We flew into Schiphol airport and found the Keukenhof Bus No 858 with no difficulty on the plaza outside. On a sunny beautiful Spring morning, my anticipation to return to this beautiful show garden after four years was palpable and it was the first occasion for my spouse. Keukenhof is celebrating its 70th birthday. After World War II, when Holland was in desperate straits the people were reduced to eating tulip bulbs in the extreme cold of the 1945 winter and their enterprising bulb growers started sending bulbs worldwide to thank the people from other countries who sent them food and clothing.
Out of this challenge grew the idea to ask the Count of Keukenhof if he would give his estate to the idea of creating an annual international showcase for the Dutch floricultural sector with a special emphasis on flower bulbs. Now, we have this annual delight that draws a crowd of over one million from everywhere in the world. It is a joy moreover to see others gesticulating, delighting and photographing the spectacular beauty as indeed I have done.“Happiness is the highest form of health; A healthy outside starts from the Inside”
This little saying caught my eye in one of the cafes and it encapsulates what each of us aspires to health and happiness and flowers and trees and shrubs and green lawns and calm pools of water with the attendant birdsong and wildlife brings us that form of contentment and relaxation and indeed therapy wherever we might find this beauty.
Keukenhof originally focused almost exclusively on flower bulbs, but now has much more to offer. The historic park, which dates from 1857 and was designed in the English landscape garden style by Zocher forms the perfect backdrop and with the windmill alongside and over the canal the colourful wide strips of vibrant colour from the bulb fields it is a delight. We went on the first day in the afternoon as soon as the bus arrived from Schiphol, but we also returned the following morning from Haarlem where we had decided to spend three nights. It too has a bus that goes to Keukenhof the No 50 and one can return on that too.
On this occasion, I saw a difference in some of the planting and particularly loved the ‘mixed meadows’ of tulips which are spectacular. Keukenhof is open till May 19th – so there is still time to see this year’s beautiful display. Each year, forty gardeners plant 7 million bulbs and at the end of the season these bulbs are harvested, and a new cycle of planting, blooming and harvesting begins again in the autumn. We recommend mid-April as a great time to visit based on our own experiences.
We chose to stay in the heritage town of Haarlem which is easily reached from Schiphol on the No 300 bus and the journey takes at the most 40 minutes to the Haarlem Station where taxis await to take you to your hotel. We had chosen The Ambassador which is an old hotel located opposite the Great Church of St. Bavo. It has modernised rooms and en-suite shower rooms and provides a good hearty breakfast.
Moreover, it has an arrangement with a local taxi firm that will if needed drop guests back to Schiphol for a much-reduced fare which is important for those who might not want to trail along with luggage on a bus journey. Should you prefer a four-star hotel, there is the Van der Volk Hotel Haarlem which is situated on the outskirts within walking distance or a short bus ride on the No 300 bus. This is luxurious and spacious, and we spent one night there as well.
Haarlem was founded in the Roman era. A wooden church in commemoration of Mary and a large house made of stone were built for the Duke of Holland in a big square, the ‘Grote Markt’ in the 10th century. The city continued to flourish, and City rights were given to Haarlem by Duke Willem II of Holland in 1245. Haarlem subsequently became one of the most important cities of Holland and later developed on an industrial level into a city known for its textile and beer brewing.
There is a modern brewery in an old church which has wonderful beers which I tasted four years ago! On a cultural level, it became a city of painters, and Haarlem was also known for its shipbuilding. Many Flemish people came to the city during the Eighty Years’ War.
Frans Hals, the best-known painter of Haarlem of the Golden Age, was Flemish. The Frans Hals Museum is a delight and beautifully curated and in Spring time it has lovely floral decorations throughout. The first ever train service in Holland was between Haarlem and Amsterdam and commenced in 1839. We took the train when we visited The Hague to visit the famous The Mauritshuis Museum and Gallery which is both efficient and comfortable.
My advice is to visit Haarlem Marketing at Visithaarlem.com and arrange through that organisation to book a 90-minute Haarlem Walk which is so informative and pleasant; buy the combined tickets to visit the Frans Hals Museum and the intriguing Teylers Museum (which was the very first museum in whole of Holland), book a canal tour with Haarlem Canal Tours in an open small boat. The boat owner gives a most informative tour and it is one of the most comfortable ways of seeing the old town and takes about 75 minutes.
Visit the great church which is fascinating and there is a myth that Mozart played the impressive organ, but it is not really authenticated in any written history; however, it is true that Handel played the organ which is outstanding.
The choice of restaurants is immense, and we tried the Sumo for oriental cuisine, then the lovely Zuidam restaurant near to the Adriaan Windmill. This was a lovely way to spend a sunny evening sitting outside with good food and service watching the sun go down and the activity on the canal. We then enjoyed the Thai restaurant close to our hotel and finally we loved a lunchtime meal at the Boca Tapas Bar sitting on the canal side with the most delicious food and friendly service.
Holland is an enthusiastic bicycling nation and those unused to thousands of cyclists must be vigilant and not be run over; the cyclists are considerate, but they are busy intent on their journeys!
On the third day, we took the train from Haarlem to The Hague. This was a joy seeing all the bulb fields and when we arrived at central station it was a short walk to the lovely Mauritshuis. It is a stunning world-famous gallery and this year is celebrating 350 years since Rembrandt’s birth. This is not too large a gallery and thus at the most a couple of hours suffices. I loved this jewel of Dutch classicism. A seventeenth-century city palace that has been home of the collection since 1822.
In addition to all the famous Rembrandts, I love the famous Vermeer Girl with a Pearl Earring painted circa 1605. A short walk to find lunch was for us to a new experience at Unami. That is the word that denotes the fifth sensory taste, sweet, sour, bitter, salt, and unami. Very good too! There are many elegant shops and tea houses and coffee shops and had our feet not been sore from walking, we would have wandered further as The Hague has much to offer visitors.
We love Holland and have visited quite a few places over the years, but most heartily recommend this as a short Spring break to enjoy Keukenhof, Haarlem and The Hague.
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Aline Dobbie is an author of four books on India and a travel writer. She lives in Scotland but travels widely throughout the year with an annual visit to India where she was born & grew up. Aline’s earlier life was in the corporate world but now lives a rural life with emphasis on travel, gardening, cooking, and family. India, South Africa, England, Scotland, Greece and other lovely places are a constant delight to her.