A Royal Region
The region of Wassenaar and Voorschoten is one of the Netherlands hidden gems for an enriching experience through nature, culture and history. The royal family once resided here, and are still spotted regularly around the local restaurants, country estates and beaches - or at Luciano's, the country’s best ice cream parlour.
The municipalities of Wassenaar and Voorschoten stretch out for 29 square miles and are located only half an hour away from Schiphol. It is a green, water-rich area with beautiful historic villages and much to see, do, taste, and experience. “I could tell you something about so many things…there just wouldn’t be enough room in the article,” smiles Arjenne Vlietstra, advisor of recreation and tourism at the adjoining municipalities. “The area literally has it all: beaches, dunes, nature reserves, country estates, castles, museums, top notch restaurants and shopping… And you’re surrounded by rich history through ancient linden trees, bunkers leftover from the second world war and many listed buildings.”
Wassenaar, the seaside country estate
A fifth of Wassenaar is covered by water, and its coastline is more than eight kilometres long. At the seaside, there are many activities on offer. “You can stay on the beach, sail a catamaran or enjoy the tranquility of nature,” says Vlietstra. “Meijendel is a beautiful coastal dunes area, with several marked walking trails and cycling paths so you can explore at your own pace. At the nature centre you can learn more about the rich bird life and fragile vegetation.”
There are many less well-known sites to be discovered. Local blogger Femke Hameetman describes how she tempts her teenage children into a nature trip by telling them about the recluse's cave in the Backershagen forest. “When we got there, my daughter asked me if I could photograph her by the hermitage. ‘For Instagram?’ I asked, and she nodded. Funny: first she didn’t want to come, and now she was sharing the outdoor feeling with her online friends.”
Another interesting feature are the remains of an immense defence work from the Second World War, the so-called Atlantic Wall. It is a 5,000-kilometre-long defence line founded by the Germans. With nearly 1,000 meters of underground masonry corridors, five more bunkers are connected and inhabited by one of the largest populations of the lake bat in Western Europe. Wassenaar also boasts the Voorlinden museum, that offers modern and contemporary art, along with landscaped and sculpture gardens. For thrill seekers there is amusement park Duinrell, with many exciting rides and a tropical swimming paradise with 16 unique water slides.
Voorschoten, pearl on the Vliet
Vlietland at Voorschoten is one of the most attractive water sports, recreation and nature areas in the Netherlands. The heart of Vlietland is formed by three lakes, surrounded by forests, creeks, sunbathing areas and a park-like landscape. Vlietland is connected to the Vliet, a beautiful old boat-canal. On the Vliet, you can take a boat out for a spin and have a drink on a terrace by the water. It is even possible to reach the centre of Voorschoten by sloop.
“In the centre there are information panels that guide you through the rich history of Voorschoten,” says Vlietstra. “Did you know, for example, that the horse market originated in 1200 and is one of the oldest annual markets in the Netherlands?” Every last weekend of July the street fills up with horses, there are market stalls and entertaining activities for children. People from near and far flock the centre, it is Voorschoten’s most popular event. “And when you’re there, make sure you check out the 15th century cottage in the middle of restaurant La Casita, with a B&B over the top. It’s little gems like this that make Voorschoten such a special place,” enthuses Vlietstra.
Cycling and walking along history
Both Wassenaar and Voorschoten have beautiful cycling and walking routes, like one past the famous country estates or the route of the Engelandvaarders (England sailors) that shows the story of the Soldier of Orange. There are several castles that are open to the public, like Kasteel de Wittenburg, which has ten very exclusive hotel rooms and regularly hosts intimate concerts. Or Kasteel Duivenvoorde, that has many stories to tell. If you go during the museum season you can visit the castle museum, stroll through the park and marvel at the rich history of the castle and estate. “And the royal estate de Horsten is also worth a visit,” concludes Vlietstra. “That is where king Willem-Alexander and Queen Máximá used to live, a green retreat in our royal region.”