A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
The Netherlands is famous for its incredible flatness, and for good reason, more than a quarter of the country lies below sea-level! As a student coming from Wales, the land of low valleys and high mountains, I’ve recently been feeling a sense of homesickness for the hills, so to combat this I decided to take a trip out to the Netherlands’ oldest national park Veluwezoom to try to discover what the Dutch ‘wilderness’ had to offer.
The adventure began with a 3-train, almost 2-hour journey from Leiden to Rheden, a tiny town in the Eastern Dutch province of Gelderland and probably most relevant today for its train station’s close proximity to the entrance of the Veluwezoom. On the final leg of the journey from Arnhem to Rheden I already began to see noticeably change in the landscape as hills, as alien to those coming from the west as sunny days in a Dutch winter, begin to form around the train tracks, I immediately looked forward to seeing more. After stepping off the train I found the national park by following the countless other ‘hill-seekers’ up a long climbing road leading me to the park’s welcoming visitor’s centre. Armed with a map of the park highlighted with walking-routes, viewpoints and cafes, along with my camera and a trusty Trek bar to avoid any ‘Bear Grylls’ scenarios I made my way further up-hill into the park.
Not to get confused with its less hilly counterpart the Hoge Veluwezoom National Park (which charges an entrance fee), Veluwezoom is entirely free to explore by bike, horse or on-foot. A short 8-10 km walk around just the smallest part of the park will see you exploring forestry, beautiful purple heathlands, sand-drifts, and most importantly, hills! Sitting 90 metres above sea-level one of the park’s largest hills is called the Posbank, which rewards walkers and cyclists alike with views of Arnhem and the rural region called the ‘Achterhoek’. Situated close to the centre of the park it makes the perfect pit-stop location for a picnic, or if the weather decides to turn Dutch, shelter from the rain in Paviljoen de Posbank, a café built exclusively from sustainable and eco-friendly materials with an appearance that makes you think it’s always been apart of the forest. This all has a price however, and with sandwiches costing upwards of 10 euros you are better off waiting until you get back down into Rheden; next to the station you’ll find Pancake House Strijland which serves a wide range of traditional Dutch pancakes as cheap as 6.50, the perfect way to end your Dutch wilderness adventure!
If, like me, you crave getting out of the urban landscapes of the Randstad and seeing a new and unexpected side of the Netherlands, then the Veluwezoom National Park is a great place to go. I recommend visiting closer towards the summer, when you are most likely to walk among wild horses, deer and Scottish highland cows. It gave me a completely different perspective of a country which most people, myself included, think of as overly urban and tamed.