Exploring the Dutch Wadden isles
Planning a trip with the children for the upcoming holidays or yearning for a long weekend away from it all? Andreas Heimann discovers that the perfect destination could be one or more of the Dutch Wadden islands.
Taking the sea air.
Some people consider Schiermonnikoog the prettiest of the five Wadden islands off the northern coast of the Netherlands yet Terschelling and Texel have a loyal following too and others enthuse about Vlieland or Ameland.
Taking the sea air.
Each of the isles in the shallow Wadden Sea off the Dutch coast is attractive in its own way and for those who do not wish to limit themselves to just one or the other, there are plenty of island- hopping arrangements available. These allow tourists to visit two or three of the islands during a holiday lasting from five to eight days. Sampling all five during one trip is not a problem either.
One of the most rewarding combinations is Texel and Vlieland - a large island and a small one, one near the coast and the other more remote. Both have great beaches. Texel is more popular and easy to reach. The regular car ferry departs from Den Helder and the trip takes less than half an hour. From the "Veerhaven" the main town of Den Burg is a six-kilometre-drive away while De Koog lies 12 kilometres to the west.
De Koog has everything for a successful beach holiday. The village is protected by a wide swathe of dunes with a camping site behind it. The sands stretch for miles and there are dozens of little white- painted wooden beach huts with doors in blue or green. During the day it is busy here as kite surfers, families and sunseekers enjoy a seaside holiday.
Those who prefer a calmer panorama should come back in the evening when on a typical summer evening a few dozen visitors are gathered at a pavilion near the beach, admiring the view out to sea. The cameras click as the golden orb of the sun descends. Seen from the western edge of Holland this daily spectacle seems somehow even more impressive than usual.
Texel is often described as being "the Netherlands in miniature" since its landscape is so varied. Hiring a bicycle is the best way to make the most of what is on offer and a "Fietsverhuur," as the rental agencies are known, can be found on nearly every street corner. There is a comprehensive network of bike paths too and no steep inclines to worry about either. The highest spot on Texel, the "Hoge Berg" rises to a mere 15 metres.
Texel boasts several villages which are all well worth a visit. Oudeschild, for instance, lies on the southeast coast. The shouts of children playing here echo across the harbour while next to the line of mooring bollards, teenagers fish for crabs - using a piece of string with tiny chunks of cooked ham attached. One of the happy hunters suddenly cries out - he's caught four of the creatures in one go.
Vlieland: an ideal place to unwind.
The attractive village of De Waal, with its history museum, lies a little further to the northwest. It occupies the site of a former farmstead and reminds visitors that for centuries Texel folk were forced to toil on the land. The range of primitive farm implements on display shows just how strenuous the work must have been.
Vlieland: an ideal place to unwind.
Texel's largest attraction is the Ecomare centre for Wadden and the North Sea. This was Europe's first seal sanctuary going back to 1952. "We look after baby seals until they are large and heavy enough to be released into the North Sea," explains Renee Smal. Juveniles which cannot be returned to the wild are kept in the Ecomare basins which attract crowds of visitors at feeding time.
Another attraction is a collection which Gilles van Mil has helped to bring together. All manner of items found by this passionate beachcomber can be seen at the Maritiem & Jutters Museum in Oudeschild, ranging from a stag's horns to thermos flasks and even a Russian telephone apparatus. There are thousands of finds to be seen.
Getting from Texel to Vlieland is something of an adventure in itself. A long wooden bridge near De Cocksdorp in the north leads to the jetty where "De Vriendschap," an elderly converted cargo boat awaits the traveller. A glass of the typical Texel schnapps "Jutter" is served on board. By the time the vessel has docked 20 minutes later Folkert Janssens is waiting to pick up passengers with his four-wheel-drive truck.
From here to "civilisation" is a distance of 10 kilometres. "Straight through the desert," says Janssens before flooring the accelerator. The former Bundeswehr armed forces bridge-laying truck boasts 320 horsepower, which comes in handy when the vehicle risks becoming bogged down in quicksand. In the summer months Janssens makes as many as six trips a day and also runs out to the island's wilder westerly side, much of which is military territory and off- limits to civilians.
Vlieland is by contrast much smaller and quieter than Texel. There is only one settlement, Oost-Vlieland whose main feature is a small lighthouse. There used to be a West-Vlieland but it was swept away by the sea in the 18th Century. Most of public life on the island takes place along the Dorpstraat or village street in Oost-Vlieland. The narrow houses stand in rows with handsome chestnut trees lining the thoroughfare in front of them.
From the dyke visitors can catch sight of the many attractive rear gardens and yards with their fruit trees, rose bushes and vegetable patches. Vlieland officially has 1,150 inhabitants and the story of its natural history is told in the "De Nordwester" information centre.
"We've only had the pot whale skeleton since 2004," said Marc ter Ellen, one of the wardens, tells tourists. The more than 100 pieces are held together with rust-proof bolts. The skeleton is 12.70 metres long and visitors can actually clamber inside.
The centre is also home to a collection of 140 messages in a bottle, all of which were washed up on the island's shores. Many of them come from children who spent their holidays here and those who penned them all have one thing in common - a strong desire to come back. For them Vlieland is undoubtedly the most attractive island in the Netherlands. Needless to say, bottles with such missives do turn up on the other islands as well!
More information online:
Vlieland touris office website
Coastal guide to the Wadden Sea
Texel tourist office site
Terscheling tourist office site
Looking for campsites or hotels?
Visit Booking.com and type in West Frisian Islands into the English language version or Wadden for the Dutch.
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