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Tunisie

Suave ambiance on the water and on a bike 

At the Amsterdam train station, bikers from all continents: single, couples, families or travelers with friends, all feel the same definite excitement. Eager to meet their guide and their fellow companions for the road, to try their bike and to set foot on their barge… they are quickly and warmly welcomed as they arrive and are invited to board the boat with their luggage before starting their tour towards the south of the country: a long and smooth journey filled with visual harmony, tasting pleasures and creative cultural discoveries.

Bucolic Holland 

The experience can be summarized as follows: over one week, days are spent biking on well-maintained country roads, while nights are spent relaxing on a comfortable and secure barge with excellent meals and good night’s sleep. Every day, while bikers test their limits, gawking at nature and architecture, the barge sails to the end-of-day meeting point, ready for the next morning’s departure.

Cycle Tours’ experts guide bikers along canals and rivers, between cities such as Haarlem, Leiden, Delft, The Hague, Rotterdam, Gouda and Uithoorn, going through the famous Kinderdijk site and many small municipalities such as Schoonhoven, Vianen, Amsteldam, Nieuwpoort, Haarlemmermeer polder, Kagerplassen and Ridam. 

On the road: fields of flowers, weeping willows, ancient windmills and their contemporary wind turbines, dairy and cheese farms, drawbridges and dams, riverside, beaches and dunes welcoming bathers and picnickers and, even sometimes, cows enjoying the sun – an image sure to bring a smile on your lips.

Also: there are lovely medieval houses with their wooden shutters or buildings from the 18th and 19th century with colored roofs and friezes, bas-reliefs indicating the trade of the occupants, modern suburban houses with their gardens often dotted by gnomes, and even sometimes iconic ultramodern buildings and elegant racing boats with their graceful rowers – a very popular sport in Holland.

The barge navigates on the following rivers and canals – let’s test our memory! – The North Sea Canal, Spaarne, Schie, Nieuw Maas, Lek, Holland IJssel, Ringvaart, Kagerplassen, Zijl, Vliet of Rijnkanaal, Rijn Schiekanaal, Delft Vliet.

Last July, our barge was the Wending, but it could have been another one like Sailing Home, Liza Marleen, Anna Antal or Zwaan. Most of the time in Holland, the barges are old cargo boats converted into passenger boats with cabins and dining rooms for tourists and bikers or permanent houses, mixing old and modern styles, inside and out. Many of those houseboats can be seen along canals.

On the road: well-equipped and guided

This is a circuit whose biking portion occupies the whole day, including meals and stops for visits. As a matter of fact, the bikers pedal an average of 4 hours a day, covering 35 to 50 km, over flat land, mostly in rural areas. Thus, the level of difficulty is 1.

If you need to rent a bike, you can request what is best for you: a regular one adapted to your height and weight, a tandem for adult or for adult and child, an electric bike, a child carrier, etc. Helmets are also available for rent; although not mandatory in Holland, they are highly recommended.

The guide carries whatever could be necessary to solve a technical problem and all guides speak English, German and Dutch. A few also master French, Spanish and Italian. The choice of the guide is made according to the languages spoken among the group.

Guarantee of happiness

The roads travelled have the reputation of being among the world’s nicest. The guide even confirms that visitors see so many lovely houses with ships tied up to private wharves that they consider the Dutch to be rich people. This has also enticed many travelers to move to Holland.

Even though the itinerary is rather smooth, being able to follow the rythm of a group of 12 to 26 bikers, most of them between 25 and 65 years old – even though you can join a group if you are older than 9 years old – it remains important to be a regular biker on rural route. In other words, if you take a short bike ride once or twice a year or if you haven’t biked in the last 10 or 20 years, you should not venture out on such a biking tour.

It is also highly recommended to bike on a rural route for a few weeks and to be able to cover an average of 50 km per day before the departure. In doing so, your ego will be unharmed, your sense of accomplishment filled and you should be able to keep new friendships safe within a group that will not have to wait for you constantly… even though strong links of solidarity are often built during such a trip.

Full and fulfilling days

A typical day:

8:00 AM: a copious hot and cold breakfast on the barge and the preparation of a lunch to take with you 
9:00 AM to 4:00 PM: biking, visit to a particular site or attraction, lunch, biking, coffee break, biking
4:30 PM: back on the barge, shower and a power nap
5:30 PM: cocktail on the deck, with the sharing of anecdotes and experiences of the day
6:00 PM: 3-course dinner served at large tables: copious and delicious meals with original combinations of tastes such as a Peanut and Corn Soup and the most decadent Tiramisu; or the Indonesian meal on our goodbye night – Indonesian cuisine is very popular in the country since the golden years of the import and export market era
7:30 PM: a walking tour of a historic downtown or reading, Internet, relaxation
10:00 PM: night on the barge in a cabin with a window and a private bathroom/shower.

Flexibility

If you don’t feel like pedaling one day and would rather rest on the boat and enjoy the view and the sun, no problem! In some areas, it is even possible to visit a specific site or city on your own, after having made arrangements to get back on the barge by your own means: on foot, by train, bus or car.

And, on the contrary, should you like to take a different or longer itinerary from the one the group of bikers is following, it is also possible and the guide will give you all the necessary instructions and advice.

Flexibility also goes for the food: you can warn them in advance of preferences, allergies or dietary limitations: vegan, no gluten, etc.

A reliable team

The tour is organized in quarter turns. Nothing is left to chance. But the team of experienced professionals – the guide on land as well as the captain of the boat – will quickly and easily make the necessary change, should a problem or an unforeseen situation occur. They know the country so well, they can point out another route or even another means of transportation – train or bus – should it become necessary to get out of the planned itinerary.

Thirty years ago, Cycle Tours was the first enterprise to offer this type of tour in Holland. Its circuits are planned between April and October. However, due to strong demand, we would advise making a reservation in the fall for a trip next spring or summer.

Visual rewards

The biking tour certainly brings a beneficial fatigue and also many treats linked to the panoramas and other discoveries along the way. Here are some sites we loved. They could be included in the package or taken as options.

Haarlem: a medieval city with round-stone streets near the beaches and dunes of Spaarne. The ancient door that separates the city from Amsterdam is still standing.

Leiden: where The Netherlands was constituted and where many monuments, a castle and the oldest university in the country, can be seen.

The Hague: first the immense beach of Scheveningen, then the heart of the city with the Noordeinde Palace, one of the three official palaces of the Dutch royal family. Luxury boutiques neighboring skyscrapers invite shopping. And seeing the famous painting “ Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Vermeer at the Mauritshuis Art Museum is a must.

Schoonhoven: the smallest and oldest municipality of The Netherlands, built in the 13th century. Nicknamed the “Silver City,” we can see why it has this name at the Dutch Silver Museum, at the International Silver School as well as in boutiques.

Delft: Since the 16th century, this lovely city of 100,000 inhabitants arouses admiration for many reasons. Delft was the headquarters of the Dutch East India Company during the Golden Century. It was also in Delft where the first Prince of Orange, William of Orange, lived and was buried in the New Church, where members of the Royal family are still buried in the present day.

Delft is also the city where Vermeer lived. The painter’s 35 masterpieces are reproduced on facades of buildings or on mobile cubic installations on public squares.

Finally, Delft Blue is the most famous. Inspired from Chinese porcelain of the 17th century, it is used on vases, plates and other decorative objects. From the 33 fabrics that existed in the 17th and 18th centuries, only one is still in activity. During a visit to its installations, you can see authentic pieces handmade by 10 artists. Why not buy one of those delicate souvenirs? In the city, Delft Blue porcelain lampposts can also be seen. Delft also has a daylight almost as magnificent as the one found in Vermeer’s works of art.

To feel the pulse of the population of this university town, nothing equals a moment spent at the vast terrace of the central park, the Beestenmarkt, named after the livestock market that took place in the past on the site.

Strolling the streets, one can only admire the ability of drivers parking their car parallel to the canals: a few centimeters to the right or left side and they would be in the water! A recommended stop to satisfy one’s curiosity and thirst is the Locus Publicus bar, with its selection of 200 different beers.

Rotterdam: home to Europe’s largest harbor, its famous architectural landscape has to be explored. The most recent works from renowned architects are:

  • Erasmus Bridge, with its characteristic swan-bend look, where large cultural and sports events are held.
  • Markthall, a gigantic covered market built on 2,500 posts, in the centre of the city, with huge windows and artwork covering the inside of the building that show enlarged fruits, vegetables, seeds, fish, flowers, while a true explosion of fresh produce, oils, spices and other tempting gourmet treats -  ready to be eaten on site or to take out - are displayed in rather original ways.
  • The Cube Houses of Kijk-Kubus rest upon a hexagon-shaped pylon. Photograph and visit the model unit for its decor from the 80s.
  • Time allowing, climb the Euromast, which is 185 meters high, and rope down at 100 km per hour - not for the faint-hearted!

To get a better overview of Rotterdam, a one-hour guided visit with City- Sightseeing Rotterdam is the obvious solution. The tour leaves time for photos and the audio commentary is interesting and enhanced by dynamic anecdotes.

Kinderdijk: this is unavoidable with its 19 windmills from the 18th century, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Exploring the windmill inside out, see how a miller worked and venture into his apartment on the 3rd floor through a very narrow stairway to enjoy the stunning view on the balcony on the roof. Wind on your side, the mill might even get in motion!

Gouda: a picturesque small town, especially in the morning with the general-store market in full bloom outside of the Sint-Janskerk Church. Clothing, belts and suspenders, fabrics and sewing supplies, pots and pans, sponges and brushes, etc. And even more on Thursday mornings on the main square where merchants, following an old ritual, bring their huge cheese loafs on horse-driven carts and display them in front of the City Hall. For the delight of taste buds, mustard displays accompany the various versions of Gouda: natural, with thyme, caraway, lavender, basil, tomato, etc.

Every half hour, on a wall of the church, bells of the automats attract the attention of passers-by in a show that has been going on for centuries.

The Tulip Route in the spring

The tulip is one of the trademarks of Holland. Its blooming season, April and May, is naturally frequented by tourists. These are also the ideal months for biking. Keukenhof is THE most world-renowned vibrant site to appreciate the whole palette of tulips as far as the eye can see, over 32 hectares.

Cycle Tours offers two circuits, allowing bikers to enjoy this flamboyant view of tulips: one built exclusively around the flowers in bloom and the other combining visits to historical cities with paths in the middle of tulips fields. Travelling cyclists may also opt for a hotel-bike circuit, instead of a barge-bike tour.

Compulsive Holland: Amsterdam

Quite naturally, before or after the bike and barge tour, most travelers plan a few days in Amsterdam. This stay is independent from the Cycle Tour offer. It was a very hectic and rich discovery for us. See our other article.

Holland was not a country that was easy to leave behind. For all we have seen and experienced there, it might indeed be a country where we would like to live.

Sylvie Berthiaume

Translation: Christiane Théberge

This stay was made by the invitation of Cycle Tours and The Netherlands Tourist Office. Our thanks also go to our guide Albert, our captain Jan and his assistant Baris as well as the chef Hans.

 

www.holland.com


 

The Wending

The Wending's living and dining room

Bikes ready for transfer

Along the canal

Cows enjoying the beach

One of the many drawbridges

Typical 

Painting in Delft Blue

The Milkmaid by Vermeer 

The Girl with a Pearl Earring, in Delft Blue, version mosaic

Ceiling of the Markthal, Rotterdam

Appartments Kijk-Kubus, Rotterdam

Automats, Gouda Church

Various Gouda 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

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