HOP ALONG TO HOLLAND-ON-SEA!
The beaches of The Hague are often overlooked — but canny travellers have long admired their cheery charms
BRING your beach things,’ I would remind friends, who were coming to visit me in The Hague during the summer months.
They always seemed surprised — a bikini, a beach towel and sun cream might not be obvious items to pack when visiting this elegant coastal city in the Netherlands, so synonymous with law and bureaucracy. The International Court of Justice is likelier to spring to mind than sandcastles and surf.
Scheveningen (a name so difficult to pronounce correctly that the Dutch used it as a way to identify German spies during World War II) is one of eight districts of The Hague, located just two miles from the city centre.
Known as a fishing hub since the 13th century, and immortalised by Dutch painters in the 17th century, it became a popular place to bathe in the early 1800s.
Each year a string of stylish clubs, bars and restaurants are rebuilt on pavilions along the strand. They are slickly designed, with fire pits, copper pendant lights, stripped wood floors and wicker hanging chairs as standard.
Oceans Beach House ( one of the permanent few, along with El Nino) is so decadent that on a warm evening you could be fooled into believing you’re in Miami. It’s the perfect place to grab an Amstel beer and watch the kite boarders, kayakers and surfers in action on the North Sea.
When the sun is out, the wide expanse of Blue Flag beach, with its soft golden sand that slopes gently into the shallows, becomes popular with German tourists, who long ago caught on that a holiday here is a bargain compared with those in other European hotspots. Stretching some seven miles, the beach is also less crowded than many.
The Dutch are a nation of spendthrifts (coupon collection is practically a national sport), and Scheveningen caters for this.
From mid-May to late September, you can head to the 2,000-capacity Beach Stadium to watch the Dutch Olympic squad train in beach volleyball, soccer, handball and tennis — and it won’t cost you a single euro.
DURING the peak summer months the district hosts free music festivals and fireworks competitions, and the esplanade is chock-full of buskers, from living statues to wannabe Bertolfs ( Holland’s answer to Ed Sheeran) strumming on guitars.
There’s also much enjoyment to be had at the amusement pier. Built in 1901, it burned down during World War II and was rebuilt in 1959. A restoration project saw the introduction of a 160ft- high ferris wheel in 2016, too.
The backdrop for all of this is the swanky Grand Hotel Amrath Kurhaus, built in 1818 as a concert hall. The Rolling Stones were the last to perform here, in 1964.
I take a stroll around Scheveningen’s harbour, packed with fish restaurants to suit all budgets.
There are humble stands selling Hollandse Nieuwe — soused raw herring served with onions and pickles — with vendors proudly sporting Ik Ben Een Scheveninger (I’m a Scheveninger) T-shirts.
Fans of upmarket seafood places can head to Catch, owned and run by the Simoni family. They have been fishmongers in The Hague since the late 19th century, when they had a humble eel stall. The harbour remains a working port, with a fish auction held daily at 7am.
For kabeljauw (cod) served from trawler to plate I head to Restaurant De Dagvisser where, in true Dutch style, it is served with frites and mayonnaise.
My favourite Dutch saying for when things get a little too crowded is ‘ als haringen in een
ton zitten’ (like herrings sitting in a barrel). To get away from it all, visit Westduinpark, the sand dunes nature reserve where the Dutch royal family used to hunt.
The air is full of the pungent smell of hawthorn and heather, and come summer the land glows yellow with evening primrose. The best way to explore the 240 hectares is by bike, as the terrain is undulating but easy to cross, making it ideal for families.
For toddlers there’s the option of a bakfiets (cargo bike) — the pullalong cart that Nederlanders so casually stick their kids in.
THE park borders the windswept beach of Zuiderstrand, which locals refer to as the peaceful beach ( the area reserved for naturists is clearly signposted). This offers far-reaching views to the Hook of Holland and the mouth of the New Waterway shipping canal.
Further on, the small resort of Kijkduin promises a quieter, more bohemian beach scene. At Habana Beach Club, with its bleached wood interior and surfer’s vibe, I order a fruit smoothie and homemade appeltaart (apple pie).
Next, I head on to the Beachcomber’s Shed — a ramshackle hut nailed with driftwood and festooned with reclaimed fishing nets and rope. It’s rammed with objects of curiosity ( both natural and manmade) that the curator, known to all as Uncle Jan, has combed from the beach.
Nearby is the Celestial Vault, an artificial crater in the sand dunes created by artist James Turrell, who wanted to give people a place to gaze at the sky.
By day the view from it is sublime, and I watch cirrus clouds, like fine strands of hair, shifting gently across a cobalt blue sky. By night, I spy Orion’s Belt, in a view reminiscent of Van Gogh’s cosmic masterpiece, The Starry Night. It is heavenly.