For real waterscapes as well as painted waterscapes, journey to South-Holland province! If you are drawn to water; if being by the water has a calming effect on you; what could be more relaxing than a leisurely bike ride down the coast or along a river, perhaps followed by a lakeside break? For painted waterscapes, you are bound to strike lucky in fine art museums such as Mauritshuis, Panorama Mesdag, Prinsenhof Delft, Museum De Lakenhal, or in one of Gouda’s many art galleries.
This tour strikes a great balance between fresh air in open countryside and a culture quest in towns full of Old Dutch character such as Leiden and Delft. In Gouda, you can attend the re-enacted cheese market of-old with its quaint rituals and costumes. In beautiful Delft, find out all about the town’s blue and white pottery. In the old university town of Leiden, rent a boat and join the students cruising the picturesque canals.
Hear the wind rustle through the reed beds on the banks of small lakes; and listen out for bird song in the Green Heart region.
Your cycling holiday starts in Delft, forever associated with Delft-blue pottery / Delftware. In the glory years, 1650-1750, approx. 100 ceramics factories operated here. Scenic canals adorn the Old Town. It really does feel like you have gone back in time when you stop to wonder at age-old lopsided canal houses, cobblestones underfoot. Just off the main square, visit Vermeer Centrum for background info on painter Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), loved for his calm domestic scenes.
After a big breakfast, get set and off you go into the Green Heart region, an area of open countryside dotted with small towns and villages. Enjoy the fresh air, sunshine and light. That skyline up ahead, is that Gouda? Yes, the delightful town famous for its cheese market. Gouda cheese is one of the Netherlands’ most important and best-known exported products. Other products typically manufactured in Gouda: Dutch Waffles (invented approx. 1840), candles (1853-1980), clay pipes (17-18th cent.) and colourful Gouda pottery (1920s- 1930s). If you like stained glass windows, don’t miss the ones in St. John’s church. If you want to visit the cheese market, be sure to plan your holiday in such a way that you stay in Gouda on Wednesday night and see the cheese market on Thursday morning: From 10.00- 12.30 hrs every Thursday morning until the end of August, a traditional cheese market takes place for tourists, on the splendid main square. Just like in the olden days, dairy farmers and merchants settle the sale with a handshake. At the market, besides Gouda cheese, other local delicatessen can be savoured and bought.
In the morning you still have time to visit the cheese museum.
Today you will cycle along the River Meije. The rustic surroundings may look natural, but they were often shaped by man: a so-called cultural landscape. Centuries ago, dikes and windmills were constructed to drain soggy marshes and create pasture and crop fields. In the 13th century people started to excavate peat. This left deep holes in the landscape that filled with water and threatened to expand and cause floods. Some of the holes were therefore drained and turned into polder land – well below sea level. Others were left as lakes, which now attract tourists to the water in the summertime. In the afternoon, you will reach Leiden, a picturesque university town. In 1575 the first university in the Netherlands was founded here and soon developed into one of the most prominent in Europe. The botanical garden dates to 1590. Just like Amsterdam, Leiden boasts inner-city canals that merit a canal tour.
In the morning, head for the coast and cycle through the dunes and along the beach to the seaside resort of Scheveningen. Subsequently, visit the city of The Hague, seat of government and parliament (although Amsterdam is the capital city); and perhaps drop by Noordeinde Palace, where the King has his offices. If you enjoy art museums, the Hague has some fine ones: Gemeentemuseum, Mesdag, Escher, Mauritshuis… take your pick! At the end of the day, you will arrive back in Delft. In the New Church (14th-15th cent.) have a look at the impressive memorial artwork that is William of Orange’s mausoleum. It is a masterpiece of Dutch baroque art. In 1584, William of Orange, “Father of the Fatherland”, was murdered in Prinsenhof in Delft, now an excellent museum of Dutch history. He was seen as the founder of the country’s independence from Spain. In ceramics factory “De Porceleyne Fles” (1653) Delftware is still produced and tourists are welcome to visit.
After breakfast, your cycling holiday will have come to an end. It is time to make your way home.