In August’14, six members of the Vivi community embarked on a cycling tour of Netherlands, which included some of the most picturesque routes the country has to offer. Firstly, let me say that this is a fantastic route for cyclists of all abilities – the flat Noordzee Route (LF1 North Sea Route) up the North coast has enough space for stronger cyclists to power on but is also flat and smooth for those of us who prefer to take in the scenery. This blog tells the tale of our journey from our starting point in Colchester (UK) to Hook of Holland, along the North coast past The Hague, across the sand dunes to Zandvoort, into the busy and bustling Amsterdam (2 night stay), before heading down to the beautiful city of Utrecht and then onto our last stop in the lively industrial city of Rotterdam, before heading back to the Hook of Holland ferry port for our journey back to Harwich.
The trip started in Colchester: preparing our bikes, fitting our panniers and checking essentials (such as passports!) – Tip – make sure you plan ahead and trial putting this together before the trip as you don’t want to look the fool who has to attach pieces of plywood to your pannier rack to keep them from rubbing against your back tyre! Once secured it was then a short cycle to the station. Arriving at Harwich ferry port for boarding we had to take on our first challenge – cycling up a slippery ramp which prompted our first fall of the holiday!
Following a rather uneventful and altogether pleasant sea crossing, our cycling adventure began in an overcast Hook of Holland, at approximately 7am. Despite being stalled by more pannier problems, as well as initial navigation concerns, we eventually found the Noordzee Route which, 90k later, would lead us into the heart of Amsterdam.
Now on the right track we quickly hit our stride and set off like a bat out of hell, flying to the outskirts of The Hague, where we stopped off for spot of brunch and to refill our hydration bladders – Tip – a hydration bladder rucksack is a fantastic way to keep you hydrated whilst on the saddle. Looking out over the North Sea as the Sun began to rise we all tucked into our continental breakfasts to fuel up for the next segment of the route to Amsterdam. However, before we took off we encountered the first bike problem of the trip – note to self: always ensure the handlebars are tightened to the frame and not spinning 180 degrees when applying pressure (how he managed the first 20k like this is beyond me)! With the Sun now reaching its zenith another must was to apply sun cream – failing to do so was highly regretted by one our riders.
The second segment on the first day was one of the most beautiful cycle rides I have ever been on as we flew across the sand dunes towards Noordwijk, a vibrant and very cycle friendly town. A quick stop for a welcome ice-cream and we were on our way again, this time with a storm brewing at our backs. Due to the weather closing in, we diverted away from our desired route through Haarlem and instead headed inland straight to Amsterdam – Tip – be prepared for route changes and bad weather. The route was incredibly easy, following the river all the way into Amsterdam – note – be cautious of mopeds in the cycling lane! This final stretch of the day did begin to take its toll on the beginner cyclists of our group – we would recommend more frequent stops (when not trying to avoid oncoming storm!) for beginner groups.
When we reached Amsterdam the rain finally opened up with only a 300m of the day to go. Within seconds we had our second fall of the day, a debutant using clip-in pedals forgetting he was attached to the bike. He fell like a graceful starfish, much to the amusement of local onlookers and his fellow cyclists! With no damage done, he brushed himself off and we finally reached our first destination, albeit now very wet!
I’m not going to go into detail of the Amsterdam experience but we had two packed days of tourism which included the much-recommended barge tour through the famous canal passageways, sampling the world-renowned nightlife and exploring the beautiful art around the city. On the morning of our third day, we packed up our cycling gear (and Amsterdam tourist t-shirts) and started the next leg of our journey to Utrecht.
The route to Utrecht was very scenic and very quiet on the back roads (and dedicated cycle lanes) out of Amsterdam. For me, it was during this leg of the trip that I realized what a truly original and breathtaking experience a cycling holiday is. Amsterdam to Utrecht was one of the most visually beautiful and idyllic cycling routes I have ever seen – and once more the cycling-friendly culture of the Netherlands was evident throughout. The route followed the Kanaaldijk River for approx. 40k and the short journey meant we were able to spend the maximum time in Utrecht: a lovely city with some fascinating architecture and some tasteful canal-side restaurants.
We made up for the short cycle by climbing the Dom Tower (465 steps to the top!), and if that wasn’t enough we also took on more cycling in the form of a pedal boat – inevitably this turned out to be a race up and down the canal, which I wouldn’t recommend if your legs are sore from the cycle!
If you ever go to Utrecht, climbing the Dom Tower should be at the top of your ‘things-to-do’ list (even though it is a tough climb up) – the views over the entire city are truly spectacular.
Rotterdam was 60km from Utrecht and took us through the quaint towns of Montfoort and Oudewater, as well as the famous cheese town of Gouda. Fortunately, we had fair weather and this stretch of our route was voted the best of the tour. Why? Perfectly untouched scenery met villages full of character. For cheese lovers, the cheese market at Gouda is a delight. We were enjoying ourselves so much the 60km soon rattled down and before we knew it we were in Rotterdam for our final night in Holland, Netherlands.
Rotterdam has a lot more to offer than we initially thought: after settling down in our hostel and signing up to the evening’s pub crawl we ventured out to the famous markets and we were not disappointed. The market in the centre of Rotterdam had everything you want from a market, fish stalls selling the local produce (the calamari was particular good), cheese stalls that make the heart grow softer and alcohol stalls offering a wide range of beer, wine and spirits. We decided to buy a huge wheel of Amsterdamer cheese and try and transport it back, with each of us set to take a stint carrying the cheese in a backpack on the bike – I can proudly say the wheel made it back in one piece and was incredibly soft and full of flavour. Whilst in Rotterdam we also visited the famous Santa Clause statue holding a Christmas tree – although it’s made famous from the Christmas tree looking more like a rather rude toy – you decide!
On the morning of our last day, and definitely feeling worse for wear after a heavy night on the town, we jumped on the saddle for the last time with the short 30km into the Hook of Holland docks. Tip – should a few too many alcoholic beverages be consumed the night before a ride, make sure you eat something to supply your body with energy and it is vital to stay hydrated so ensure liquids are topped up before you set off. Despite being one of the shortest journeys, the effect of the previous night made it difficult for some…
However, we arrived safely on the ferry to complete an incredible experience and holiday. The Netherlands is perfect for cycling holidays: the locals are very cycle friendly, the dedicated cycling routes are excellent, it is pretty flat terrain, and there are some amazing places to see!
Here is a video clip one of our group put together