Benelux Off the Beaten Path

Apr 17th, 2006, 12:55 PM
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Benelux Off the Beaten Path

Well, we've got our airline tickets and will be heading to the Benelux countries June 21-July 4. Landing in Amsterdam on June 22 at 7 AM; leaving from Amsterdam July 4 in the early afternoon. Just hope United doesn't go on strike or bankrupt in the next two months or so.

Neither Mrs. Fly nor I have been in this part of Europe before, and we are really looking forward to it.

We'll be in Amsterdam for the Roots Festival as well as the usual sights. And we've been reading up on the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the bordering areas of France and Germany. So we've got a pretty good idea on the major sights (and sites).

Anyone who has any advice (or advise) on lesser known gems--sights (sites), food, activities, etc.--in the area will have our gratitude (and a beverage of your choice >Rufus the Manhattan wiz or coffee or beers< if you ever come through our part of Maryland. That's Carroll County, corn fields, milch cows, and bedroom community-ites).

But seriously folks, I just flew in from Philadelphia, and boy my arms are tired. No, that's not it.

But seriously folks, if anyone knows of a hidden gem, a special countryside or hideaway restaurant, an especially lovely view, an out of the way Belgian brewery, a fun nightclub/pub or activity--please let us know. We like to see the well-known stuff, but we also like to get off the beaten path.

Thanks, The Flys
RufusTFirefly is offline  
Apr 17th, 2006, 01:34 PM
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We spent a few days in Friesland. I'm sure that we were not the first American tourists there, but it was not as packed as Amsterdam or Brugge. We saw plenty of the distinctive horses and cattle that the area is known for, and Leeuwarden was interesting enough. I have not been able to decide if driving across the Afsluitdijk was one of the most interesting moments of the trip, or one of the most boring.
smueller is offline  
Apr 17th, 2006, 01:39 PM
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Do not even think about spending time in Belgium without CAMRA's Good Beer Guide to Belgium...very very helpful.

A great online resource for beer, particularly in Belgium, is

And my favorite beer pub in Brugge (if you end up there) is De Zolder. EXCELLENT selection and prices. We were there over Christmas and the selection of Christmas beers blew us away. The guy managing the bar is fantastic...friendly and he knows his stuff.

beanweb24 is offline  
Apr 17th, 2006, 02:51 PM
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There is an absolutely gorgeous WWII Memorial Cemetery in Belgium, the town (and the cememtery) is called Henri-Chappelle.

If I remember, it's about halfway between Liege and Aachen
celticdreams is offline  
Apr 17th, 2006, 03:18 PM
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I love Luxembourg. Often overlooked by most. Wonderful castles, good food, kind people. Cannot go wrong int he city or in the country. Will be there on National Day and a few days thereafter this summer. Cannot wait!
DanM is offline  
Apr 17th, 2006, 07:09 PM
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Thanks, everyone.

This gives us some ideas to start researching.
RufusTFirefly is offline  
Apr 19th, 2006, 11:22 PM
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Two places to recommend from our trip last July:

Kinderdijk, NE

We spent a night there so that we would have time to rent bikes and ride along the canals to get close to the windmills and take photos. Best photos were taken in the evening, sunset lighting and completely still water in the canals made for perfect reflections.

and Viandan, LU

great town, topped with its castle, wonderful place for an overnight or two, cute hotels and shops, river borders the town at it's base...

Hope you have fun with too many choices of things to see and do!
SusanEva is offline  
Apr 19th, 2006, 11:39 PM
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Me again….

Wanted to share this information with you, hope you might find it useful.

The following information represents excerpts from Wes Fowler’s Fodor’s threads on Benelux that I saved for trip planning:

Author: wes fowler
Date: 03/01/2002,
Do, indeed, visit Keukenhof and the Floriade (a once every ten year event)while in the Netherlands. In a similar vein, consider devoting one early morning to visiting the flower auction in Aalsmeer, just a few miles from Amsterdam.

Every morning millions and millions of cut flowers are trucked into a mammoth warehouse and auction rooms, auctioned off, then shipped all over Europe for sale the same day. You can tour the whole proceedings on a catwalk high above the warehouse floor and look down upon millions of cut flowers arrayed in two tiers on carts that are pulled into the auction rooms then linked to other carts and trucked to loading docks. The colors are overwhelming and the fragrances are truly breathtaking. It's an early morning event but well worth every minute of the experience. Check the website: for more information.

Some ideas on your trip to Belgium follow.

But first, before leaving the Netherlands:
Many tourists to the Netherlands travel to Volendam and Maarken in hopes of seeing traditional customs and costumes. While you won’t encounter many tourists in either place this time of the year, you also won’t encounter traditional customs or costumes. They’re stored away until the tourist season is in full swing. If you are interested in tradition, both cultural and costumed, you might consider this itinerary in conjunction with a visit to the Kroller-Muller Museum in the Nationaal Park De Hoge Veluwe between Apeldoorn and Arnhem. Take Route A1/E231 east from Amsterdam. Just before Apeldoorn, you’ll find Route N304, a scenic road leading to the Kroller-Muller. After satiating yourselves with Van Goghs, return to the A1/E231 and drive west past Apeldoorn to Route A50. Take it north to Staphorst, about 36 miles. There are actually two villages, Staphorst and Rouveen that run together on one rural road west of A50 for about 10kms. You’ll find thatched farm houses and cottages and on Sundays the residents wear traditional costumes. While they offer wonderful photo opportunities, the residents frown on cameras. Don’t aim, focus and shoot without asking prior permission.

You might also consider driiving north of Amsterdam to Enkhuizen on the western shore of the Ijsselmeer, the former Zuider Zee. Take Route A10 north to Route A7/E22 to Wognum and then N302 east to Enkhuizen. Westerstraat, the town’s main street has some lovely 17th century buildings in the Renaissance architectural style. In Enkhuizen you’ll find two related museums; the indoor museum has a collection of the old boats that once sailed the Zuider Zee as well as ship models, exhibits on crafts and fishing methods together with interior rooms in various regional styles and furnishing accompanied by tradition costume displays.

The outdoor museum is comprised of over 100 different building types gathered from a number of Zuider Zee villages that were once fishing villages but have changed their character with the loss of access to the sea. There are houses, shops, gardens and a church all of which have been carefully reinstalled on the museum grounds.

Following the museum tour, continue on Route 302 on the Markerwaarddijk that separates the Markermeer from the Ijsselmeer. When you arrive on the far side of the lakes, you’ll be in Lelystad and Flevoland Province. Look about you. None of what you’re driving on existed 50 years ago. The province is the result of part of a massive dredging project that, when completed, will increase the Netherlands’ land area by almost 10%! Just past can pick up Route A8 south to Route A1 and Amsterdam.

These itineraries will give you some insights into the distinctive character of Netherlanders and their nation and will give you an interesting perspective of their centuries long struggle against the threat of the sea while exposing you to scenery that is particularly unique.
SusanEva is offline  
Apr 19th, 2006, 11:41 PM
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More from Wes...

Now, on to Belgium!

You might consider driving a loop southeast from Amsterdam to Antwerp to Brugge then north via Zeeland back to Amsterdam.

I'd suggest you consider two, ideally, three nights in Brugge rather than in Brussels. You can find charming hotels in Brugge in far more charming settings and at far less cost than Brussels offers. You can also find at least three Michelin starred restaurants in Brugge. Consider day trips to Brussels from Brugge rather than the other way around.

If you intend to visit Leiden, Gouda or Delft on your way to Belgium, you might continue south towards Rotterdam where you can pick up Route A16 south. Continue a few miles to Route A15 and take it eastward to Alblasserdam. There, at Kinderdijk you’ll find 19 windmills that once drained the Alblasserwaard. The windmills, of various types dating to the early 1700s, line either side of a canal and offer a stunning view. One is open to the public to show a miller’s home. It’s interesting to compare the 18th century means of controlling flood waters with the 20th century’s Delta Plan which you can explore on your return to Amsterdam.

In the early 1950’s a massive disaster struck Zeeland. Dikes were breached on over 60 locations as a result of a monstrous North Sea Storm (think of the movie “The Perfect Storm”). Agricultural crops were destroyed by deposits of silt and sand, nearly 50,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, hundreds and hundreds were drowned. Within seven years the dikes had been rebuilt. Recognizing the dikes’ fragility, the Dutch undertook the Delta Plan, one of the true engineering marvels of the 20th century. In less than twenty years, starting in 1957, all but two of the inlets to the river delta were dammed and an enormous storm-surge barrier constructed. This monster consists of two man made islands and over 60 immense concrete piers between which huge steel gates are suspended, to be dropped when tides and storms threaten the Zeeland farmlands. The Delta Expo exhibit on Neeltje, one of the artificial islands, is situated in one of the barriers and gives fascinating insight into this engineering feat. After experiencing it, you’ll agree with the saying “God made the world, but the Dutch made the Netherlands.” As you travel N57 (and that is the route to take from Vlissingen) through Middelburg to Schouwen island, you’ll find Delta Expo just about in the center of the Oosterscheldedam. Recognize, as you drive through Walcheren, Nord Beveland, Schouwen, Goeree and Voorne, that you are well below sea level for the entire trip.

The distance from Brugge to Breskens, the Netherlands, is only about 30km. In Breskens you can take the ferry to Vlissingen and pick up Rte N57,drive the Delta plan to Rte 15 just before Vlaardlingen then on to Amsterdam.

(Original poster says they have nine days to travel)

Wes says… If so, I'd suggest that you consider splitting your time as follows: first five days in Amsterdam, followed by three days in Brugge (rather than Brussels) and a final day in Amsterdam.
With a total of six days in Amsterdam you can devote one day to the gardens of Keukenhof and the Floriade exhibit, with time to explore Haarlem, only fifteen minutes from Amsterdam. Devote another day to visiting Enkhuisen and its museums in the morning, then drive across the Markenwaardijk and continue to the charming and unique village of Giethoorn where the only means of getting about the village is via canal or adjacent footpath (cars are parked at the outskirts of town). This lakeside village has a number of interesting museums and a fine lakeside restaurant you might consider for lunch.

Amsterdam certainly warrants two full days for exploration. On your fifth day, consider driving to Delft and perhaps Leiden, then on to Kinderdyjk and its windmills as you drive to Antwerp and Brugge. Brugge is a truly extraordinary small town, once one of the richest in Europe. That richness, dating to the 14th and 15th centuries is still in full evidence. Laced with canals, eminently walkable, with any number of fine restaurants and shops, it offers far more than does Brussels. This year, Brugge has been designated as the cultural capital of Europe with a startling number of events and museum exhibits to celebrate the occasion. I can recommend two Michelin starred restaurants, one a three star, the other one starred and a lovely canal side hotel with free, safe, street-side parking. It's the Ter Duinen and here's its website: I've stayed in the pictured room and it's as charming as shown. The breakfast room is equally charming and the breakfast itself is sumptuous.

With three days in Brugge, you'll find you'll want to spend at least two exploring the city's delights. Devote one day to visiting Brussels (by train, rather than car because of parking problems). It's about 50 minutes via train from Brugge to Brussels and the Brussels train station is within four blocks or less of Brussels' 'Gran Place.

While in Brugge, consider dining in de Karmeliet, a Michelin three starred restaurant, or Auberge de Herborist just on the city's outskirts.

On your last day, return to Amsterdam via the Delta Project, as I mentioned in my earlier postings. You should easily have time to sneak a peak at Leiden, Gouda or Delft as well during your return to Amsterdam.
SusanEva is offline  
Apr 19th, 2006, 11:42 PM
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And this for a different poster…..

Author: wes fowler
Date: 02/15/2002,
The Netherlands is not a large country by any stretch of the imagination. You'll have little difficulty finding sights to see by taking day trips from a central point.

Some towns for you to consider visiting:

Consider Aalsmeer. It's a town about 9 miles from Amsterdam where every night
millions and millions of cut flowers are trucked into a mammoth warehouse (the world's largest commercial building) and auction rooms, auctioned off, then shipped all over Europe for sale the same day. You can tour the whole proceedings on a catwalk high above the warehouse floor and look down upon millions of cut flowers arrayed in two tiers on carts that are pulled into the auction rooms then linked to other carts and trucked to loading docks. The colors are overwhelming and the fragrances are truly breathtaking. It's an early morning event but well worth every minute of the experience.
Check the website: for more information including times.

Consider a trip to Giethoorn and a bicycle ride or stroll there. (Other than walking, biking or boating is the only way to get around; there are no roads for auto traffic.) The town is small, lakeside, laced with canals and perfect for strolling. One of the places to look for is the Museum De Speelman with its collection of antique street organs. A really small but interesting museum quite close to De Speelman is the Museum De Oude Aarde with its collection of semi-precious stones, minerals and crystals, all dramatically lit. Plan to have lunch at Smit's Paviljoen. It's at number 29 Binnenpad, a peninsula that juts out into Bovenwijde, the town lake. The pavilion offers a fine view and very inexpensive food.

Consider Staphorst and Rouveen, two towns connected by a road about five miles long that is laced with thatched roofed barns. The residents of the towns who still wear traditional costumes are extremely conservative and frown on picture taking without their permission.

Consider Kinderdyjk with its nineteen windmills of varying type that line either side of a canal. You can tour onelining a canal and either stroll by the others on a dyke path or take a canal boat ride.
SusanEva is offline  
Apr 20th, 2006, 01:20 AM
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Given your description of what you are looking for I recommend the cafe In Den Uiver in Haarlem. It is just across the street from the north face of the big church. On Thursday and Sunday evening they have live jazz. It is a unique place. Also the Lange Veerstraat off the SE corner of the big church features plenty of cafes. The locals will be standing in the "steet" drinking beer and entertaining each other till late at night. Haarlem is a good day visit city also, just about 20 minutes by train from Amsterdam. The main station comes after the bridge from which you see a windmill and the big church.

Try the local firewater Jenever. It is a Dutch gin served frosty in a small fluted glass, to over the brim. Don't spill a drop. Ask for a Jonge, the young Jenever.

For a food experience try one of my favorites -- raw herring, haring to the Dutch, from a kiosk or a wagon.

You'll be busy with your music on Sunday afternoon but if it is a hot sunny day and you are water people take the train over to Zandvoort. There will be an incredible mass of humanity on the beach and in the water.

Another water favorite of mine is the Duinrell water park in Wassenaar, near the Hague. In the Hague is the miniature Holland, Madurodam.

You have probably already learned about the Zaanse Schans for climbing around in a real windmill. For an overview of Holland the Michelin Green Guide is good.

For eating in Brussels and Antwerp, don't miss the mussels.

hopscotch is offline  
Apr 20th, 2006, 01:39 AM
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We enjoyed poking around Diest, which is definitely off the beaten path. A pretty smaller town, whose home beer, Gildenbier (dating back to the 14th century, although it's now brewed in Haacht) is an excellent match for Belgian chocolate. The cafe where we first tried it in Diest gave us two of the matching glasses--very kind of them as these glasses are among the hardest to find at Belgian beer shops!

The Jardins d'Annevoie (near Dinant) are among the prettiest gardens in Belgium and late June would be a lovely time to visit. They have their own cafe, of course, so you can enjoy a beer or wine and snack among all the flowers.

Huy is a small town full of restaurants, like Le Coin Cuisine

The area around Ciney can be pretty to prowl around and while it's famous for it's beer, it's also the site of the largest cattle market in Belgium, which may be a turnoff for some. Several restaurants worth trying, including Bienvenue Chez Vous:
Le Provencal is the best place to get info and suggestions for restaurants in Belgium, esp. for off the beaten path.

FYI, one of my favorite places to spend time in outside Brussels is the little town of La Hulpe. A very pretty place that carries all the proper Belgian essentials (good restaurants, cafes, bakeries and patisseries, small specialist grocers including a terrific butcher, several chocolate shops, a few jewelers and sexy lingerie shops). Has its own chateau set on a 500 acre park (free, loads of walking paths) with a nice cafe and a small, attractive museum dedicated to the Belgian artist Folon. We were there with the cocker last week-end and will be heading there again this week-end. A pleasant place to picnic or stroll if you're in the Brussels area.

BTilke is offline  
Apr 20th, 2006, 06:09 AM
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The Ardennes is a lovely region of Belgium - you could drive through it on the way to Luxembourg maybe.

It is now 17 years since I drove through the Ardennes, but I remember Spa Francorchamps as being a very pretty timbered town.

I also liked Bouillon. It has a stunning castle at the top of the town.

The Ardennes is a beautiful forested area, and we drove through numerous villages as we travelled on minor roads. We didn't book ahead, we just stopped where we felt like it and found somewhere to stay there. Unfortunately apart from Spa and Bouillon I cannot remember any of them. We came across a fairytale castle somewhere - I have photos of it with its spires and turrets but no name or location for it. I remember lazy picnics by streams flowing through forests, seemingly miles from anywhere...

Have a great trip!

julia_t is offline  
Apr 20th, 2006, 06:42 AM
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Julia, sounds interesting--here are a few castles in the Ardennes--could it be any of these?

Freyr Castle:

or Veves (this one sounds a little more like your description)

other possibilities:

We have to be in Namur province for several hours on Saturday, we're dropping off our dog to be groomed at a breeder out that way--you've given me a good idea of how to pass the afternoon!
BTilke is offline  
Apr 20th, 2006, 09:06 AM
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Thank you BTilke - it was the Chateau de Veves.

I've often thought about it, and wish I'd kept more details of that trip.

Thank you again for coming up with that and bringing back some happy memories!
julia_t is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2006, 10:27 AM
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You probably won't make it to Belgium in time, but I found the "Shrimp Festival and Parade," occurring in Oostduinkerke, a fishing village where the fishermen go out in the ocean and catch shrimp while one horseback. Yes, that is their main tourist attraction. You asked for off the beaten path!! Check out or

Also a really big multicultural music festival in Brussels June 30 to July 2 called Coleur Cafe:

Unfortunately, you're leaving on the day of the Ommegang, an ancient procession that swallows up the whole city of Brussels and incorporates legends from all areas of the country. Supposed to be one of the more spectacular parades in the world....

Lost of ongoing activities are also listed at

I am always on the lookout for offbeat, fun festivals in Belgium and the summertime is the perfect time for them. If I hear of any before your upcoming trip I will let you know.

LSUvetgirl is offline  
Apr 24th, 2006, 11:34 AM
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If you visit the Hamm military cemetery in Sandweiler, Luxembourg (very close to the airport), you will see the tomb of General George Patton facing thousands of his troops.
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