World Traveller May 2019

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NETHERLANDS

along the cobbles, past the hollyhocks

and green-painted front doors. A more

peaceful place would be hard to find, but

Heusden’s strategic position on the river

has meant a chequered past: first the

Spanish invaded, then the French and

then the Nazis.

On a map the town looks like a

cartographer’s doodle. Follow the Meuse

inland and you’ll find wide, estuarial

meanders until you come to a startling

star-shaped blot in the middle of all that

blue water. This is Heusden, constructed

with defence in mind, ringed by moats

and ravelins, trying in vain to keep out

conquering armies.

As we stand on the town walls, gazing

over the moat, my husband says: “If

this place was in Tuscany it would be

mobbed.” He has a point. Heusden is

remarkably beautiful and bafflingly

empty. We take a boat up the Meuse, we

wander the narrow streets, we admire

the creaking sails of the windmill,

we buy cloth mice at the toyshop, we

have pancakes at the café, all the while

encountering barely another tourist.

It’s hard to imagine a more perfect

place than Brabant for a family holiday.

The landscape is straight from a

Breugel painting, with flat fields, dykes,

windmills and grazing cows.

As well as Efteling, there is the

newly opened holiday camp of Beeske

Bergen Safari Park, where you can have

breakfast on a terrace next to herds

of impala and wildebeest, and briefly

pretend you’re in Tanzania. The ranger

who drives us around to see the giraffe

calf and the lemurs, which have an

entertaining penchant for climbing on

anyone wearing a backpack, confirms

that the park hardly gets any visitors

further afield. “I don’t know why,” she

says with a shrug.

Did I mention the joy of family

cycling? If, like us, you have exited the

buggy years, a relaxing stroll around a

historical town centre can be fraught.

Children are not natural flâneurs and

in the face of a city amble tend to stage

early mutinies, citing exhaustion and/

or malnutrition. In the unusually

punctuated town of ’s-Hertogenbosch,

however, we hit on the solution: hire

a cargo bike for the smallest child, a

tandem for the other two, and off we go.

Dutch streets are a cyclist’s dream. You


ON A MAP

THE NOW

PEACEFUL TOWN

OF HEUSDEN

LOOKS LIKE A

CARTOGRAHER'S

DOODLE


can hire a bike pretty much anywhere, at

any hour. In the pecking order of traffic,

bicycles come a firm first, followed

by scooters, then electric cars, with

motorcars trailing shamefacedly behind.

There are proper sectioned-off lanes,

designated crossings, special traffic

lights. Everybody, cycles, from newborns

cocooned in slings on their pedalling

parents’ chests, to octogenarians with

their shopping.

My husband and I get our fix of

urban wanderings, albeit at a hugely

accelerated pace. Our youngest child

shrieks into the wind from her cargo

cabin; the other two are zooming ahead

on their tandem; nobody is wearing

a helmet and I try not to watch as my

middle child is steered gleefully close to

the water’s edge by her brother. Canals,

cathedrals, windmills, cottages, cattle

and lock gates whizz past. Nobody

complains about tired legs and nobody

demands a compensatory ice cream, not

even once.

Several circuits of the town later,

we lock up the bikes and take a boat

around ’s-Hertogenbosch’s waterways,

which thread themselves underneath

the streets and buildings. The 14thcentury

brick arches house colonies of

slumbering bats and, as the boat slides

along the dank water, flashes of blue sky

appear down drains, plumblines of light

reaching into the dark.

How can it be that, for the most part,

tourists will go to the thronged streets

of Amsterdam, but no farther? That they

are yet to discover what lies only a couple

of hours south of that city? On my return

I am seized with a near-evangelical urge

to grip my friends by the arms and say:

“Go to the Netherlands. Quick, before

everyone else does.”

Inspired to travel? To book a trip, call

+971 4 316 6666 or visit dnatatravel.com

Credit: Maggie O’Farrell/The Times/News Licensing

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