TEXEL ISLAND TRIP REPORT
In September 2017, we took a three-week trip to the Netherlands, with a couple of days in Belgium. During this time, we spent two days and nights on the beautiful island of Texel, part of the West Frisian Islands between the Wadden and North seas. It has 30 miles of beaches and seven villages and lots of hiking and bicycling. It is beloved by Dutch families the way we in New England love Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and Block islands. It is so firmly Dutch that people we met on the island were amazed that Americans would take the time to come to Texel. But it was a wonderful experience.
Here is the report on our time there.
On September 17 we checked out of our Amsterdam hotel and took a cab to the downtown Hertz car rental office where we picked up our Thrifty rental car. Because the weather was a bit iffy in terms of rain, we decided to delay our trip to Texel by a day and instead visit some northern towns between Texel and Amsterdam. This was the advantage of traveling off-season when it’s not necessary to have advance hotel reservations.
It was a Sunday morning and the office was very near the A10, so it was an easy drive out of the city and north to the town of Enkhuizen, which in the old days was an important sailing port. Now it’s a pleasure sailing center on the freshwater IJsselmeer, a lake created in the 1930s by building a dike across the North Sea. We spent the afternoon at the Zuiderzee Museum, which is a recreation of an historic Dutch fishing village with houses, shops, boats and equipment — even a windmill — brought in to form the village. Quite fun and interesting. The rain held off until we were walking back to town from the museum, when it poured. Glad we had spent the day here instead of Texel!
It was finally looking a tad sunny and the forecast was good, so we took off for the ferry to Texel. We detoured to drive on the Afsluitdijk, the 20-mile dike that turned the saltwater Zuiderzee bay into the IJsselmeer. I’ve wanted to see this amazing dike since I did a school report on it when I was a kid. You can drive out a few miles to a monument at a rest stop with a cafe. It’s wide and looks a lot like the much narrower 7-mile bridge in the Florida Keys with sparkling water and nothing else on both sides. There's a statue of a worker building the dike and a statue of Cornelius Lely who conceived the project and died a couple of years before it was completed. Fortunately a few miles up from this there's a gas station where you can make a u turn, which we did. If you keep going, you’ll end up in Friesland Province.
We arrived in the port of Den Helder about noon. First we saw a giant North Sea oil rig in dry dock being fixed. Then we saw toll booths coming up, we handed over 37 euros for us and the car, and we were instantly in a long line of cars waiting to drive onto the ferry. We saw one ferry leave about a minute later. We waited for the next, just long enough to grab a ham and cheese panini in the terminal. These ferries are huge, with two floors of cars.
We drove onto the island and stopped at the tourist info center at the main town of Den Burg where we looked up on a computer which hotels had openings. Not a ton. (Completely forgot about the cool rental airstream trailers I had read about). Decided to go for the inn near the town of Den Hoorn called Hotel B&B Loodsmans. Drove up and asked if they could do two nights cheaper than hotels.com. Oh yes. Instead of $117 a night, $106. Not much, but hey. Lady in charge was not the usual receptionist and had trouble with English. But she did manage to convey that they don't take credit cards! The only ATM was in Den Burg, the town we had just come from. They were willing to wait for their cash tho. The room was up tiny, steep stairs clearly made for elves. The beds were a little hard but the room was lovely.
It was sunny and already mid-afternoon so we took off. We went down to Beach 9 (all the beaches are known by numbers) in the national dunes park near the inn (you have to drive or bike there, a bit too far to walk). We parked in a big lot near a restaurant tucked behind big dunes. The beach was wide and long and the waves were wild. It was warm in the sun and lots of people were there to enjoy it. Few were swimming, but everyone was walking or lounging or playing games, soaking up the rays. Lots of little white square wooden cabanas were lined up like on Cape Cod. Picturesque. The dunes that stretch behind the beach are all covered with vegetation including big white mushrooms. Trails wind through them. Every sign is in Dutch or German so we were clueless, but we figured out that “Geen toegang” means “Don't walk on here.” We hiked out for a little bit but then went back to the beach.
We drove up north looking for De Slufter, a nature preserve on the west coast that's supposed to be the prettiest in the island but we couldn’t see how to get there. So we went farther north to the lighthouse. It was cloudy there but the beach was unbelievably wide. Could it be low tide? Didn’t seem like it at Beach 9. We walked up the hill to the beautiful red lighthouse, which appeared gigantic, towering over that wide beach. The people looked like ants down there. Lots of tide pools. The sea was so far away across the sand thatI didn’t even think I’d have time to walk out there. The light was gorgeous for photos. Lots of people walking around, and lots of dogs, all on leashes.
We had to be back in Den Hoorn for reservations at 7 at Restaurant Inn de Knip. The kitchen closes at 730! It’s an old antiques-filled house, very atmospheric, right around the corner from our inn (it has a beautiful front terrace for lunch). It’s crammed with stuff to look at. The menu was not in English but the young server helped us. My husband had a big hunk of firm fish whose name we didn't recognize. I had the renowned Texel lamb, a beautiful pink piece that oddly had little flavor. It came with some kind of tasty vegetable chips. My dish was earthy with what looked like straw scattered around it, very arty and unexpected. Lots of veggies mixed into our plate too. We had french fries and roasted potatoes, along with a big gorgeous salad with tomatoes and flavorful dark greens and bean sprouts. Huge amount of food. We tried two kinds of Texel Brewery beer from the tap, pretty good.
Had breakfast in the inn’s quaint antiques-filled breakfast room on first floor. Bacon and scrambled eggs! Plus beautiful black bread, yogurt, etc. Went over to Den Burg to get cash to pay our hotel bill. The capital turned out to be a cute little town with lots of beachy stores in the town center. We finally managed to figure out the parking machine to get an all-day parking sticker. The problem, as usual in Europe, seemed to be that we needed to use a credit card with a pin, and we finally remembered that we had asked for a pin with our Bank of America card after we’d run into this problem last year in India. We took a guess re the pin number and we were right. Victory! In a small grocery store, we bought some cheese for a picnic lunch — old goat and a blue cheese.They wrapped it in paper and handed it to us. Plastic shopping bags have been banned in the Netherlands since 2016; their use has dropped 70 percent.
We set out to find De Slufter, the nature preserve that we couldn’t find yesterday. Lots of tourists were out bicycling on this beautiful day, which we had assumed we would do too. But we had a car, and this island is bigger than we expected — and we wanted to see all of it! The roads, like most in the Netherlands, have bike lanes separate from the car lanes, and no shoulders.
We found De Slufter, turning down a road so narrow that yesterday we didn’t think was meant for cars. But it was, with a parking lot and a restaurant at the end. We climbed the staircase that led over a huge dike and took a beautiful walk onto the flat salt plain toward the sea. This was a failed land reclamation project; the dike broke and nature took its course. We walked WAY out, for at least an hour, detouring around areas too wet to navigate. We didn’t even make it all the way to the sea! We found a less zig-saggy way back, and without stopping to take a photo every other minute, only took us about a half hour.
Our next stop was Ecomare, which is part aquarium, part nature center, and part rescue and sanctuary for marine animals and birds (no Museumkaart here; they need every dollar for the critters). It was surprising to see this rather big operation on such a small island. We saw the seal “show”; trainers interact with porpoises and other animals several times a day. The rescued baby seals were adorable. But the aquarium was just as interesting, and the whole place is a great introduction to the nature of Texel and the North Sea. It was especially helpful because English translation was available for everything, which is not true anywhere else on Texel. Some guided tours through the dune park are available here too. We enjoyed the giant whale skeletons, with surreal lighting, in the Whale Hall.
We needed a cappuccino, so we drove to Beach 17, where it turned out there was an international kitesurfing competition happening. It was very entertaining to hang out on the single restaurant’s terrace and watch the action on the beautiful wide beach.
From there, we went to the town of Oudeschild on the east coast to see its beautiful harbor. Surprise: They were building a dike, an interesting process to see. The fishing harbor was indeed gorgeous, with real fishing boats, former fishing boats now offering sea tours, and an amazing number of historic tall ships converted to teaching ships that take thousands of teenagers out for sailing weeks. The harbor has several vaunted restaurants, and for dinner we chose the one at Haven Hotel, whose reviews correctly said the large windows provide a beautiful view of the harbor comings and goings.
I wasn’t super hungry, so from the extensive menu I ordered the Creamy Texel Herbal Cheese Soup, which was truly magnificent. Its ingredients come from the Texel farm “Vrij & Blij.” Chris ordered a special, a whole flatfish which he masterfully fileted. It came with some lovely sides: cucumbers in vinegar, beautifully roasted potatoes, and a warm mix of celery, zucchini, carrots and onions. For dessert we shared a piece of fine apple pie. Our fellow diners were quite friendly. When I walked to the front of the dining room for a better view of the seals that were popping up in the harbor, I ended up chatting with a Dutch couple who had spent a few years in Los Angeles with the paper technology industry. They were on vacation on their boat. We also chatted with some teenage girls from a school in Stuttgart, Germany, who were here for a sailing week on an historic ship and quite excited about it!
After another nice breakfast, we peeked into the freestanding sauna building in our hotel’s courtyard. We were instantly sorry we hadn’t made time to relax in this! Alas, it was time to check out. Our next stop: the cheesemaking farm Wezenspyktexel near Den Burg, where cheese has been made for 35 years. There was no tour available at that time, and none of the signs were in English, but we wandered around admiring the cows and the pastoral views. From the shop, you can see the storage of huge rounds of cheese and also sometime the production. They sell both cheese and meat products. We bought several cheeses, and the lady running the adjoining cafe (They have cheese fondue every day afternoon! Wished we had known) came to the shop and asked the young girl running the shop to cut and sell us some smaller pieces of various other cheeses. A 3-km walking trail runs from here, but we didn’t have time to do it.
We drove to the port and lined up for the next ferry. The fellow in line in front of us told us we didn't have to buy a ticket, the one we bought to go over is round trip. Uh-oh. We didn't keep that. Doesn't matter, he said; they don't look. True, they didn’t. This ferry was even nicer than the one we took over, with modern lounging areas for the 20-minute ride!
All in all, I wish we could have spent a couple of more days here. Every time we did one thing, we discovered more possible adventures.
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TEXEL ISLAND TRIP REPORT