A long weekend spent
touring the hidden
parts of Holland turned
up quite a few jewels.
Bonnie Stevens reveals
the special places
you wont find in the
WHAT A DELIGHTFUL WELCOME the clear, tinkling chimes of the bells
overhanging the front of the grand, cannon fronted, Town Hall striking melodically
as we approached the village of Willemstaat's yacht lined quay. The Town
Hall's pomp and scale was in contrast to the small community which nestled
around the quay the only other large building was the working windmill
at the opposite end of the quay.
The sight of the classic Flemish houses around the harbour was anim-ated by
people sitting al fresco at two bars and the whole enchanting vista was bathed
in the soft autumn sunshine. A short relaxing and romantic stroll through the
village's narrow streets was rewarded by the sight of a cornucopia of flowers
on a stall at the weekly market at, literally, a fraction of the UK prices.
This enchanting, partly-fortified village is located on the quiet south western
coast of Holland.
We had eschewed the normal airport agonies and anxieties for our short break.
Seeking a combination of a quiet, historic village, good food and a hotel brimming
over with character, we had chosen Veere, near Middleburg in Holland. This proved
to be a good choice as Veere appeared on few maps and was ignored by most of
the web route planners.
The independently-owned hotels that comprise the Romantik Hotels have always
proved to be interesting, of high quality service and offer-ing just that little
bit more. Our choice of the Auberge De Campveerse Toren was no exception as
it is arguably the oldest hostelery in Holland, with its fortified tower dominating
the quay. Hospitality has been offered here for some 600 years and everything
is steeped in history from the antique furniture through to the massive beams.
The only exceptions were the staff and bathrooms both were cheerful and
stairs to the first floor were a challenge. They were heavily worn, and any
Scotsman would have turned them over long ago! Maybe during 600 years of use
they had already been turned over, but they certainly were characterful. At
the top of the tower is a bar reached by climbing the steep, but not badly worn,
tortuous stairs an achievement that needs a celebratory drink; but the
sobering thought of descent was the constraint on consumption. This was soon
over-looked as the massive timbers all around the room created a great atmosphere
and the views from the window seats across the water-ways and village were to
The largely candle-lit main dining room far below the top of the tower has been
the venue for many a grand celebration including the wedding breakfast
of William of Orange (a forebear of "our" William III) and his bride, Charlotte
De Bourbon, in 1575. There is a smaller dining room for individual parties and
everything there is straight out of the history books so that our modern clothes
were sorely out of character.
But we had not come to Holland just for the cobbles girls, they ruin
decent shoes or the canals and the medieval streets with their Flemish
stepped houses. We had come to sample some of the best food available in the
area, and we were not disappointed. Our 'surprise' menu offered us new tastes
and experiences enhanced by the flicker-ing candle-lit view of the lake
truly romantic even after over thirty years of marriage.
Our dinner started typically with old jenever (a type of gin) with a chaser
of local beer, and was accompanied by seaweed biscuits (think anchovy), cheese,
black olives, almonds and rye bread. But this was just the beginning. A courgette
mousse accompanied by a dried ham reminiscent of Black Forest ham was truly
historic, followed by a potato soup with smoked eel. Now I know the British
have a phobia about eating eels which our continental friends simply
cannot understand and I am in two minds myself. However, this smoked
eel was simply delicious and I cannot wait to try some more. Forget jellied
eels, these were something else!
You would think that we would not have had room for more but that is, of course,
not true. The halibut again was accompanied by eel, the seabass with bacon and
red wine sauce, the wild duck in a fruit sauce and finally a sinful pudding,
accompanied by a fruity chardonnay and Spanish red wine, was a true feast. This
was a Monday night and the restaurant was almost full with both families and
couples. A true test-ament to the local reputation, attentive service and food
of the hotel.
We were puzzled as to why such a very small community had such a large church.
It turned out that Veere once enjoyed a highly profitable European wide monopoly
on importing Scottish wool to supply, amongst others, the famed Flemish weavers.
Today the grandest houses along the quay are still known as the "Scottish" houses.
Zierikzee is a much larger village, but more of a town compared to Willemstaat.
It boasts a couple of sixteenth century town gates on the approaches, plus a
separate harbour to the open town quays. Along the traditional cobbled streets
are the gabled classic facades and one building stands out as extremely forbidding
it was the town jail, but is now converted into a maritime museum. This
picture postcard is completed by a collection of traditional vessels in the
harbour. Again, its stature with its grand houses must have been more important
than the present day proportions would indicate, as it was a major trading port
with the towns of the Hanseatic league.
On a grander and larger scale is Middleburg itself. There is street after street
of houses dating from the Middle Ages to the sixteenth century. If ever one
wanted to demonstrate the spread of the wealth of Holland's dominant trading
success in the past, cross the bridges of the waterways into Middleburg and
explore this example of an historic and powerful sea trading town. All of these
communities have a vibrancy and continuing success as all the houses and streets
are beautifully presented. There is not even a tiny bit of flaking paint evident.
That needs both the right attitude and money, and there appears to be no shortage
of either. A visit to the Royal Delft porcelain factory proved to be fascinating
as they are the sole survivor of an industry which had supported up to thirty-two
earthenware factories until the eighteen hundreds. Delftware started out as
the Dutch answer to the blue and white decorated Chinese porcelain that was
all the rage in Europe in the early seventeenth century.
This three-hundred-and-fifty-year-old company had as many employ-ees at one
time, but times are hard and the payroll is down to sixty which includes sixteen
painters. The quality is high and of note, we were surprised that the traditional
blue and white porcelain starts out as black and white, the blue only coming
through upon baking the cobolt, so obtaining the correct shading is extremely
skilful as there is only one chance of getting the right weight of paint and
thus the right shade.
market for the traditional Royal Delft is obviously increasingly limited but
looking at their historic collections, they have a real treas-ure trove which
is currently not exploited. Their very sharply designed tea sets of the 1920's
and their architectural pieces have great appeal. Excitingly, they have recently
discovered numerous tiled displays which had been walled up, and they are in
the process of revealing these beautifully crafted designs. A newly appointed
marketing manager, Saskia, is looking to produce more contemporary pieces which
hopefully will revive this grande dame of European porcelain.
A change of pace and technology from Royal Delft, we ventured onto the bland
man-made Flevoland. This is a great feat of engineering creating a vast tract
of agricultural land. However, it is largely devoid of any interest, with possibly
the only exception of the Spyker car factory. How they can have created two
really offbeat but very successful designs in an otherwise bland environment
is even more credit to them. We were made very welcome by Peter Van Rooy, who
treated us as well as his well-heeled customers.
Spyker has big but achievable ambitions as it has the financial and management
resources to exploit the potential. John Steel has already had the pleasure
of travelling in Spyker's sports car (see MotorBar's
Rio Road Rally feature) so he had already
experienced first-hand how they perform on the road. They are also innovative
salesmen as cust-omers have a secure web link to a 'spy camera' which is positioned
above their particular car in the spotlessly clean factory. This enables the
customer to follow the progress of their car's six-week build.
Still on the innovative side is Spyker's new 4x4 the D12 Peking-to-Paris
which brings a smile to everyone's face. This comes from someone who
would dearly love to be able to remove all power assist-ance from 4x4 vehicles.
It follows that only the people who use the off road and towing capabilities
of these vehicles would be able to drive them. However, the Peking-to-Paris
is so outrageous and stunning that it really deserves its success. And, success
it already has achieved with orders for some two hundred and fifty units before
being put into production. Buy the vehicle, watch the shares!
Worth more than just a mention was our Channel crossing. Norfolk Line
formerly regarded as essentially a freight carrier is now more than a
fully-fledged competitor on the Channel. Their route of Dover Dunkerque
is ideal for Belgium, Holland and travelling south, whilst their ships are very
modern and comfortable. We travelled on the oldest of their fleet of three vessels
that was just over two years old. Our fellow travellers were quieter in style
than elsewhere as they currently do not cater for foot passengers and coaches.
Add in a truly welcoming, courteous crew and it makes for a very enjoyable break
of under two hours in your journey. If you have had a long journey to the coast,
it is really worth considering paying the extra for the equivalent of 'Club
Class' with its complimentary refreshments and snacks.
We returned from our Autumn break feeling refreshed and happy with life
a welcome interlude into our busy and hectic working days.
Autumn Sunshine in Holland