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A Drive on the Bollenstreek (Bulb Region)!
What is more Dutch than tulips? We took a short road trip up to the tulip region of the Netherlands, and with fantastic sun and clear skies, we traipsed in and out of flower beds, down garden paths, in front of great Dutch architecture, and even had a traditional lunch of pannenkoeken (pancakes).
We wanted to beat the crowds, since we’ve heard that over eight thousand visitors go to the Netherlands just to view the tulips in just over a two month period. Most of them go straight to Keukenhof Gardens, but many are on a bus tour that will also show them parts of the Bollenstreek.
As the sun rose, we stopped right by the coast and started to take a few shots when I heard this plaintive bleating. I started paying attention and all of these mother sheep with two or three lambs each started running across the meadow towards us. What a way to start the day! Most of the sheep just came to stand with us, but a few wanted to be pet. It didn’t have anything to do with flowers, but it did make me smile.
We somehow managed to pull ourselves away from the cuteness, and started following the signs of the Bollenstreek. The flower (or bulb) region is only about 20 kilometers long, so it’s easy to do by all modes of transportation. We were driving, but we saw plenty of folks who had rented bicycles, and many who were walking as well. I do recommend a slower pace, because there is so much to see.
The region covers some quaint towns and villages in the area to include Leiden, Katwijk, Lisse, Noordwijk, Sassenheim, and De Zilk. There are over a dozen smaller bike paths that take you in and around these smaller places where everything is dripping with Dutch charm. The red brick row houses and town buildings with stepped gables, lacy Dutch scenes covering the huge picture windows and statues and art throughout their green spaces makes it a beautiful walk or ride no matter which town you are in .
The whole idea of following the Bollenstreek was to see things, but we kept getting off the path. We were so busy stopping, taking photos, talking to people, that we would look up and have no idea what to do next. We would just try to intuit where to go and we would somehow, after a few minutes, be back on the route. It wasn’t really too hard, though, when we got off the route we would just look for bright splashes of color in the distance and then head in that direction. We always picked up the trail like this. This is probably more due to the fact that it is a very winding route, not a straight shot, and it was everywhere that there were flower fields.
Even though we all associate the Netherlands with tulips, the region is an overall flower growing area. It starts off with crocuses, then daffodils, then hyacinths, and finally tulips. So the season lasts about two months. We hit it just when the daffodils were finishing and the hyacinths were in high bloom. The tulips were just beginning, but we also noticed that the growers were picking the tulips before they were completely open.
Hyacinths were everywhere, and it was amazing that we could just step out of the car across from the ribbons of pastel pinks, lavenders, whites, and purples and immediately smell the sweet perfume of the flowers. Since we were so early and few people were about, it was such an incredible experience to see and smell the flowers with no noise or people to interfere.
It didn’t last long though, the no tourists. They were up and at them by 8:00, and by 8:30 were everywhere speaking every language imaginable. At one point, Jim and I were buying some hyacinths at a pay-by-honor stand and a group of Chinese comes right up to see what we were doing and photograph us. Ni-haos all around, and they were quite happy!
There is something special about going out early. Of course, first thing in the morning is the best time to pick the flowers, and we came across many pickers right away. They would choose the not quite open blooms, bundle them, and rubber band them. There were plenty of stands all over the region to pick up some flowers or bulbs, both hyacinths and tulips.
During the hyacinth season, they also make signs, sculptures and floats with the petals. We were there for the “mosaic” weekend, which is traditionally held the weekend before the big parade. The flower parade is happening this coming weekend the 24-26th of April and you can find out the route and timetable here.
One thing I never miss out on when I visit the Netherlands is pancakes. The Dutch are famous for their pannekoeken, and we love to share a savory one and then a fruity one. They’re filling and delicious. This time we were able to sit out in the sunshine with many others and enjoy them.
The Dutch version of a tourist information office is the VVV. You will see these in every town. Make sure to stop in at one and ask for some maps. They have maps for bikes and walking, as well as the general region maps. Also ask if there are any special events happening the time while you are there.
All Bollenstreek routes will eventually lead you to the queen of the show, Keukenhof gardens. There are thousands of people there throughout the season, so make sure to plan your visit and buy your tickets ahead of time.
Accommodations are hard to come by, and there are few deals to be had, during the flower season so plan as early as possible. Even just to view the flowers, go to Keukenhof, and enjoy a little of the warm Dutch culture, you will need a minimum of a weekend, so plan at least two nights.
The Bollenstreek is not far at all from Amsterdam and even closer to Schipol Airport. Luckily the Dutch has a fantastic bus system and it is cheap and easy to get to the area. Once there, I would recommend renting bikes.
Have you been to see the beautiful Dutch flowers?