There are many clichés about Holland and many of them are, of course, true. You will find fields of tulips (not to mention poppies and lilies), plenty of attractive windmills, towns crossed by evocative canals and locals who speak flawless English.
Among these associations – and the seedier ones made with Amsterdam – the fact that Holland is a nation of cyclists is often overlooked. Katie Melua’s semi-tuneful claim that there are nine million bicycles in Beijing may or may not be true, but there are certainly more bikes than people in Holland.
And yet, in part due to all the other images that this country conjures up and in part because cyclists seem to love mountains (for some reason, I can barely handle hillocks on a push-bike!) Holland is often overlooked as a viable destination for a cycling holiday. Well, let me give you six great reasons why you should take to two wheels to the land of tulips.
Whilst Wiggins-wannabes might yearn for endless ascents as they re-enact Olympic and Tour de France fantasies most of us quite like a nice flat bike ride – though I never turn down the opportunity for a nice, long downhill stretch. With the highest “peak” in Holland reaching to an elevation of just 322m it is just a shade higher than the top of the Shard (308m). The Netherlands is therefore the perfect place for beginners, families and people not quite as fit as they once were / would like to be.
With an area 60% the size of the Republic of Ireland a one week cycling holiday round this great country can still encompass a lot of the best sites. With two weeks you can easily take in Amsterdam’s ancient forts (while dipping a toe or two into the fantastical vibe that exudes from the eclectic city), the cathedral city of Haarlem and the magnificent ZuidKennemerland National Park to the north before heading further north to Alkmaar.
Another fine cathedral city with a fairytale feel, superb cheese and with no end of golden beaches and picturesque villages within easy striking distance, Alkmaar is a great place to spend a few days. From there Hoorn and Edam (for more cheese – you’ll need the calories after all that cycling!) are easily accessible and both charming in their own right.
The fields of flowers may be a cliché but if you come to Holland at the right time of year (March to May, with the last two weeks of April being the primary window of opportunity) you will be blown away by the frequency and vibrancy of the floral delights and cycling is a great way to see the blooms up close. Throw in sweeping views, pristine beaches and atmospheric forts, castles and windmills and you really are spoilt here.
Holland has some of the safest roads in the world for cyclists and with miles and miles of purpose-built cycle ways and lots of quiet country roads the congestion and road rage of the UK will feel a long way away.
Sometimes travelling should be a challenge and that’s great if that’s your thing, but if you want relaxation and a stress-free holiday Holland is the answer. Dutch people are welcoming, speak superb English (on the whole) and, as mentioned, the country is flat, meaning no arduous hill climbs. Should the flat become too tiring you can take advantage of one of the most effective and efficient rail networks in the world and of course your two wheels are more than welcome on board.
Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport can be reached from hundreds of cities with low cost airlines operating from many regional airports. There are also the aforementioned rail links and ferries that make getting to the Netherlands in the first place simple, cheap and – if you take the overnight ferry across the North Sea – potentially a lot of fun (cheesy but strangely alluring disco anyone?).
So, if you’re thinking of going cycling on your next holiday why not give Holland a go? It has so much to offer and truly is a place where two wheels is the best way to travel.