Spring into the Netherlands

The perfect excuse to head to the Netherlands this May.


Windmills and waterways are what symbolise the Netherlands, along with tulips and cheeses. And the ideal time to enjoy them all is this Spring.

There will be free access to as many as 950 mills during National Windmill weekend, 13 and 14 May, while the world’s finest flower-garden remains open for a further two days.

This blaze of colour is known as Keukenhof in South Holland.

Keukenhof Gardens by Jennifer Burke

The South also has the biggest concentration of draining-mills, as well as the famous Falcon in Leyden, mostly overlooking canals and rivers linked to the North Sea. Yet the western part of the province is usually called the land of sand-dunes and bulb fields.

All these attractions can be reached within an hour from the lively town of Katwijk aan Zee, which is old enough to have a Roman lighthouse. Fishermen’s cottages are a reminder that it once had the largest herring fleet in the Netherlands, and the local museum has the best fisheries exhibition on the coast.

Katwijk Museum also has a wide collection of seascapes and other paintings, as the resort has long attracted artists. They have their own gallery on the promenade, hidden behind dunes and paved paths to one of the largest beaches on the Dutch coast.

Away from the stretch of white sands, Katwijk’s yachting marina is a narrow, shallow branch of the Rhine.  It flows from Leyden through the ancient village of Rijnsburg where Spinoza, the Jewish philosopher, lived. His family had been expelled from Portugal about the same time as the persecuted Pilgrim Fathers fled via Hull to Holland before going on to America in 1620.

Monet Tulip Fields With The Rijnsburg Windmill 1886 - Photo by Wikimedia Commons/Wutsje
Monet Tulip Fields With The Rijnsburg Windmill 1886 
Photo by Wikimedia Commons/Wutsje

They dwelt in what remains the oldest building in Leyden (near the Saturday cheese market) whose 12 other museums include yet a third preserved home – the miller’s rooms inside the Falcon.

One of Europe’s oldest botanical gardens is also in Leyden where the first tulip was imported from Turkey in 1593.

This garden by a winding canal is part of the first Dutch university (1575) that gets students from South Africa, some of them on Mandela/Rhodes scholarships.

Leyden University incorporates a school of African studies and an ancient medical faculty, complete with an anatomical museum.

From the station, there is a special bus to Keukenhof, whose 32 hectares showcase 100 growers of seven million bulbs.  There are 800 varieties of tulips complemented by daffodils, hyacinths, and orchids as well as carnations. Other blooms include 15,000 lilies of 300 types.

Rows of tulips and other flowers can be seen in the surrounding fields from Keukenhof’s windmill that once stood in Groningen. South of Leyden lies Schiedam, with five of the world’s highest windmills, with heights up to 33 metres. In times past, there were 20, most of which ground corn for as many as 188 local distilleries whose gin went to West Africa.

John Burke
Schiedam Windmill by John Burke

There is an exhibition of the whole process at the rebuilt Palm Tree mill while the Whale built in 1794 has a shop selling flour, sugar, and spices. Almost opposite, across the Schie river, is the old Melchers Distillery, now a museum, where you can watch mashing and taste a dram of Dutch gin (40% proof).

Getting there: Avoid flying between London and Schiphol

Holland can be reached by rail or air, but there is an alternative for travellers to avoid possible disruption at Calais and Brussels or a total of six hours’ waiting, due to security, flying between London and Schiphol.

Virgin East Coast trains from London (King’s Cross) take about 2½ hours to Hull where a luxurious P&O car ferry with 546 cabins, goes overnight to Europoort. The Pride of Hull and Pride of Rotterdam each has three bars and three restaurants as well as two cinemas and shops.

There are transfers into Rotterdam or northward to Amsterdam, and P&O even offers a £79 mini-cruise that allows a full day ashore, ample time to see Keukenhof or Schiedam.  On the boat, I met Carole Elliott from Benoni who said, “My sister and I only visited the North Sea coast, so we aim to make this comfortable crossing again”.

Where to stay:

For stays of at least three nights, choose one of Vakantiepark Koningshof’s three enclosed sites in Katwijk and Rijnsburg that include holiday chalets, caravan parking, and camp-pitches.  The facilities include launderettes, showers, swimming-baths and supermarkets (stocking cheese from nearby Gouda) as well as bars, takeaways, restaurants, TV, wifi, entertainment and excursions to Delft and Amsterdam.

The facilities include launderettes, showers, swimming-baths and supermarkets (stocking cheese from nearby Gouda) as well as bars, takeaways, restaurants, TV, wifi, entertainment and excursions to Delft and Amsterdam.

Tennis and swimming, fishing and cycling are also available. The owner, Philip Kromhout, even arranges for South African groups to celebrate Heritage Day. English and Dutch newspapers are on sale, and the latter can be easily read by Afrikaners, although almost everyone in the Netherlands speaks English.