Cycling Tours in Holland
The Netherlands’ Flat Terrain and Legendary Bike Lanes Make It a Bicyclist’s Dream
Wheeling through the countryside is a breeze and the perfect introduction to this compact, wind-swept, saved-from-the-sea country. We had three weeks to traverse Holland and decided to join a group tour for one of them. For seven memorable days, we cycled through history and kicked-back in the ambience of a canal boat, our floating hotel, at day’s end.
We’d heard organized tours homogenize the travel experience and leave little time for creative exploration, but our trip was terrific. We cycled at our own pace. We chatted with others as we pedaled atop dikes and past windmills or biked solo, soaking in the serenity of pastoral meadows and fragrant breezes. Cycling took the edge off being a tourist.
And we saw it all – canals, dikes, windmills, cobble-stoned village squares and fields of bucolic Friesian cows lazily grazing as they have for centuries. The 43 kilometers of bike paths that hugged the golden beaches of Scheveningen, before cutting through the undulating sand dunes along the North Sea, were unforgettable.
Our band of twenty-one pedal pushers spoke a variety of lingoes, hailed from six countries with ages ranging from 37 to 82. We laughed at our efforts to communicate as we jaunted through pastoral countryside and 16th century villages – all under Delft-blue skies.
Several tour outfits specialize in group bike itineraries. Many, such as Cycletours, an Amsterdam-based company, offer various trips lasting a few hours to a week or longer. Choosing from the six Cycletours destinations was a challenge. Although the islands northern of Friesland and the Amsterdam-to-Maastricht routes piqued our interest, we chose the historic southern trip beginning in Amsterdam and circling back through the ancient cities of Utrecht, Delft, The Hague, Leiden and Haarlem. Along the way, we discovered the Keukenhof Gardens where seven million flowers of every possible hue enchant visitors.
Our tour package included a guide, meals, and accommodation on a canal boat that followed us from village to village. We were also given top-quality bikes. Although you can bring your own wheels, we opted to use the company’s as bike theft is prevalent throughout the country. The attractive exchange rate makes a visit to Holland excellent value.
Within minutes of leaving Amsterdam, we cruised through the storybook village of Broek in Waterland where Napoleon once brought Josephine for tea. A few kilometers later, we marveled as Marcele Keijers carved wooden shoes from green willow. “Dutch clogs are still common footwear in the northern provinces with more than three million produced each year,” boasts Keijers.
We had a few saddle sores the first day (we averaged 45 kilometers a day) but were soon gliding easily from town to town. While the countryside is intoxicating, we were never far from Holland’s rich cultural fabric.
The Hague’s Mauritshuis House is a jewel of a museum dominated by 17th-century masterpieces. Rembrandt’s work is well represented and Vermeer’s View Of Delft is worth the trip alone. Days later we happened upon a concert of music performed in Leiden’s Pietersherk church, a 14th century Gothic masterpiece. Massive crystal chandeliers glistened above us as a 180 – voice choir sang Mozart. In vaults beneath our feet, the long-dead reminded us of the Netherlands’ glorious history. The memory of this exquisite evening still echoes in our memories.
Our visit to Teylers Museum in Haarlem, established in 1778 and said to be Holland’s oldest, was too short to absorb the outstanding collection of antique scientific instruments, galleries of ancient gold coins, and 15th to 19th century European art, including a set of Michelangelo drawings of the Sistine Chapel.
The Dutch are also masters of another fine art – that of beer making. We sampled many excellent brews including the light, citrusy Wieckse Witte, a perfect libation after a day of cycling. Jopen beer, the city of Haarlem signature ale still uses an original medieval recipe. It won rave reviews.
Cycling immersed us in the heady world of Netherlands’ scents and sounds in a way vehicle travel cannot. The church bells, pealing every quarter hour, blended with a never-ending bird-song symphony. The aroma of Indonesian rijsttafel – rice and several spicy side dishes- escaped from funky restaurants nestled in ancient lanes. The clamor of the Saturday markets with their offerings of Gouda, Edam and Maasdamer cheeses was irresistible. Armfuls of just-picked tulips, roses and freesia beckoned. But the smell of chocolate wafting through the air of De Zaan, a village near Amsterdam, pushed us over the edge.
By week’s end, we agreed that peddling along earthen dikes with canals on one side and windmills on the other, a church spire in the distance and the scent of meadows in the air gave us a sense of the real Holland. It just doesn’t get any better.
Netherlands Board of Tourism1-888- 464-655-263 www.goholland.com
Yellow Bike Tours
Nieuwezijds Kolk 29Ph. 31-20- 620-6940 Reservations advised
Katherine Gibson and Robert Unwin