Northern Netherlands Nuggets | Various, Netherlands

Posted by on December 26, 2001
Every time I tell people I spent time in The Netherlands this summer, they say things like: “Oh, yes, isn’t Amsterdam wonderful?”I have a notion that people don’t realize that there is a whole country outside of Amsterdam. We were privileged recently to spend several days north of Amsterdam in the provinces of Noord Holland, Friesland and Groningen. These are the northernmost parts of Holland, and are very flat, with wide vistas, huge clouds, and black and white cows in the fields.We experienced three superb little country inns, rivaling anything England has to offer, during our three-day visit.We first drove up to a town behind the famous dunes, called Schoorl, where we checked in at the Hotel Merlet (The Little Duck), a charming chic small inn, where our friends had booked a special dinner, bed and breakfast package for us. Our special five course dinner, each course accompanied by the appropriate wine, was a triumph for the senses: a shellfish pate with curry sauce, served with rose champagne; then foie gras with truffled salad, served with a rose; by the end of the third course (turbot on a bed of spinach, served with chardonay,) I could hardly manage the beef filet, but it was served with the most succulent potatoes Anna, and a lovely South African pinotage, that I just couldn’t resist. I was ever mindful of the dessert course for which I was desperately trying to save room, when there appeared a glorious cheesecourse, served with an ambrosial port, called Rivesalles Ambre, a “vin doux naturel” from Chateau Roussillon, in Perpignan. When I beheld the chocolate enrobed chocolate mousse, I knew it was a good idea to spend the night. We managed an evening walk around the town, and slept the sleep of the overstuffed.Schoorl is an amazing town, in that it is actually about a mile from the ocean, but has very high dunes, which become part of the sports activities of the Dutch who flock there. Imagine your kids running up and rolling down a gigantic sand dune, higher than a three-storey building. Many families follow this sport with a bike ride out to the sea, along the user-friendly bike paths provided allover this country.

We used our inn’s bikes, provided for its’ patrons, to take a spin the next morning, to burn off a few calories.

Then off we drove north on the Hook of Holland to the great barrier dam and bridge, which closes in the Ijsselmeer. On the way we stopped to see the sea at the place where the dunes end, and the dike begins. There is not one dike, but three, and their names are: first, the “waken” or the awake one, then second, the “slaper” or the sleeper; and then last is the “dromer” or dreamer dune. It would only be used if the other two dikes are breached, so it can afford to dream.

We crossed the Ijsselmeer across the great barrier dam, an unusual treat that more Americans should do. The engineering feats which the Dutch have accomplished are remarkable, and worth seeing.

On the other side of the dike we entered the province of Friesland, where I had heard there were lovely gardens to see. I got more than I bargained for, since there is so much more than just gardens in this part of the world.

The town of Franeker was on the way to our next over night stop, so we took a look at the oldest working planetarium in the world. This is a thoroughly charming little Dutch house where one of the docents gave us an impassioned 10-minute lecture on the work of Eise Eisinga, who built this planetarium on his living room ceiling, after obtaining his wife’s permission.

We then drove on to the province of Groningen to find a small hamlet called Den Ham where the Borg Piloersma is located. An tall aristocrat called Wynetta Themmen, a descendent of the original owners of the Borg, greeted us and showed us our little apartment, which was one of three built inside a huge old thatch roofed (former) barn on the estate. It was a remarkable place, extremely comfortable, with a bedroom and bath, a large sitting room with a kitchen, and a lovely outdoor terrace, complete with umbrella table. This farm estate’s main house was built in 1633.

Nearby is the Michelin-starred Herberg Onder de Linden, where we enjoyed another gourmet meal. Although we ordered only one course (remember the previous evening’s repast), they offered two tiny soupcons of soup, and also offered irresistible chocolate truffles, macaroons, and tuiles with coffee.

Next day we drove off to the large city of Groningen where we visited the truly weird contemporary museum. I concluded that the reason for its unattractive façade, and its confusing interior is that there were three, not one architect. The city seemed very vibrant that day, as the “green” (freshmen) students were all just arriving in town, and crowded in the huge main very modern square.

In the afternoon we drove to one of the very well known borgs (akin to the river houses along the Hudson) in the area, called Menkemaborg. It has an extremely well preserved manor house, and the grounds have been reconstructed according to the18th century plan. There is a very attractive moat around the house, and it does have an echo of the Williamsburg era in the garden plan.

On we went to Verhildersum, another borg, for dinner the next evening at the restaurant called Schathoes, where another marvelous meal was ours. By this time, realizing that the Dutch know how to live, we ordered the surprise menu, and were not disappointed.

Any and all of these borgs are worth visiting, as are other museums in the area. There is level of sophistication in the area, which has a contemporary edge. I found it intriguing to note that the gardens had the same excitement.

I’m afraid I’ll just have to tell you more about the variety and pleasure of the gardens and the people of The Netherlands. Stay tuned.

Betsy Shequine can’t decide whether it’s the gardens, or the homes, or the food or the people that are the most favorite part of her travels.

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