Old masters, mud-walking and wild-goose chases

12 best Dutch holidays


1 Maastricht gourmetsSandwiched between Germany and Belgium, Maastricht has developed a distinct cuisine. The Preuvenemint festival, 24-27 August, celebrates Maastricht's Burgundian culinary culture with a weekend where more than 40 restaurateurs will gather in the town square to offer regional dishes such as
zuur vlees (sour meat stew) and locally produced wine. Amsterdam Travel Service (tel: 01992 456066) is offering two-night packages to Maastricht for the weekend for around £231 per person, based on two sharing, including return travel by air or on Eurostar and b&b accommodation.

1 Maastricht gourmetsSandwiched between Germany and Belgium, Maastricht has developed a distinct cuisine. The Preuvenemint festival, 24-27 August, celebrates Maastricht's Burgundian culinary culture with a weekend where more than 40 restaurateurs will gather in the town square to offer regional dishes such as zuur vlees (sour meat stew) and locally produced wine. Amsterdam Travel Service (tel: 01992 456066) is offering two-night packages to Maastricht for the weekend for around £231 per person, based on two sharing, including return travel by air or on Eurostar and b&b accommodation.

2 Countryside cyclingThe Netherlands is the ultimate destination for fair-weather cyclists who perspire at the thought of having to change gear to pedal uphill. Anglo-Dutch Sports (tel: 020 8289 2808) organises a range of self-guided cycling tours of the rural Netherlands. The "Saxon Farm" tour - six days of easy cycling through pleasant countryside and along excellent cycleways in the Overijssel province - costs £332 per person, based on two sharing. Ferry crossings for a car and two adults, half-board accommodation, bikes, daily luggage transfers and route maps are included.

3 Mud-walking Wadlopen, or mud-walking, is a strange pastime peculiar to the Dutch of the Friesland region. From May to September, the Wadden Sea is a mixture of mud plains and islands - the ideal time for wadlopers to lead tourists out across the mudflats, possibly squelching over to the Frisian Islands of Ameland and Schiermonnikoog. These walks can be quite arduous, lasting up to four hours or more, and require a guide. Perhaps the most well-known mud-walking tours are run by Stichting Wadloopcentrum Pieterburen (tel: 00 31 595 528300), contactable for reservations - in English - from 6pm-8pm. Prices for walks range from £5-£15.

4 Gran Dorado Gran Dorado is a network of holiday villages offering all-weather entertainment and exercise throughout the Netherlands. Zandvoort's Gran Dorado is not only close to the beach, but also just 30 minutes by train from Amsterdam. Seven nights in a self-catering chalet sleeping four, from 4 August, costs £868, including crossings with Eurotunnel for a car and four passengers. Book with Eurotunnel Motoring Holidays (tel: 0870 3332001).

5 Amsterdam Mardi Gras Never a city to be considered inhibited, Amsterdam hosts one of Europe's largest and liveliest street parties - the Gay Pride Mardi Gras. Unique to this Mardi Gras, the main processions take place on canals, as barges are transformed into colourful tableaux. Kirker Holidays (tel: 020-7231 3333) offers return city breaks to the Dutch capital to coincide with the carnival weekend, from 4-6 August. A two-night break costs £252 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights, transfers, b&b hotel, and a cruise and tram pass.

6 Rotterdam revisitedMore than just the world's largest port, Rotterdam is beginning to rival Amsterdam as a centre for nightlife and designer shopping. The city's sparkling new architecture is complemented by an old harbour area and canal network. Shipping buffs will be attracted to the World Harbour Day festival, 1-3 September, when many ships and shipping companies open to the public. Stena Line Holidays (tel: 08705 747474) can book rail-ferry weekend breaks in September for £133 per person, based on two sharing. The price includes return rail and ferry crossings (three hours and 40 minutes from Harwich) and two nights' b&b accommodation.

7 Dutch masters Amsterdam's famous Rijksmuseum is currently showing an important exhibition entitled "Glory of the Golden Age" which pays homage to Dutch works of art from the 17th century. Amsterdam Travel Service (tel: 01992 456066) can arrange two-night packages, including a ticket to the exhibition, from £177 per person, based on two sharing and including return flights, rail transfers and b&b accommodation. The exhibition closes on 17 September.

8 Tulip tripsWeir Associates UK (tel: 01225 443844) will be running cruises next spring to see the Netherland's renowned bulbfields, which will have turned into colourful, fragrant swaths of hyacinths, daffodils and tulips. A visit to the gardens of Keukenhof is highly recommended, where around 6 million bulbs are planted every year. The three-night cruise sets off from Amsterdam and costs from £159 per person, based on two sharing a cabin. The price includes return coach travel and ferry crossings, with full-board accommodation in a cabin. Entrance to the Keukenhof gardens costs extra.

9 War tours Operation Market Garden, in September 1944, began with a huge airborne invasion in occupied Holland in an attempt to hasten the end the Second World War. Arnhem is the setting for Leger Holidays' (tel: 01709 839839) four-day tour to examine key locations of the battles, not least Arnhem Bridge, scene of the heroics of the 1st British Airborne Division. The Dutch Resistance Museum at Overloon and the war cemetery at Oosterbeek will also feature on the tour. This coach-based trip costs £169 per person, based on two sharing, including all travel, b&b accommodation in a hotel in Eindhoven and a guide. The next departure is on 11 August.

10 Zeeland wild-goose chase Limosa Holidays (tel: 01263 578143) promises to lead keen naturalists on a real wild-goose chase, departing on 30 November. The Dutch coast around Zeeland and Flevoland is a rich winter feeding-ground for prodigious flocks of geese, especially the barnacle, bean and white-fronted varieties. Guided by a Dutch expert, this five-day trip costs £745 per person, based on two sharing. The holiday includes return flights, transfers, full-board hotel accommodation, entrance fees and a guide.

11 Canal cruises The extensive Dutch canal system is ideal for exploring the country by boat. With a centre at Loosdrecht, south of Amsterdam, French Country Cruises (tel: 01572 821330) offers week-long boating holidays through the very rural landscapes that inspired artists such as Vermeer. In one week, it is possible to cruise a 160km loop via Amsterdam and the historic town of Leiden. A compact self-catering cruiser, suitable for two people, starts from £462 in total if you travel in early April or mid-October. Transport to Loosdrecht costs extra, but can be booked through French Country Cruises.

12 Christmas marketsClose to Maastricht, Valkenburg Christmas Market is a magical place for picking up unusual festive presents and decorations. Part of the traditional market is located in candlelit caves, where shoppers can purchase hand-crafted Christmas decorations among the icicles, and delicious locally made biscuits. Travelscope Promotions (tel: 01453 821210) offers four-day breaks to visit the markets during December from £89 per person, based on two sharing. Coach travel and ferry crossings, three nights' b&b accommodation and shopping excursions are all included.

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