Aisle or window? Usually, on the short hop to Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, the question is met with indifference. But should you plan to fly to the Dutch capital any time in the next month, plead for a seat with a view. If you doze off, and open your eyes as the aircraft flies low over western Holland, you may imagine you have woken up in a child's paintbox – and your eyes will feel instantly refreshed by bold, beautiful stripes of colour flaming across the land.
In 17th-century Europe, the closest thing to a sub-prime mortgage crisis was "tulipmania". The shapely flowers' arrival in Holland from Central Asia triggered a bloom boom that saw farmers abandon food in favour of floral crops. Thousands were ruined when the bubble burst, but by then the tulip had taken root, figuratively and literally, in the fabric of Holland.
Even better than flying over the tulip fields is to drive through them. Handily, you can do just this within minutes of touchdown. At the airport, board bus 58, destination Keukenhof. You will soon be swerving gently along secondary roads that carve through swathes of primary colours. Such perfection in pigmentation will make even the most ardent city-dweller's eyes smile with the joyful simplicity of spring.
The name Keukenhof means "kitchen garden": this patch of land originally provided for an aristocratic Dutch family, then switched to tulip cultivation. In 1949 a consortium of bulb growers began to cultivate the tourist potential of a site so close to Amsterdam. They planted horticultural works of art in the estate grounds and waited for spring. They built giant greenhouses and waited for orchids to flower. Then they opened the gates and waited for the public.
That was 44 million visitors ago. For two months each spring, this floral theme park offers an experience that feels like the Chelsea Flower Show grafted onto tranquil Van Gogh landscapes. Never mind green shoots of recovery: this is a full-scale (but well-ordered) riot of colour that restores any spectrum dulled by winter. From the streets of Strasbourg to the fields of Flanders, visitors are bussed in to spend the day wandering and wondering at what nature can do, with a bit of help from man. Even for those without groene duimen, "green thumbs", Keukenhof comprises a vernal tonic.
Every spring a different theme runs through the 4.5 million bulbs (supplied by 93 Royal Warrant Holders). Last year, Keukenhof celebrated America, while this year (in a spirit of superpower equilibrium?) Russia prevails. You may nod sagely at the neat geometric congruence between a tulip bulb and a floral representation of St Basil's Cathedral. Or you could just go "Wow" at the way the deft Dutch have created a locale where it is nigh-impossible to take a bad photograph (though closer inspection of the average shot is likely to reveal a posing Japanese tourist).
Part of the visual appeal is that young flowers are interspersed with mature trees and subtly reflective ponds. The tourist's need for some easily recognisable Dutch stereotypes is fed by pancake stalls, by giant clogs and by the central attraction in the grounds: a towering windmill. From a viewing platform beneath the sails, you understand what makes Keukenhof different from Disneyland: the land beyond the fences looks even more appealing. Stretching across to the village of Lisse is layer after layer of colour, looking curiously like a palette for 21st-century aviation: easyJet orange, Virgin red and even a Wizz Air combo of pink and purple.
Keukenhof enjoys only a brief flowering each year, but there are plenty of special events. Tonight, cyclists can freewheel through the tulips; whenever you visit, you should rent a bicycle and drift lazily through the fields beyond and contemplate the compensations of being Dutch. Next Friday the "Russia Weekend" begins, alongside a Summer Bulb Market: to cater for those yearning for endless spring, growers have come up with bulbs that don't get out of bed until June.
In a fortnight, the whole district turns out for the Bloemencorso, prosaically translated as "Flower Parade of the Region". But if you are flying home, wish for nothing more than a take-off on 18R, 18C or 18L, the airport's southerly runways. You will rise above a dazzling landscape. that comprises a work of art. Yet it is free of copyright, and inspired only by the growers' commercial imperatives (more pink here, less yellow there ...). Just do as the signs instruct at Keukenhof, and keep off the grass.
Travel essentials: Keukenhof
* Simon Calder paid £108 return on British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) from London City to Amsterdam. There are links to the Dutch capital from more than a dozen UK airports, on airlines including BMI (0870 60 70 555; flybmi.com), easyJet (0905 821 0905; easyjet.com) and KLM (08705 074 074; klmuk.com).
* From the airport, bus 58 runs every 15 minutes to the gates of Keukenhof, taking 40 minutes. Alternatively, bus 54 runs every 15 minutes from Leiden Central railway station, taking half-an-hour.
* By rail, the journey from London St Pancras via Brussels to Leiden takes about four hours; rail-sea connections are also available.
* The city of Leiden, 16 minutes by train from Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, is the best location. The writer paid €90 for a family room, excluding breakfast, at the impressive Holiday Inn (00 31 71 535 5555; holiday-inn-leiden.nl). The first Holiday Inn in Europe, it has since been thoroughly refurbished, with a "Holidome" where the car park used to be. Prospective campers are warned: "It is not allowed to spend the night on the parking area around Keukenhof. And we would also like to remind you that random camping is also not allowed in The Netherlands."
* Keukenhof (00 31 25 246 5555; keukenhof.nl) opens 8am-7.30pm daily until 16 May. Admission is €14, half price for four-11 year olds; if you plan to use the bus from Schiphol airport or Leiden railway station, buy a "Combi ticket" for €21; it includes the return bus fare.Reuse content