Dutch Treat: Haarlem, Utrecht and the countryside

Nearly every trip to the Netherlands begins in Amsterdam even though it has become one of the most expensive and touristy cities in Europe. It’s a short train ride from Schiphol, the country’s major airport, but you can as easily detour to Haarlem, which has preserved its historic legacy and its intimate character. The old city hall and gabled houses enclose the Grotemarkt, which is crammed with high quality food stalls. St Bavo’s cathedral towers above everything else, and the interior is flooded with light from clear glass windows. Columns are painted to resemble tapestries, there’s a wrought iron choir screen, and a wonderfully ornate organ that was played by Handel and Mozart. There are other classic churches, the Franz Hals Museum, and a quirky cabinet of curiosities called Het Teynial. The former V&D department store is a fine example Dutch modernism, but for me the most appealing feature of Haarlem was its labyrinth of narrow cobbled lanes.

Haarlem St Bavo

A network of storied cities, easily reached by train from Amsterdam, boast the same inspiring mix of old and new. Utrecht is a pilgrimage site for admirers of Gerrit Rietveld, who designed the red-blue chair and the Schröder-Schräder house, a tiny, early modern masterpiece. You can also visit a little-known gem that was inspired by Rietveld: a triangular house that Mart van Schijndel designed for himself in 1991 and shoehorned onto a hidden site once occupied by stables. It’s maintained by his widow, Natascha Drabbe, who gives regular tours and launched the Iconic Houses association to protect and promote other modern house-museums in Europe and the US. The 1923 post office will soon have a new role as a public library and its main hall is as grand as a cathedral with its arched vault of glazed yellow bricks, ribbed glass, and black statuary.

Utrecht post office

Close to Utrecht is Hilversum, with the yellow brick City Hall of Willem Dudok, and Jan Duiker’s Zonnestraal Sanatorium, a poetic interplay of gleaming white orthogonal blocks and rounded bays, subtly overlaid, and linked by spiral staircases. Both have been impeccably restored as time capsules of progressive architecture around 1930. The city was once a hub of European broadcasting, and that legacy is celebrated in the striking Institute for Sound and Vision, which doubles as a museum and an archive.

 

Away from the bustle of Dutch cities is the pastoral landscape that painters celebrated: grazing cows, still canals, clusters of trees and a huge, cloud-dappled sky. On a misty September morning I drove out from a rural b&b to the Nationaal Park de Hoge Veluwe. This expanse of woods and dunes was the private estate of Anton and Helene Kröller-Müller, who bequeathed the land and their extraordinary art collection to the nation in the 1930s. The sober brick museum that Henry van der Velde designed in 1938 is as unpretentious and open to nature as Louisiana in Denmark, and the art is as good and varied as in almost any metropolitan institution.

Kroller Muller

 

A scarlet X of red-painted steel by Mark di Suvero emerged from the lawn like a giant asterisk, evidence that the museum has continued to collect, eighty years after the death of its founder. I had expected crowds on this fine Sunday, but I had the place almost to myself. In Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, a row of heads block every painting; here, a room of his masterpieces was deserted for the first 15 minutes. Moments like this are increasingly rare–an opportunity to enter the soul of a great artist and savor every brushstroke.

I wandered outside, pausing at the pavilion that Gerrit Rietveld added in the 1950s: planes of concrete block that seem to slide past each other and frame bronzes by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. The sculpture garden is idyllic–classic modern pieces widely spaced on smooth lawns (ravaged by moles) amid pools and mature trees. A hazy sun emerged and the whole scene shimmered. A restaurant is housed in a peaked tent open at the sides and served a very good salmon salad. Guards cycle around, and that would be the ideal way to explore this 600-acre garden.

Places to stay and eat.

In Amsterdam, my favorite hotel is the Ambassade, which occupies five houses on the Herrengracht canal. It’s family owned, with warm, capable service, and the restaurant is first class. The decor is traditional but the owners have a fine contemporary art collection. I also tried the terminally hip Lloyd’s Hotel, which is inconveniently located and retains the legacy of a doss house turned juvenile detention center. Atmospheric settings for dinner include De Plantage and De Kas (both housed in former greenhouses), and the Brasserie in the Ambassade.
In Utrecht, I stayed at Mary K (25 Oudegracht), and was given the spacious ground-floor studio in this boutique hotel. I lunched at Kim Made, a Vietnamese restaurant on the canal quay, and enjoyed Spanish tapas for dinner at the Black Fox, a block away.

Ambassade Amsterdam

 

I would also recommend L’Embrasse, an exceptional b&b, at Rheden on edge of the Veluwe national forest. From here, you can cycle to the Kroller-Muller or into Arnhem.

 

Michael Webb

Michael Webb

Michael grew up in London and now lives in a classic modern apartment in Los Angeles. His twin passions are architecture and travel, and he indulges both as often as he can, exploring over 60 countries in search of material and inspiration. He is the author of 28 books, most recently Venice CA: Art + Architecture in a Maverick Community, Building Community and Architects' Houses. He has written on travel and design for The New York Times, Travel & Leisure, Virtuoso Life, Monocle, Architectural Digest and other publications around the world.
Michael Webb

Latest posts by Michael Webb

Leave a Comment





SUBSCRIBE

Enter your email address to subscribe to our newsletter and get the best travel advice straight to your inbox!

Join 10 other subscribers

TAGS
INSTAGRAM
FACEBOOK

wandermelon

The ultimate traveling companion, wandermelon.com is an informative, entertaining and unbiased resource that combines the latest travel news, inspired articles and visual content all in one easy-to-navigate online destination. Sourcing what you need to know before you go, wandermelon gives avid travelers like you savvy shortcuts to the world’s best experiences and destinations.

wandermelon

wandermelonSunday, August 6th, 2017 at 10:23pm

Hamburg is totally happening! Check out some of Michael Webb's architectural favorites up on the melon this week as he explores HafenCity. #Hamburg #Germany #HafenCity

wandermelon

wandermelon added 4 new photos.Monday, July 10th, 2017 at 7:28pm

Wondering what's big in Japan for kids? Check out Kristina Foster's latest story on the melon: http://www.wandermelon.com/big-and-little-in-japan-why-tokyo-is-good-for-kids/ #japan #tokyoforkids #tokyo

wandermelon

wandermelon shared Art Of Extraordinary Travel's video.Friday, July 7th, 2017 at 8:52pm

Definitely putting this on my bucket list! 👍

wandermelon

Art Of Extraordinary Travel

This restaurant has one of the best views in the world.
wandermelon

wandermelonSunday, June 25th, 2017 at 3:03pm

Sadly there is a dark side to travel and in Bali the cruel dog meat trade is alive and well, PLEASE SIGN & SHARE and do what you can to end this hideous practice. Knowledge is power and tourism dollars matter a great deal to many of the countries that engage in animal cruelty so don't be fooled by many of the zoos and temples that use animals to lure you in and as a result suffer miserable lives... or worst, as below. Thank you! :(

wandermelon

wandermelonMonday, June 12th, 2017 at 12:22pm

Mexico City is as modern and cool as it gets with great food to boot. Check out Michael Webb's latest story on the melon: http://www.wandermelon.com/mexico-city-urban-vitality/ #MexicoCity #modernarchitecture

wandermelon

wandermelonSaturday, June 10th, 2017 at 12:30pm

Street art in George Town, the capital of the #Malaysian island of #Penang. Photo by Eugene Choy / Revelation Productions. Read more here http://www.wandermelon.com/georgetown-penang-heritage-hotel-capital/

TWITTER

 

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest