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The International Writers Magazine
: Vacations in the Netherlands

 Stephen Benz

 You’ve been to Holland and fallen for its many charms. You’ve taken in the standard tourist sites in and around Amsterdam—the fine museums, the colorful red light district, the famous tulip fields, the quaint Zuiderzee. You love it all and you want more of this enchanting country of canals, bicycles, and flowers. So where to next?

Museum Kroller-Muller

Try Hoge Veluwe, Holland’s little known national park. The park and the surrounding area offer a bit of everything—nature, art, traditional culture, and scenery. Best of all, even though the Hoge Veluwe is only an hour from Amsterdam, relatively few tourists leave Holland’s beaten path to sample its wonders.
Getting there requires some initiative, but is easy enough. If you have a limited sense of adventure, you can, of course, sign up for a tour, and leave the logistics to someone else. Otherwise, you have the usual options: rental car, bus, or train. Car rental is hassle-free, but expensive. The bus and the train are cheaper, but the route is indirect and requires a transfer in the town of Arnhem.

Cheryl and I opted for the train. Aficionados of rail travel, we never miss a chance to hop on board and revel in the efficiency and comfort of Europe’s trains. With frequent and punctual service, "Nederlands Spoorwegen" is on par with the other national railways on the continent. In Amsterdam’s Centraal Station, we bought our tickets at one of the many convenient machines located in the terminal. We entered the code for our destination—the town of Arnhem—and dropped in the coins for the price indicated. With tickets in hand, we headed for the platform. Since trains leave every fifteen minutes, we didn’t have long to wait before we were rolling through the outskirts of Amsterdam.

The trip to Arnhem took a little more than an hour. Along the way, we saw barge traffic on the canals, picturesque farms, and the university town of Utrecht with its impressive church tower. Arnhem is the capital of the Gelderland, Holland’s largest province. The town was the scene of a fierce battle in World War II, as the Allies fought for ten heroic days to halt the Nazi advance. Military buffs will want to visit the Airborne Museum, where the battle is documented and depicted in various models and films.
It’s necessary to take a bus from Arnhem to the Hoge Veluwe.

Just outside the Arnhem station, we found the regional bus stop. The helpful staff inside the ticket office saw to it that we got on the right bus, headed for Otterloo about ten miles outside of Arnhem. The bus took us and a handful of other tourists right to the entrance of the national park. We paid a modest entrance fee, walked through the gate, and went to select our bicycles. It’s possible to drive into the Hoge Veluwe, but the bicycle-loving Dutch prefer to peddle around their national park. Several hundred white bicycles are available free of charge at the entrance. Just find the size that suits you and you’re on your way.

Most visitors head first to the Museum Kroller-Muller, about two miles from the park entrance. It is somewhat surprising to find a world-class art museum in the middle of a nature preserve, but once you’re there it makes perfect sense. The glass-walled museum offers beautiful vistas of the surrounding forest, an excellent setting for contemplating artwork. And what artwork it is. The Kroller-Muller has the second largest collection of van Goghs in the world, nearly one hundred of his paintings and some two hundred drawings. Some of the great Dutch Impressionist’s most familiar works are here—"The Night Café," "Bridge at Arles," and "The Potato Eaters," to name a few. Other artists represented in the museum’s collection include Picasso, Seurat, Braque, Gris, and Mondrian. The artwork—and indeed the Hoge Veluwe parkland itself—was the gift of Helene and Anton Kroller-Muller. A shipping magnate, Mr. Kroller-Muller bought the woods for peace, quiet, and private hunting. His wife, meanwhile, collected art. In 1935, they gave their estate to the Dutch people, and the museum was built on the grounds to memorialize their twin passions, nature and art.

Outside the museum, we strolled around the Beeldenpark, Europe’s largest sculpture garden. Winding paths took us around ponds, down tree-lined alleys, and into wooded coves to visit sculptures by Rodin, Giacometti, Maillol, Henry Moore, Christo, Barbara Hepworth, and Claes Oldenburg. The interplay of trees, natural light, water and art proved conducive for reflection. Reluctantly, we broke the spell to visit the park’s other attractions.

Close to the museum, a Visitors’ Center includes displays on the park’s flora and fauna. There is also a unique "Museonder," an underground museum devoted to the wonders found below the earth’s surface. The highlight is a worm-level tour of a beech tree’s root system. In case you’re hungry, the Visitors’ Center also features a cafeteria, the Koperen Kop, with indoor and outdoor dining available. Pancakes topped with fresh fruit are a Dutch favorite.

Given the variety of activities concentrated around the Visitors’ Center and the museum, it’s easy to forget that a 14,000-acre nature reserve awaits exploration. Fortunately, the park is open until dusk, which comes quite late in the northern European summer. The extra hours of daylight should afford you the opportunity to ride or walk some of the park’s twenty-five miles of trails. Crossing moors and heaths, then plunging into dark forests and fens, the trails take you into Holland’s only real wilderness area. Wild boars roam the Hoge Veluwe, along with roe deer, red deer, and the moufflon (a kind of wild ram). Cheryl and I didn’t see any of these rare animals as we rode, but it didn’t matter. The wildflowers were beautiful—and their wildness provided a pleasing contrast to the precisely ordered and carefully arranged tulip gardens we had toured around Amsterdam. It was gratifying enough to see the flowers, listen to the birds, and enjoy a few hours of fresh air and solitude.

The Hoge Veluwe includes still another attraction: Jacthuis St. Hubertus, the fairy-tale hunting lodge where the Kroller-Mullers stayed when they retreated to the Veluwe. It is an impressive estate house, worthy of royalty, with its tall observation tower commanding a view of the entire park. The plush and refined interior will satisfy anyone curious about the lifestyles of the rich and famous.
The Hoge Veluwe can be visited in one long day for those day-trippers who can’t bear to miss out on Amsterdam’s nightlife. Others may want to devote an extra day or two to exploring the park and the surrounding area. The little village of Otterlo on the park’s western border is home to several charming country hotels, including the Sterrenberg, the Witte Hoes, and the Kruller. Whether you go for the day or for the weekend, the Hoge Veluwe is sure to be one of the highlights of your trip to Holland.
Visit Hoge Veluwe web-link here
© Stephen Benz March 2005
A freelance writer based in Atlanta, I have written articles for numerous publications including The Washington Post, Miami Herald, and Southe Florida Sun-Sentinel. One of my articles appeared in Best American Travel Writing 2004. In addition, I have published two book-length travel narratives: Guatemalan Journey (University of Texas Press) and Green Dreams (Lonely Planet Publications).

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