Why these two Dutch cities are mas­ter­pieces

Am­s­ter­dam may be the most pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for vis­i­tors to Hol­land, but Lau­ren Tay­lor dis­cov­ers art, royal his­tory and pot­tery in coun­try’s third largest city

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - TRAVEL -

When most peo­ple think of a mini-break in the Nether­lands, they think of Am­s­ter­dam. But a 25-minute train ride from Rot­ter­dam, now ser­viced by a new, di­rect out­bound Eurostar route from Lon­don, is the home of the Dutch par­lia­ment, royal fam­ily and the In­ter­na­tional Court of Jus­tice. The Hague is in many ways The Nether­lands’ most im­por­tant city, and hosts some of the most sig­nif­i­cant Dutch art mas­ter­pieces.

Here’s how to ex­plore the Hague and it’s smaller neigh­bour, Delft. See the mas­ter­pieces at the Mau­rit­shuis Many come for one paint­ing only — the Girl with a Pearl Ear­ring by Delft artist Jo­hannes Ver­meer, which in­spired a novel in 1999 and a film with Scar­lett Jo­hans­son in 2003. It’s held at the world-renowned Mau­rit­shuis, home to some of the most fa­mous paint­ings from the Golden Age of Dutch art. There are three Ver­meers, sev­eral Jan Steens and more Rem­brandts than Am­s­ter­dam.

The 17 th-cen­tury build­ing is a mas­ter­piece it­self, hailed as one of the world’s great­est small mu­se­ums, and sits next to par­lia­ment build­ings on the Hofvi­jver pond. Tick­ets: €15,50 (un­der 19s are free) mau­rit­shuis.nl Mar­vel at The Hague’s as­ton­ish­ing ar­chi­tec­ture It’s pretty un­usual to be able to stroll be­tween par­lia­ment build­ings and royal res­i­dences in a city cen­tre, but in the Hague, there’s a very real pos­si­bil­ity of bump­ing into the prime min­is­ter out­side the Gothic Bin­nen­hof cas­tle or (per­haps) catch­ing a glimpse of roy­alty ex­it­ing Noore­deinde Palace.

Know where to look, and through sev­eral al­ley­ways lie beau­ti­ful court­yards of hid­den houses, orig­i­nally almshouses built for maids who worked for aris­toc­racy when they re­tired.

To­day, the 115 homes in the Hague are still strictly women-only com­mu­ni­ties. Stroll around the pretty canals of Delft If it’s quintessen­tially Dutch canals you want, then Delft, a short tram ride from the Hague, is made up of 11 ‘is­lands’, 88 bridges and a canal sys­tem that’s over 750 years old.

Delft’s most fa­mous res­i­dent was Ver­meer, who was born in the city and buried at the Oude Kerk (old church). The Oude En Nieuw (new church) on Delft’s main square, mean- while, is where ev­ery mem­ber of the Dutch Royal fam­ily is buried. Dis­cover Dutch his­tory at the Mu­seum Prin­sen­hof It be­gan as a con­vent, then be­came the court of Wil­liam of Or­ange, known as the founder and ‘fa­ther’ of Hol­land, and it’s now an ex­cel­lent mu­seum. It was also the lo­ca­tion of his mur­der in 1701 (the first po­lit­i­cal one in his­tory) and vis­i­tors can still see the bul­let holes in the wall. There’s a por­trait of each King or Queen since Wil­liam I (aka Prince of Or­ange), right up to the cur­rent head of state, King Willem-Alexan­der. Tick­ets: €12, au­dio tours €1 ex­tra. Book at prin­sen­hof-delft.nl. Make your own Royal Delft Aside from Ver­meer, Delft’s most fa­mous ex­port is pot­tery — the ex­clu­sive Royal Delft. The last re­main­ing earthen­ware fac­tory is now also a mu­seum. The real high­light, though, is an op­por­tu­nity to make your own piece of pot­tery. Tick­ets: €13.50, or tour plus vase work­shop: €49.50. Book at roy­aldelft.com

DOU­BLE DUTCH: Hofvi­jver in the Hague, with Bin­nen­hof (Dutch par­lia­ment build­ings) and Mau­rit­shuis; the restau­rant at Ho­tel Des Inges in the Hague; and the canals of Delft. Below right: the coast­line at Schevenin­gen and the Grand Ho­tel Am­râth Kurhaus

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