Amsterdam Metropolitan Area is awash with hidden surprises
Travel from Britain, and we all tend to congregate around the historic city centre of Amsterdam, which is absolutely fine. Yet we are definitely missing a trick. For, a half-hour drive west will see you in the Amsterdam Metropolitan area and at some of the finest beaches in Europe.
This is also home to a splendid dune landscape. I am in the area for a few days, and realise all that once that, judging by the amount of bicycles on the dedicated paths, the Dutch are an incredibly fit race.
So I join them. I have an off-road bike at home. Today I sit astride a Miss Marple-type affair sans basket, and head off with a guide on a 15km ride to circuit a pristine dune landscape and into the National Park ‘Zuid-Kennemerland’.
I am told to expect lots of animals. I see the odd rabbit scurrying into a burrow, wild horses grazing by a pond, and birds fluttering against the south-westerly breeze. Then, up on a crest behind a wire fence, I see two European Bison nonchalantly grazing. These animals are a recent introduction to the area, eight having been originally brought in, their numbers since increasing to thirty-six.
It was only a month ago that I was in the Alpes-Maritime region of Provence, where I visited a reserve complete with European Bison which had been established by vet Patrice Longour, so it is good to see that these re-introductions are happening on a larger scale across Europe.
We end our bike ride at the race circuit of Zandvoort, which was once on the Formula One circuit. It is still operational, with plenty of events taking place throughout the year.
A quick freshen up at the Hotel NH Zandvoort, and my small group head by special beach car for a barbecue at the beach pavilion Safari Club Zandvoort, a somewhat rugged, but welcoming affair. The vehicle crunches over a treasure trove of shells and discarded razor clams as families scour the shoreline to see what the waves have washed up. We barbecue our own meat and fish, washed down with good old Belgian beer and red wine.
Tomorrow we are heading to Beemster, where we will be taking a tuk tuk ride through the Beemster Polder. That is just the start of a full day, which promises to be another bright, sunny affair. I will let you know how we get on.
All images © Essential Journeys/Michael Cowton