Summer’s here and our tours are finally sailing again! We’re thrilled to be escaping the cities and getting back into nature.
The Netherlands may have a reputation for windmills, farms and flower fields, but it has many hidden pockets of superb natural beauty too. From dunes to forested woodlands, tidal wetlands to rolling hills covered in heath, nature in the Netherlands has a fairytale quality that is utterly transporting.
1. Wadden Sea and IJsselmeer
Maybe one of the best-kept secrets in the Netherlands, the Wadden Sea is the largest tidal flats system in the world and a haven of biodiversity. Bounded by a string of islands, including local favorites Texel and Terschelling, this dynamic tidal area transforms into mudflats twice a day at low tide. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009, you can see migratory birds, local seal populations and – if you’re lucky – porpoises. One of the best ways to experience the Wadden Sea is to try the local pastime of wadlopen: hiking across the mudflats during low tide.
Adjoining – and once connected to – the Wadden Sea lies the IJsselmeer, a manmade lake that was closed off from the sea in 1932 to prevent devastating floods. Now a vast freshwater lake, the IJsselmeer is an incredible combination of nature and engineering. As you cruise or cycle the picturesque coastline you’ll glimpse the area’s rich seafaring past in its stoic fishing villages that endured centuries of flooding. There are even two former islands, Urk and Schokland, that are now part of the mainland!
2. Green Heart of Holland
Right under our noses, ringed by the biggest Dutch cities, lies the Green Heart of Holland. This lush historic countryside bears traces of its marshland past combined with storybook scenes of rural life. After centuries of farming and peat gathering, the wetlands and farmlands merge together as countless narrow slices of meadow reach out into lakes and waterways.
The Green Heart of Holland is an important habitat for birdlife, and home to flocks of migratory and meadow birds such as black-tailed godwit, northern lapwing, Eurasian oystercatcher and many species of geese. Besides excellent birdwatching and cycling routes, the area’s lakes also feature plenty of great swimming spots.
3. The Hoge Veluwe
A thriving combination of forests and heathland, the Veluwe is a destination much-loved by locals. Wander woodlands of pine, beech, birch and oak before emerging into sprawling areas of heath and heather, which bloom purple from mid-July to mid-September.
The Veluwe comprises several nature reserves. These include the Veluwezoom National Park with its rolling hills, and the Hoge Veluwe National Park which is home to not only red deer, wild boars and mouflon, but also the world-class Kröller-Müller modern art museum.
4. De Maasduinen National Park
Sitting atop a sandy plateau in the Limburg region, these tranquil inland dunes are flanked by the Maas river on one side and the German border on the other. Featuring heathlands, forests, fens and lakes, this unique and serene landscape also bears the mark of humans from prehistoric times to WWII and the present day.
As you wander amid the pines and heather, or along the park’s crystal-clear waters, you may be able to spot snakes, lizards, a wide variety of birds, bats and even beavers in a couple of places.
Experience it on this tour:
• Amsterdam – Maastricht
5. The dunes of North Holland
The dunes of North Holland not only protect this low-lying region from flooding by the North Sea, they also provide drinking water for almost the entire province. This ever-changing landscape features beautiful forests, grasslands, heather and ponds, and you can encounter rabbits, squirrels, many bird species and the occasional highlander cow.
The North Holland Dune Reserve in particular is perfect for exploring by bike. Climb the highest dunes in the Netherlands (55mt) at Schoorl, head down to the beach for a dip, or enjoy a visit to the nearby artist village of Bergen.