We just finished an incredible week in the Dutch countryside where we rented a little farm cottage. Bergen, North Holland is located about 30 miles north of Amsterdam, nestled alongside the North Sea. It serves as a both a commuting suburb of Amsterdam, and a seaside resort town, with a landscape to die for. Rolling green farmlands dotted with sheep, cows and horses line the country lanes, with windmills completing the panorama. There are pristine forests with hiking and riding trails throughout, and if that’s not enough, the coast boasts miles of glorious sandy beach buffered by dunes covered in sea grass. Really, we might as well have landed in paradise.
We rented bikes on our first day and never looked back. We are finding that not having a car is liberating and dramatically slows down the pace of life. Every day, we cycled to the bakery and market to fill our backpacks with groceries. We explored the countryside along meandering bike lanes, rode out to the beach, and rode through the forests, hopping off to feed horses or explore by foot when the spirit moved us. We all felt so happy to relax and unwind after some busy days in the cities of Copenhagen and Amsterdam!
Our new friends, The Witts Family
One of the best aspects of our stay in Bergen was getting to know the family that essentially hosted us there, Klaas WItts and his wife Lillian, and their three daughters Zinzi, Linde and Wisse. Klaas is a lifelong friend of our Portsmouth friend, David Hills, who kindly connected us months ago via email when he learned we were traveling to Holland. Since that very first email, Klaas helped us plan our stay both in Amsterdam and in his hometown of Bergen, and then proceeded to support us in ways big and small during the past ten days. We are so grateful to all of the Wiits for the love and attention they bestowed upon us. You will see their family members in some of our photos below. We know we have made lifelong friends and look forward to seeing them again (and reciprocating their incredible hospitality) when they next visit David and Catherine in Portsmouth!
Our cottage in Bergen was nestled about a mile and a half from the town center, tucked in a cluster of woods with farmland all around us. The driveway leading to it was lined with trees, some of which had been carved by our neighbor, Hans, who was (naturally) a woodcarver.
We watched cows commuting to their pastures from our large living room window, and fed chickens out our back door.
We also had some nice woolly neighbors to pet each morning when we awoke.
When not gazing at the farmland around us, we explored the woods and the beach.
And we explored the town of Bergen, of course!
When we could tear ourselves away from the country life, we ventured to a town called Enkhuizen that has an amazing open-air museum called the Zuiderzee Museum. For those of you who know Portsmouth’s Strawberry Banke Museum, this open air Dutch museum had a similar feel, just on a larger scale. To get to Enkhuizen from Bergen was an adventure in its own right. We cycled to the Bergen village center, took a bus to a nearby train station, took two trains to get to Einkhuizen, and then a ferry boat from the train station to the museum. It was well worth the journey, as the photos will attest. We wandered for a few hours, losing ourselves in the lifestyle, crafts, and architecture of 17th-19th century Holland.
Bergen Reflections from the girls…
Thayer: I liked the horses everywhere and I even got to ride one thanks to Wisse. In the mornings I loved feeding the funny chickens out our back door. One time they came right into our living room and we had to shoo them back outside. There was a cat that sat near our kitchen window waiting for scraps. I fed him smoked salmon on the first day. We saw him every morning after that. I also liked eating a LOT of cheese myself. I learned how to slice it the Dutch way. Bergen was really fun, it is sad to be leaving.
Schuyler: Bergen was such an amazing experience for me. It was so peaceful and everybody there is so friendly. I loved exploring the countryside with my sisters and feeding the horses. One highlight for me was the day Klaas took us for a long bike ride to climb the sand dunes and slide back down! It was so windy but that made it more exciting. We also explored the beach and performed jellyfish rescue operations (they were washing up on shore because of the wind so we’d throw them back into the ocean). Obviously, they were the non-stinging jellyfish!
Zoe: I really liked going for bike rides and walking along the lanes with Schuyler and Thayer by ourselves, exploring. I also loved the Open Air Museum in Enkhuizen, especially when we got to make our own jump rope out of hemp in the same way that they used to make ropes in the olden days. My time in Bergen was truly amazing. All the open space helped me let my energy out. I would love to go back to Bergen someday.
Bergen’s Architecture (Jeff):
One of my favorite activities while in Bergen was the “cycling architecture tour” that Klaas took Blair and me on one evening. We pedaled around the streets of town while Klaas explained the different styles and the history of building here. There is a neighborhood in Bergen called Park Meerwijk, that was constructed in 1915 as low-cost housing for artists and designers. A local ceramic tile company commissioned five architects to design the “villas,” as they were called, using the new ‘Amsterdam school of architecture’ style. This style was based in expressionism, characterized by brick construction with complicated masonry, relatively traditional massing, and the integration of an elaborate scheme of building elements inside and out. Many of these villas still exist today and are being carefully maintained and tended to by conscientious stewards and enthusiasts of the Amsterdam school. Thoughtful details and well-executed craftsmanship within the masonry work offer a definitive logic to the massing as found in the “de Ark” villa.
The most impactful aspect of this development, for me, was the skillful combination of the rigid brick and the organic, sculptural expression found in the thatched roofs. Thatch is still a popular roofing application in Northern Holland, not only reserved for historic revitalization, but also employed in contemporary buildings. The combination of thatch and brick provides both a directness of idea and a softness of approach, creating a sense of whimsy. Two great examples of this are the “De Bark” villa and the duplex unit seen below .
Along the tour, we again noticed a variety of influence and mix of historic and contemporary design throughout Bergen.
Many thanks to Klaas for such a fabulous exploration of Bergen!
So… if anyone is looking for a fabulous family vacation spot, particularly in the spring, summer, or early fall, Bergen is the place for you. There are oodles of seaside and village cottages available for rent or for home exchange. Between the beach, forest, and town, there is something for everyone! We are all sad to have to say goodbye to Bergen, but we have Venice to look forward to, so that is a pretty nice consolation prize. We are off once again, with a very long travel day ahead (car to train to train to airplane to bus to train to water taxi to our Venice apartment!). See you in Italy!