Castles in the Netherlands 18 – Kasteel Valkenburg

Kasteel Valkenburg  from Cauberg / Image from Wikipedia

The Dutch Wikipedia article about Valkenburg calls this castle the only “hoogteburch” in the Netherlands, i.e., the only real castle on a sort of height or hill, the sort found so often elsewhere in Europe, but not in this land of plains.

The town itself is found near Maastricht in the far south of the Netherlands, in the province of Limburg, which is like a wedge between N-E Belgium and Germany, almost precisely between Genk and Aachen (or just as near Liège if you like). The main road from Maastricht takes a motorist in an almost straight line (over the famous Cauberg) to the town, which can also be approached from there by train.

As I first cycled from Valkenburg to Oude-Valkenburg to visit the castles there, I came back in the valley of the Geul and first saw Berkelpoort, a part of the old town walls:P1140085To the left of these gates, we can already see some of the castle itself, towering above the town,P1140084from where stone steps lead up the hill among nice marl rocks, which partly gave the material to the walls of the castle from the 11th to the 17th century. It is a beautiful path but not really worth climbing as the castle cannot be accessed through the little gate up there, only after climbing downstairs and turning right again, missing most of the town.P1140091P1140090Better walk through the busy Grotestraat from Berkelpoort (above),P1140095make some plans about what else to see later and then head towards Grendelpoort,P1140096from where, keeping left, it’s real easy to reach the entrance to the castle. There are enough steps to climb here, but there’s also a huge new lift to take up those needing it.

Above, one arrives on a nice plateau with a restaurant and lots of room for sitting outside, and this terrace also provides great views of the town, first over Grendelpoort of course:P1140098 From here the visitor has a wonderful view of the outside of the inner castle:P1140100It is only here that we have to pay an entrance fee to the inner castle as everything is free up to this point. Then a long walk takes us around in two directions, both leading to further steps inside.P1140101P1140102.JPGThere’s a very good view, complete with Belkerpoort, over the inner city towards the north from these walls:P1140103.JPGThen we can visit what has remained of the former palace buildings after the French blew it up in the Dutch War in 1762: the chapel, the knights’ hall and some more.P1140107P1140112.JPGP1140108.JPGP1140109.JPGIn a corner of the knights’ hall, we can wonder why there are two such a huge piles of raw column basalt in the corner. But we can understand soon …P1140113.JPGFirst we may circle the area to have further views, for example towards the quarries and the Wilhelminatoren, which can be reached by cablecar as well as on foot.P1140116.JPGP1140114.JPGThen on towards the southern side of the palace remains:P1140117.JPGP1140120.JPGAnd it’s here that we can understand the huge columns of basalt:P1140122.JPGthat is, they were used for strengthening the inside of that walls as the outer surfaces of marl may not be strong enough to withstand attacks. They were now used for reconstructing some of the old walls of course.

From here we can look around the area towards the Casino on top of the Cauberg:

then we can head back into the palace to look around once again

before heading back to town. Enjoy your stay in Valkenburg!P1140123.JPGIf you are cycling, you can climb Cauberg instead of staying – but be prepared for a real steep climb. Afterwards, however, it’s real fast downhill to Maastricht, almost directly to the station to catch your train.P1140124.JPG

by P.S.

 

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Castles in the Netherlands 17 – Kasteel Schaloen and Genhoes

P1140045This little castle (seen here only above the roof of its outhouse from the main road) stands just outside the little village of Oud Valkenburg near Valkenburg, a nice little town in Brabant, a short drive from Maastricht, in the Netherlands. While it can’t be visited inside, the building is beautiful enough for us to give it a look on a day out when the weather is good. It can easily be reached by bike as well, and it’s a good walk from Valkenburg as well near/across some nice forest. The creek the Kleine Geul also provides a nice background along the way.P1140074Along the back road and following path, there are a few other places to be used or visited: tennis courts, a football field, another old building complex houses and old people’s home, then, above on the hill, there is also a nice old house called De Kluis. I didn’t have enough time to walk up there, so I went on around the castle.P1140051P1140052Of course it is more impressive from the south, the direction of the entrance across from the moat. The buildings to the left contain the holiday homes.P1140055P1140056P1140057A little walk across the gatehouse, which is not a nice brasserie, takes us to the castle to the right and the old outhouses to the left, where one can stay the night.P1140059P1140061P1140062Unfortunately, one can’t join the people lunching on the entrance terrace of the castle, nor visit, but sitting down for a bear or meal outside the brasserie in this neighbourhood still is a nice programme.P1140064

I have also made a little video around there, you can see it here or below.

Those a bit more nosey could also look at another old castle from the corner of the path around the former: Kasteel Genhoes.P1140053The old name means “The House”. Unfortunately, this can only be seen from the outside too and can’t be walked around, even though it has a moat around too, but the area is completely private. It can be approached to the left of the path connecting the Schaloen to the main road and then taking the first to the left again.P1140067P1140071P1140070No entry! But we can peek. Somebody has some nice big space there.P1140069

by P.S.

Madurodam

One of the most famous fun parks in the Netherlands is Madurodam in The Hague. Its main theme is to let people see outstanding buildings from around the country in miniature. To some extent, this is comparable to LEGOLAND in Denmark, where objects are built, naturally, out of Lego pieces. Here, the building materials are undefined, probably clay and wood, often interspersed with metals and plastic, all nicely painted, so all surfaces correspond to the originals.

Near the entrance, visitors find themselves in the waterworld of the Netherlands, with all sorts of ships, bridges, dams and dykes.P1130661P1130664P1130681Of course, the windmills cannot be far away, as they have always served water management at least as much as the milling of grain.P1130662This area serves as a major attraction for little children, not only because of the thrill of watching – or waiting to watch – various trains flip by, criss-crossing the area, but because they can cooperate with each other on putting out a fire on a tanker, float wooden containers down rivers and channels or load and unload containers in a harbour.P1130665Further inside the park, the area is more or less arranged by cities. Here we can visit the inner cities of Amsterdam, Utrecht, The Hague and others along with famous architectural relics around them. Starting with Muiderslot, the castle of Muiden SE of Amsterdam, here’s a series of examples without special order.P1130677P1130679P1130680The quality of some of the models is really beathtaking.P1130682P1130690P1130691I really appreciated the care invested in the immediate environment of the models: what in reality are tall trees or full-grown bushes have been pruned back, ikebana style, with breathtakingly realistic miniature trees and bushes, where even the flowers are fit to size.P1130693Fortuntely for toddlers and small kids, there’s a big and good playground behind this row of houses:P1130696There are some other exhibitions showing Dutch history and the life of the person, George Maduro, who was the inspiration behind the park. In the middle, there’s also a huge globe-like structure, ‘Fantasitron’, in which people can be scanned in 3D and afterwards be posted a 3D sculpture of themselves.

Unfortunately, the structure, which can be seen in the middle of this photo,P1130688is, in our opinion, is ugly and destroys some of the effect of the place. Besides, the park is rather small for the €16,5 entrance fee. The size of the area can be judged well based on this photo:P1130699and we can testify to the fact that it is small.

Whereas it’s a nice model of famous Dutch landmarks, little children would hardly appreciate this aspect. On a day with a lot worse, but a lot more probable weather, children couldn’t really play with water. Even we had no interest in the historical exhibitions, how could little children? But those water games offer nothing for parents, who would appreciate the historical features on display, but then again, this all is only about the Netherlands, so if you’re not familiar with most of the buildings, what is there for adults to enjoy for the price?

Taking up the comparison with Legoland again, the area is a tiny portion of that for nearly half the price. This place is not suitable for a daily programme without children as it can easily be walked in a couple of hours. In Legoland, the models represent famous landmarks from all over the world and in larger sizes, even fit for a real slide surrounded by figures. That one is great fun for all ages, this one is only suitable in part for adults and in the other half for little kids. We had a good, sunny day with two little kids, it was worth it, but still, for me, it was a bit of a let-down. I’d definitely not come again on my own, or without kids.

by P.S. and Z.J.S.

 

Keukenhof – the perfect day out on Easter Monday

4cef0d00-1f06-42b0-8ce5-603e3412d710.JPGWe had a really fortunate day when we had to travel to Den Haag anyway. By the time we finished there, it was a bright sunny day, albeit not entirely warm at all. But after a short visit to the seaside nearby, we went on to enjoy a wonderful day among the flowers in this enchanted world. Keukenhof can be approached easily by car either from Amsterdam, Haarlem, Leiden, The Hague or Rotterdam as it is situated right in their middle. Expect to pay €16 per adult and €8 per child and also that even small children with small rollers are not allowed in – we came with two of these to make it possible for the kids to roll easily from place to place without getting to tired but we had to park them in a locked place. I personally don’t know why exactly this was the rule as people were allowed in with dogs on long leashes, which definitely disturbs lots of people, but one can’t argue. Instead, enjoy! We aren’t adding comments as the variation of flowers – and with them, names – is so vast that it’s impossible to keep up.

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Hope you enjoyed all these.

by Z.J.S, P.S. (first two photos and one more near the end courtesy of “De Gitarist“, and with participation of Zhuo and Julcsika)

Castles in the Netherlands – part 16: Kasteel Duurstede and Huis Doorn

Last weekend I managed to make my next trip and went to see these two places near Utrecht, beginning with Duurstede. The nearest train station is at Culemborg, which is on a side-track for slow trains from Utrecht to Tiel, or another one from Arnhem, but that was fine as I like cycling to my final destinations. On the way, you have to cross a small river, the Lek, or take the long cycling route directly from Utrecht. Of course it’s simpler by car.

Wijk bij Duurstede, as the place is called, is a small town with two little churches very close to each other that we see coming from the road near the river, the Nederrijn (not directly from Utrecht) …P1130001and a very nice, working windmill, which can be visited insideP1130028 and some of the very nicest boat houses I’ve ever seenP1130029The town looks otherwise very pretty too P1130005but the main attraction is surely the castle, which is, oddly enough, rarely accessible to the public. It is usually rented out for events and, in between, it is closed. It is one rare ruin, as most castles are in good conditions and are occupied, or almost disappeared. But this one has one tower intact, another partially intact and walls almost completely ruined but with enough to give one an idea.P1130010P1130012P1130013However, I was lucky enough to arrive on a day when there was no big event but a nice little concert in the garden, and so the towers were open. It’s completely free to look inside and you can have a feeling of how small feast are catered for. P1130015 From above, the view is really nice over the restaurant and the moatP1130020the other tower, where I didn’t enter for the small exhibitionP1130021 and over the townP1130022Here is a song from the concert under the tent, with people enjoying the atmosphere, some snacks and drinks.

P1130027After such a pleasant place I rode further to Huis Doorn, which was the last dwelling place of the German Kaiser in the Netherlands after WWI. The entrance is next to the road, can’t be mistakenP1130031and the park around the house is really huge, complete with an Orangery and various romantic routes. The house, however, is a real let-down, not only because of its puritanic structure, which soon reveals that, other than the front side, it is nothing special at all.P1130037P1130040The real disappointment is that, for the orbital price of €12, one could only see a few rooms furnished as in the few years of the Kaiser’s stay, relics of the emperor and practically nothing else. I decided not to enter but have a drink in the restaurant. Still, a nice day.P1130044If somebody cycles this far, the nearest railway station is at Driebergen/Zeist, which means that the route can be pedalled through backwards starting there.

by P.S.

Giethoorn and Kampen for a short holiday

An ideal area for a couple of days’ holiday, for us beginning on May 1st, in the northern corner of the province Overijssel.

Giethoorn is a lovely little village built almost on water as the whole neighbourhood lies low among lakes and networks of channels among them. The overall impression is somewhat damaged by the fact that somehow the place has become known as the Dutch Venice so most of the inhabitants turned to serve the tourism industry. This is what awaits the visitor just off the car park.P1120687To the right you can imagine the row of restaurants and stalls of the lots of guides offering to hire out legions of small boats and barges for larger groups of tourists. But one has to cut the crowds out of the pictures (if at all possible) to see what the village should actually look like as habitation.P1120690In fact there are so many tourists that it is quite impossible to avoid them any further. Miraculously, the place has become rather well-known among the Chinese so the density of Chinese people almost matches that in popular large Chinese restaurants anywhere around the Netherlands. Notices about hiring the boats and restaurant menus are in Dutch and Chinese, not in English though the odd Italian restaurant also appears as befits a mini-Venice. But quite unlike in Venice, almost all houses have thatch roofs.P1120703P1120702P1120697P1120696The Brazilian giant rhubarb is also prevalent in the village, I’d like to see it fully grown later – it must be a spectacle.P1120706P1120712P1120718P1120738Then, when hiring boats, some people really become dangerous – beware if you are with kids.P1120743P1120746The boats for hire are battery-operated slow boats and can be taken for one or two or three hours or even more, for which tourists get a description of the route possible for that length of time. It is by hiring for at least two hours that people can get out into the nearby lake and explore nature on a sunny day.P1120756P1120764P1120763P1120768P1120773P1120774At one point there is a look-out tower. The view from there is a nice eye-opener about the area.P1120776Those intent on avoiding the crowds can opt for the area called Dwarsgracht just across the road from Giethoorn. We chose a different area with kids though.

The nearby Kempen is a completely different cup of tea. On the way there the traveller gets in among some wonderful fields of tulips.P1120779The town lies at the mouth of the river IJssel, near where it flows into the IJsselmeer. Surprisingly, it is a former Hansa town with beautiful architecture, complete with a number of bigger sailing ships moored on the quay.P1120780P1120781P1120786P1120792(Broederport)P1120795P1120797P1120798P1120799P1120800P1120804P1120806P1120807P1120809P1120810P1120812P1120816P1120819P1120822P1120823P1120824P1120825P1120826P1120828(Memorial to the Schrokkers, fishermen who were re-housed to Kampen when the island Schokland in the Zuidersee was evacuated)P1120831(No bikes here!)P1120829(the smallest house – in the Netherlands? here in Kampen for sure)P1120833

by Z.J.S. and P.S.

Castles in the Netherlands 15 -Kasteel Amerongen

P1110807Amerongen is situated in the heart of the Netherlands, on the border of the Province of Utrecht with Gelderland. It is easy to approach by car, but without a car, one has to take the train to Utrecht, or Veenendaal-De Klomp, and cycle from one of them. I chose De Klomp, so I cycled across Veenendaal, then kilometers of beautiful autumnal forests of Het Amerongse Bos, one of the oldest forests in Utrecht, which goes back to 1770. P1110800P1110796The Kasteel is actually no castle at all in the classical sense. Though it was build about 700 years ago, the French burned it to the ground in 1673 after the owners failed to pay the required fire tax. As a result of the rebuilding by the owners not much later, the present palace is a Dutch classicist ‘Huys’, as they often also call it.P1110856It lies on a large area of 10 ha, most of which is a beautiful park of huge trees, the rest has a charming garden (if one likes the French style) and waterways where people can rent canoes to discover it from surface level.P1110858P1110854P1110805P1110806P1110812As a building, it fails to impress but the most enthusiastic visitor. However, thanks to its history and well-preserved inside, it is worth the fee of €10, which is in fact the highest out of all castles I’ve visited so far.P1110815P1110816P1110855P1110817Not only were the owners high-class noblemen, but they made sure the interior is left as it was in 1977, when they gave over the estate to a foundation to open it to the public. It is thus quite likely that some of the furniture was used by the German Kaizer, Wilhelm II, when he abdicated the German throne, asked for asylum and lived here for 1.5 years from November 1918, before he moved over to nearby Huis Doorn. The interior is one of the most original a simple visitor to such places can ever find. Fortunately, one does not have to wait for guided tours either.P1110818P1110820P1110825P1110819P1110821P1110822P1110823P1110826P1110827P1110828P1110829P1110830P1110831P1110837P1110839P1110846P1110847The huge central hall upstairs is suitable for concerts by local amateur choruses, which was also taking place at the time of my visit.P1110849P1110850P1110841P1110853P1110852Opposite the ‘house’, the pub-restaurant is a nice place to enjoy time before or after seeing the building or the surroundings.P1110851From this point, the old church tower is also impressive just outside the complex.P1110857P1110803Kasteel Amerongen is definitely a place worth visiting for its mix of history, interior and nature surrounding it.P1110859

by P.S.