Holland and the bulb fields
A Campervan tour of Holland and the Bulb Fields is one trip that was on the “to do” list for a long time. For whatever reason, it just took a little while to return, since our first trip back in 2001.
Back then, we had a touring caravan, so we’d stayed on one site for two weeks. So, the van maybe different, but would we still enjoy Holland and the bulb fields just as much as that first time?
When to visit?
The bulbs flower each year between late March and May, depending on the weather and bulb type.
The amazing blooms of multi-coloured flowers are simply incredible. Consisting of no other than hyacinths, daffodils, crocus, tulips too name a few. Ultimately, these blooms are the epitome of springtime Europe.
So we’re heading off for a 3-week trip to catch the best of the blooms. Starting at Abbenes, just 7km from the world famous Keukenhof, which is to put it mildly, the world’s largest flower garden.
Arriving during the 2nd week of April, we’re hoping to catch the best of these floral displays. So, let’s hope our tour of Holland and the bulb fields will leave us feeling blooming marvellous!
The Netherlands is very campervan friendly, although, not as good as France or Germany. However, they do have numerous private camper-stops.
At Het Groene Hart, we find a perfect small-holding type place, situated next to cycle paths and complete with toilets, showers and electric. Without doubt, it’s a perfect place to stop the night.
Holland is one of those countries, where you really have to get on your bike. It’s quite simply cycle heaven, and we’re soon on our bikes heading to the pretty village of Kaag. Soon, we’re hopping on a boat, crossing a canal to a peaceful little island for just 1 Euro each.
After a quick look round, we’re back on the boat and off towards Sassenheim and Noordwijk, in other words, peddling towards the coast.
The Aroma of Flowers
Before we know it, our little Brompton wheels, have covered a staggering 26 miles, we just can’t get enough of the flat, endless routes. Then the aroma of fresh flowers fills the air and our first glimpse of Hyacinth bulbs in lilac, pinks and whites lay like a carpet across the ground.
We actually smell them before seeing them and it reminds me of a florist shop.
The Bulb Fields – Holland and the Bulb fields in a motorhome.
Surprisingly, you can see the masses of flowers over a large area, in fact over 5000 acres. The bulbs are planted in fields, in a similar way to crops. So, there’s a variety of colours throughout and the aroma and vibrancy of the displays is absolutely beautiful.
There’s a good driving route for the Bulb Fields, which is signposted and easy to follow. The route takes you through Noordoostpolder, to get the most out of the season. Although, we think it’s best to go by bike, not only because the cycle paths are so good, but also due to the simplicity and smells that make it so enjoyable.
This way, you can also take your time, getting up close and personnel with your favourite blooms as you see them.
It’s also possible to walk, but this covers vast areas, so those feet may soon get tired. Of course, you can drive, but you don’t get the same intimate feel compared to feet on the ground.
The Kukenhof – the big attraction
The Kukenhof, is the big tourist sight for the bulbs, but it’s popular, attracting coach loads of visitors. The car parks soon get full and it’s no wonder because the flowers are like nothing you’ve seen before.
It’s basically a mass of gardens, greenhouses, lakes, cafe’s and shops, all filled with bulbs, providing us visitors with a jolly good day out. The entrance fee on our visit is 16 Euro per adult, but we think it’s good value for money.
We drive here and manage to park easily enough, despite the crowds. One thing to mention is that Holland is super cold at times. So, we’re wrapped up, but the chill from the wind is biting.
If I’m honest, we prefer the more natural planting arrangements throughout the region compared to the more regimented Kukenhof. Having said that, it’s one of those sights that you should see if you’re doing a tour of Holland and those bulb fields.
Cycle Paths Everywhere
Driving on to Lisse, our plan to walk through the bulbs sadly doesn’t happen. That’s because it’s Sunday and traffic jams prevent us from getting close enough to stop.
Undeterred, we head North to the coast and the National Park Zuid-Kennermerland. This vast sand dune park, has us back on the Brompton’s along more excellent cycle paths. Not only is it a great place for a picnic but also the daily exercise!
A quick drive over to the promenade at Zandvoort, enables us to stretch the legs with a brisk walk, before parking up for the night at a campsite near Haarlem.
Always hyperactive, we venture back on the bikes, first stopping for a picnic along the easy 3km cycle routes. Then into the centre of Haarlem, which is a bustling town on a canal. It’s has town squares full of coffee shops and pavement bars, making a good atmosphere.
We try and park in the centre with the campervan, but unfortunately our British bank cards aren’t accepted at the parking meter and neither was cash. This is a pattern soon repeated throughout the trip.
Amsterdam – Holland and the bulb fields in a motorhome
Leaving the Bulb fields behind, Amsterdam is calling. There is a camper stop here, but as we pull up at the locked gate, so did several other people.
Then the attendant approaches and asks how long we want to stay. Our reply of “we’re not sure yet” doesn’t go down well, so we hot-foot it out of there to Camping Vliegenbos further up the road!
The cost is €26 per night, without electric (all EHU pitches are full), but we think it’s a reasonable price. From here it’s only 10 minutes by bike to a free ferry crossing, leading to Amsterdam Central Station in just a few minutes. Ferries run all day, through to midnight.
Camping Vliegenbos is one of those that attracts young backpackers. Now, this is Amsterdam, anything goes and you soon know about it at 3am. This is when the young are still singing whilst smoking their recently bought Amsterdam specials.
Amsterdam is amazing! We use our Brompton’s to navigate the city, saving time and feet ache. It’s a free for all cycling the streets of Amsterdam, which has to be said is an experience in itself.
It oozes charm in bucket loads with a very liberal approach and gorgeous character buildings beside canals.
There is, of course, the seedy side of town, the Red Light district, which is what it is. Then there’s the coffee shops, the smoke filled clouds of non-conventional tabacco drifting in a haze through the streets!
Arty types are everywhere, bringing a youthful mix and a brilliant choice of vintage clothes with fabulous quirky stores.
If you want to visit Anne Frank Haus museum, then perhaps book ahead. The queues are huge and because we’ve been before, we give it a miss this time, although it’s a unique and moving experience.
There are other museums such as Van Gogh, although we aim for the food halls, markets and intricate alleyways instead. This back street side of the city, is just intriguing.
Zaanse Schans is next on our tour of Holland and the bulb fields in our motorhome. This place is a popular stop for the day trippers and you can see why.
It’s not only a lovely village, but it’s also home to several beautiful windmills, housing various trades. Specialist clog makers, cheese producers, spice merchants and other small shops and museums line the canals. There’s a parking fee for motorhomes of €10, which is a bit steep, but it’s convenient.
We stop the night at Volendam Marina, this is common practice in The Netherlands and a really good use of space for us motorhome folk.
Volendam is a busy seaside town, with lots of tourists milling around the traditional style buildings.
From Volendam, we cycle to Edam, around 3km away. There’s a bit of a headwind, so we take longer than expected. Edam is a nice small town, famous for the Cheese, but pretty too with canals and ornate buildings. Perfect for a quick nibble on the famous cheese, before moving on to our next stop, Alkmaar.
Here, there’s a Park & Ride and a handy parking spot. As usual on this trip, out comes the Brompton’s and off we cycle on the 2km route to the busy town centre. There’s some small shops, giving an individual feel, mingled with more canals and nice architecture.
Marina Motorhome Parking
Next up is Hoorn where we stay at marina, Jachthaven Grashaven. They also provide facilities, so hot showers (1Euro), waste emptying, electric and toilets, all for 15 Euro per night.
The following morning we walk into Hoorn from the Marina, another typically Dutch character town. Getting around in Holland is easy, everything is well sign-posted, so walking, cycling and driving is not at all stressful.
After leaving Hoorn, we drive out to Enkuizen and Medemblik. Then over to the coast and Callantsoog, before parking up for the night at the Marina Willemsoord in Den Helder.
This old naval base is now a mix of shops and restaurants with motorhome parking for 13.50 Euro per night, including use of really excellent facilities. A contemporay shower and toilet area, along with motorhome dump and electric (1 Euro for 2 hours) and free wi-fi.
From Den Helder, we cross the 30km long straight road across the sea to Kornwerderzand, through Bolsward and on to Sloten. This small village was where we have lunch, before driving on to another marina for our next night stop.
The next town, is also the most stunning, the gorgeous Giethoorn. This area of National Park on narrow canals is also our stop for the night, parking alongside a larger canal at a private camperstop, Camperpaats Haamstede.
This quirky little camperstop at 13 Euro per night, includes the use of very good showers and toilets. They also have a very eccentric indoor information room!
Here, you can sit in an old barn-type building, where the owners provided both log burner’s, sofa’s and a range of rather unique artefacts. These have been scattered around, to add to the feeling of being in some sort of abandoned forest hut, it’s just up our street.
The following morning, we brave the cold wind and cycle across the canal. We soon emerge into a hub of mini-canals, entwined with tiny arched bridges and beautiful cottage style buildings. Tourists on coach trips, mingle along the tiny paths, this place could be overwhelmingly busy in peak season.
Swarms of Tourists
Visit off-season or arrive early or late during Summer, there’s not much passing space on those little bridges, so you’d soon get frustrated amongst the crowds of day-trippers.
Never ones to follow like sheep, we were ready to leave the coach drop-off zones of Giethoorn. We get ready to explore the wider countryside on our bikes, 30km later, we’ve progressed through blissful Spring landscapes, surrounding Giethoorn itself. We’d well and truly immersed ourselves into the quieter areas.
Full of vibrant fields of crops, pavement stalls sell local jams amongst hedgerows, where nesting Tits fly around us. Here, farmers gathering crops by hand, stop to give us a nod, as we cycle by.
An added adventure, of a small river crossing at Jonen, has us boarding a barge for 3 Euro. Always good to have something a little different and unexpected, we feel as if we’ve stepped right out of an Enid Blyton book.
Well and truly shattered after our day of peddling, we head on to Arnhem and a camperstop out of the centre at Latham. This yacht club camperstop for 15 Euro, has showers (50c), toilets and dump station. It’s a pretty spot, overlooking a lake, better than staying in Arnhem itself, which had a rather uninviting motorhome Aire, by the river.
Taking a walk through Veluwe National Park, on a well marked forest trail is a nice detour. Mainly because we like a forest walk, but also we have great pleasure witnessing a wild Stag, run right in front of us.
A Bridge Too Far
Arnhem itself, is incredibly interesting due to the battle of September 1944, which was then brought to the cinema world in the epic Holywood film, “A Bridge Too Far”.
After driving over the bridge, we follow a marked trail of commemorative points of interest, through the town on foot. We find war history incredibly interesting, perhaps, due to it being the era that our parents were born into and our grandparents fought through.
Arnhem has an excellent museum, located at Oostereek, in a beautiful mansion type property. This was headquarters of the allies during the war and now displays the most interesting information, all about the battle, known as Operation Market Garden.
Walking The Battlefield
From here, we walk through the grounds, which was the actual battlefield. It’s now a beautiful area of woodland, where marked footpaths take you through to various landmarks, passing Deer parks and ornate ponds. It’s always amazing how something so lovely, can be born from such devastation.
Arnhem also has a really good town centre, good shopping and plenty of cafe culture. For us though, it’s time to head back into Belgium, for our last few days, before catching the Calais ferry back to Dover.
Until next time Holland!