarding the accommodation, one good option would be to stay in Amsterdam, and travel to these places from there, or rent a holiday house or flat (there are plenty of them in the region). There’s also plenty of camping sites. If you book for the summer months, make sure you arrange the accommodation on time. Otherwise the typical audience, mentioned before in this article, will already have taken the places. Most of the people, who have already been to Holland, will come again and again.
Holland is not the Copacabana. But it’s the perfect place for those, who like the sea and prefer not having to share it with large crowds of people, constricted by sun beds and umbrellas. It’s an invaluable resource of adventures for those, who love hiking and cycling, or for those, who enjoy spending their time in an area of indescribable beauty.
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