There will be free access to as many as 950 of the remaining 1,173 mills around the Netherlands 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, while the tulips are in bloom, is Keukenhof in South Holland that 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 province’s western part is usually called the land of sand-dunes and bulb-fields.
All these attractions can be reached within an hour from the lively resort of Katwijk aan Zee that 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, because the resort has long attracted artists. They have their own gallery on the sea-front where Angela Robson, an Australian painter whose father lectures at Leyden University, is due to exhibit. (There is a Marionne van Katwijk who does seascapes on the Central Coast, NSW.)
From the promenade are paved paths through dunes to one of the largest beaches along the Dutch coast. Away from the stretch of white sands, Katwijk’s yachting marina is on 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.
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 semi-tropical garden by a winding canal is part of Holland’s first university that, founded in 1573, soon established a medical school with an anatomical theatre. Besides an exchange programme with Monash, the university has a south-east Asian faculty. Appropriately, there are 11 Indonesian restaurants in the Leyden area.
From the station, a special bus goes to Keukenhof, whose 32 hectares are a showcase for 100 growers of seven million bulbs. There are 800 varieties of tulips whose display is complimented 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 whose five windmills are the world’s highest, led by the North one at almost 27 metres. In times past, there were 20, most of which ground corn for as many as 188 local distilleries.
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 Melcher distillery, now a museum, where you can watch mashing, and taste a dram of Dutch gin (40% proof).
Holland can be reached by either rail or air, but here is an alternative for avoiding 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. In fact, one could just about visit the latter as well as see the 19 windmills that drained the polder of Kinderdijk on the other side of Rotterdam.
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.
Tennis and swimming, fishing and cycling are also available. The owner, Philip Kromhout, says that Australian back-packers also use the huts for four that cost 47.50 euros per night.
With thanks to:
IMAGES: JB Burke and Shutterstock.com