Water way to see Holland
ADAM MAIDMENT DIPS INTO A TULIP AND WINDMILL RIVER CRUISE
UNICORNS, cheese and eels are an unusual holiday combination but in the Dutch town of Hoorn, they certainly float your boat. Marking the first stop on my river cruise in Holland, the medieval town certainly leaves an impression.
I’m sailing on the MS River Discovery II, a 443ft river cruise ship with room for 176 passengers, as part of a five-day Tulips and Windmills itinerary, also stopping at Amsterdam, Enkhuizen, Lelystad and Zaandam. The inaugural trip on the vessel – its first since the pandemic – is with Titan Travel and includes excursions, meals, and travel to and from the ship (we flew from Manchester).
We board in Amsterdam before making our way to the 17th-century port city of Hoorn. As magical as the unicorn on the medieval town’s coat of arms, Hoorn is full of beautiful buildings and side alleys. The harbour and the 16th-century tower of Hoofdtoren, curved specifically to take the brunt of cannonballs, are particular highlights.
Through our guide, we also learn about Hoorn’s fascinating history of cheesemaking and eel-keeping.
Next stop is Enkhuizen for the show-stopping Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse. The scent of seven million flowers, everything from hyacinths to daffodils, hits you as soon as you set foot into what is known as the Garden of Europe. “I don’t like tulips,’’ says Owen, one of the many gardeners focused on keeping the world’s largest flower gardens in perfect shape for the three months a year it is open.
“They have no ambition... no charm. I prefer daffodils.”
It’s a bold statement to make when there are hundreds of varieties of tulips – with names like Cracked Parrot, Supermodel and
Flamingo Queen – dotted around the 32 hectares.
With themed gardens, indoor pavilions, fields and canal boat offerings, you can enjoy Keukenhof at your own pace, or simply wander through the displays of tulips.
Back on River Discovery II, the ship’s crew is ready with coffees, cocktails and wine before unveiling the fine selection of food. You soon get into the rhythm of vast buffet breakfasts, indulgent afternoon teas and leisurely three-course dinners in the Compass Rose restaurant on board this beautiful ship.
Evening meals are often adventurous and wacky. Menus include veal cheeks, lobster cappuccinos and pumpkin bisque, carefully curated by chef Tuca, who hails from Romania.
“We make sure all our recipes and ingredients are of the best quality,” Tuca, who heads up a team of eight chefs, tells me after a
superb evening meal of beef sirloin and baked Alaska.
Other facilities include a lounge, library and gym. Up on the top deck, there are comfy chairs for watching the world go by and a huge chess board.
The 92 cabins range from the Odyssey Deck and Explorer Deck to the lush Deluxe Suite and the allout Owner’s Suite. We are in the Deluxe Suite with French windows framing the views, huge bed, TV, en suite with bath and shower and plenty of storage space. I never experience cabin fever and there are lots of opportunities to venture out when docked to take in the sights with a hot chocolate, with added slagroom (that’s whipped cream, for us Brits).
Titan’s trip also includes a visit to Zaanse Schans, a cheery attraction dedicated to windmills and clogs. Here, Ancient buildings have been turned
workshops showing off clog, barrel and cheese making, and there are working windmills alongside a riverbank of green-painted heritage homes that are still in use.
Over the course of the trip, we are essentially bobbing up and down the same stretch of waterway, passing by Amsterdam, before spending our final day in the capital.
You can see a lot of the sights on a boat tour of the city’s 17th-century canals, lined with merchants’ town houses. Then fill the rest of your afternoon of free time at the Van Gogh Museum or Rembrandt House Museum, visiting Anne Frank’s house or the National Maritime Museum.
With every day offering a different experience, river cruising is the most refreshing way to stock up on culture and soak up some gorgeous scenery.