May 15, 2014

ELLE Travel: The prettiest Dutch road trip

Jason Kennedy Author: Elle Canada Credits: Jason Kennedy

May 15, 2014

ELLE Travel: The prettiest Dutch road trip

In April and May each year, blooming fields of tulips, daffodils, narcissi and hyacinths take over the Dutch countryside. The best way to take in all the vibrant colours is on road trip along the apply-named Flower Route (Bloemen Route), a 40 kilometre-long drive that stretches from Haarlem, which is near Amsterdam in the north to Leiden in south Holland.

Where to stay
Our starting point is Amsterdam's newest luxe hotel, the Art'otel. The 107-guest room hotel-cum-gallery features an art exhibition space, a two-storey video-art curtain and countless works of art by its very own signature artist, Atelier Van Lieshout. Located in the heart of the city near Dam Square, Magna Plaza shopping centre and the tram network, it’s a perfect home-base for exploring the city sites before we head out on the highway to the bulb-growing region.

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The view from the road
Driving south from Haarlem, the fields come at us in repeating flashes of bright colour. I feel like I’ve entered a flower-fuelled disco as line upon line of yellow, fuchsia, white, red and pink flash by, seemingly on repeat. And there are plenty of iconic Dutch windmills as well.

The best flower park

We continue driving south toward the town of Lisse until we reach the famous Keukenhof Gardens. This historic park, which dates back to the 15th century, is only open three months a year from mid March to the end of May, but it is one of the hottest destinations in Holland for flower admirers, growers and collectors.

The gardens were originally hunting and gathering grounds for the kitchens of Jacoba van Beieren castle. In 1857, the 75-acre space was rebuilt in an English garden style, which remains today. The park is a living work of art that changes constantly through the blooming period. Annual themes—like 2014’s “Holland” (picture lots of orange petals)—set the tone to showcase innumerable varieties of tulips, hyacinths and daffodils. There are also indoor flower shows in the park's pavilions and it is easy to lose track of time in this blooming wonderland.

Slideshow: A drive along the Netherlands Flower Route

How to spend the rest of your day? Find out on the next page! Holland01.jpg
Exploring the flower fields by boat and bicycle

Near Keukenhof Gardens, you can check out the private tulip-farm fields via a “whisper” boat ride through the surrounding canals (so-called for their quiet electric motors). Or, you can take in the visual feast (and the sweet scents) up-close by bicycle. Although biking is not permitted at Keukenhof Gardens, rental bikes are available just outside of the park. There are four different biking routes through the surrounding bloom fields that range from 5 to 35 kilometres in length.

On the road
From Keukenhof Gardens, we continue south, passing though countless tulip fields on the way to the seaside town of Noordwijk. The fields slowly fade as we get closer to the seashore. The landscape here is different, and the sandy of dunes make us forget, for just a moment, the colourful parade of flowers.

From Noordwijk, we drive south to Leiden to visit the Hortus Botanicus Leiden, one of Holland’s most famous botanical gardens. It was established in 1594 by Carolus Clusius, one of Holland’s prominent botanists and one of the first people to introduce the tulip to Holland in late 1500s. The garden now has a curated collection of plants from every corner of the world—including, of course, many, many tulips.

Further south, we come to the town of Naaldwijk, which is home to Flora Holland Bloemenveiling Naaldwijk, one of the biggest flower auctions in the world. While visitors can’t participate in the auctions, you can take a fascinating guided tour.

Flowers celebrations in Amsterdam
Back in Amsterdam, there are two main annual events that celebrate the bloom season. At the beginning of May, the Amsterdam Tulip Museum and Museum Van Loon host Tulip Day. Many of the city’s residents and businesses participate by displaying bright floral arrangements. At the beginning of June, the celebrations continue with Open Garden Days, which provides public access to some of the city’s most beautiful private gardens, which are hidden behind building facades and gates.

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ELLE Travel: The prettiest Dutch road trip