Keukenhof - The Ultimate Dutch Park


Keukenhof. “Kitchen Garden.” This name belies the expanse, the nature and the beauty of this oasis of blooms. The day we visited it a few years ago will be a cherished memory for a long time. We’d been offered two bikes to borrow for the trip from Haarlem to Keukenhof. Riding a bicycle has not been my thing since my years in primary school had come to an end, which means that i wasn’t looking forward all that much to the trip. The only reason i eventually alighted the two-wheeled torture instrument, was of course because of the prospect of what lay at the end of the journey: Keukenhof.

Even though it was late in May and the park was only going to be open for a few days still, the weather was what i've come to expect could be called typically Dutch. It was cold and wet and a strong breeze was blowing in from the North Sea. We set out along a scenic route through forests and quiet hamlets. Overveen, Aerdenhout, De Zilk. By now we were passing many tulip farms. Endless green acres were alternated with yellow, red, pink and white fields. Obviously, some tulips had already been harvested and some were only now ready to be taken to the market. We stopped here and there to take some pictures, and the farmers were very gracious in allowing us to get close enough to the flowers to take some spectacular images.

Keukenhof was close now, and after two left turns we parked the bikes, bought some tickets and set off to explore the 32 hectares filled with more than 7 million flowers, which include more than 800 varieties of tulips. It’s difficult to imagine what it must have been like here in the 15th century, when fruit and vegetables were gathered for Teylingen Castle from the woods and dunes in this area. It must have been different in 1641 still, when Keukenhof Castle was built. Only in 1857, Jan and Louis Zocher were commissioned to redesign the gardens at Keukenhof Castle, and these gardens still form the heart of Keukenhof today. i wonder whether the 20 flower bulb exporters who’d embarked on this plan to convert the park into a showcase for spring flowers could have foreseen the popularity of Keukenhof. In 1950 its opening season welcomed 236,000 visitors. By 2016 this number had grown to 1,1 million.

When you stroll down a tree-lined avenue, flower beds spilling over with masses of lively-hued blooms, your thoughts may carry you to another era in this very same place. Softly-rustling leaves and dappled sunlight enfold you in your own thoughts, and even though the park is bustling with visitors, you may as well be all alone. Then you turn a corner and before you sits a pavilion. Here you can find some refreshments or shop for a souvenir, or you can attend workshops on how to get the most from your flower garden or how to arrange a showstopping table centrepiece. There are also flower shows, where flowers from around 500 cultivators are used by some of the most accomplished flower arrangers in unusual and impressive displays. Everything from tulips (of course) to orchids, amaryllis, gerbera, freesia, roses, daffodils, anthurium and chrysanthemums to all kinds of lilies comprising the largest lily show in the world can be found at these shows.

At the Oranje Nassau Pavilion, you can attend flower arranging workshops daily. The Juliana Pavilion houses the Tulpomania exhibition about the history of tulips (with the same kind of drama, deception and daring adventures as the story of coffee). From the Windmill you can take a whisper boat (electrically operated boat) for a leisurely 45-minute trip through the canals to admire the seemingly endless gardens from the water. (Adults €8; children aged 4-11 €4.) Guided tours of 60 minutes are available in Dutch, English, German, French (and sometimes in Spanish and Swedish) for groups of up to 25 people at a cost of €135.

There’s also a full programme of events, including:

• KEUKENHOF MUSIC, during opening weekend, with choirs and marching bands performing throughout the park;

• HOLLAND HERITAGE WEEK, when you’ll find people in traditional dress around every corner, dancing and making music, showing off traditional crafts, giving you an opportunity to carry cheese with a friend, and offering you a taste of some smoked eel;

• KEUKENHOF FLOWER MARKET, where summer bulbs are for sale, horticultural lessons are given, and where children can hunt for flowers and assemble their own little bunches to take home;

• FUN FOR KIDS are presented during Easter Weekend, with Shaun the Sheep treating the kids to all kinds of activities, and a birds of prey show featuring owls, eagles, buzzards and falcons;

FLOWER PARADE (BLOEMENCORSO) is on the programme for 22 April. Floats decorated with all the flowers grown in the Bollenstreek (Bulb Region) travel a distance of40 km from Noordwijk to Haarlem, and it passes Keukenhof around 15:30;

• DUTCH DESIGN WEEK is presented during the last week of April, with workshops presented by established and young designers and architects;

• FOOD AND FLOWER FESTIVAL explores how our meals are enhanced by flowers, and several food trucks offer interesting culinary treats;

• ROMANCE AT KEUKENHOF is brought to the park during Mother’s Day weekend, and sees performers dress up in romantic costumes to perform classical music, whether orchestras, soloists or ensembles;

• FLOWERS AND FASHION FESTIVAL celebrates how flowers – both live and printed – brings fashion to life during the closing weekend.

Let’s return to our visit a few years ago. With a list of exhibitions, activities and cultural events like this, you might be able to imagine something about the fullness of my soul when it was time to return that afternoon. Did i mention that my body was stiff from riding a bike the whole 20km from Haarlem to Keukenhof? No, of course i didn’t. That would’ve been uncalled for in the light of this extraordinary day. Who has time to focus on sore glutes when there’s a world of wonder to discover? But as we returned to the bicycle stands, i felt a sense of dread rising in me at the prospect of the journey. We decided to take a more direct route home. My legs and back and mind told me that the fastest way home was the only way home that would be acceptable. Little did we know that would require several kilometres of cobble-stoned bicycle paths, which would drain me beyond my limitations. Of course, That-Man was as chirpy as ever. He spotted a tulip farm where you could pick your own flowers to take home, and immediately a detour was announced. His eyes were gleaming with pleasure at offering me the opportunity to choose “whatever-you-want-my-angel” to take home. Tulips picked, paid for and packed into the carrier basket, of course he had to continue to be his joyful self. So he would race ahead and stop and take a picture of his wilted wife on a bicycle overflowing with the freshest of flowers. The cobbles would taunt me while That-Man were attempting to get the quintessential happy-lady-on-a-bicycle-full-of-even-more-happy-tulips-in-Holland photo. The only thing to say about that is: “At least he tried.”

That night we were lying in bed, That-Man sleeping like a baby while i processed the day. Was it possible that we’d spent the whole day in such a beautiful place? Keukenhof, of course, is extraordinary because of the scale on which it is done. Of course many unique flowers are grown there, but the amount of flowers are the real reason it leaves such an impression on your mind, your senses, your soul. The stiffness in my legs and back from the day’s bicycle trips would be with me for another few days, but the wonder of the place has remained with me to this day.

KEUKENHOF DATES 2017

23 March to 21 May

Daily 08:00 to 19:30

Ticket booths close at 18:00

(Information correct at time of publication)

KEUKENHOF ENTRANCE FEES 2017

Adults - €16

Children (4-11) - €8

Children (0-3) – Free

Park Guide - €5

Car Parking Fee - €6

(Information correct at time of publication)

FREE STUFF AT KEUKENHOF

• Free lockers for your luggage

• Free wi-fi throughout the park

• Free map of Keukenhof

• Free use of reserved wheelchairs, provided you pay a security deposit and book by 17:00 the previous day (electric wheelchairs are available to rent for €10)

• Free entrance for children up to 3 years old

(Information correct at time of publication)

Other travel stories you may like:

From One Hole To Another - Part I

Our Favourite Dutch Memories

My Favourite Runs - Lake Geneva

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