Keukenhof, situated just to the west of Amsterdam, hosts one of the world’s largest flower festivals. The spring gardens are only open for a short eight-week period between late March and early May, but more than one-and-a-half-million people were expected to make the trip this year to see the stunning array of tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. To create this spectacle, more than seven million bulbs are planted in December, with the beds carefully managed to ensure a continuous carpet of colour.
Most Backwater Classic Car Tours participants chose to travel by ferry to Rotterdam. This left a short 60-mile drive to the exclusive Duin & Kruidberg hotel, our base for the tour. Built in 1900, in a small park just outside Haarlem, the impressive building looks as if it has been lifted from a gothic fantasy novel.
We were booked into Keukenhof on the first full day of the tour. A short tulip-map run led the cars to a holding point just outside the complex. Once we were assembled, an official on a bicycle appeared and the group was led into the main gardens. Our E-types and XKs were then carefully directed past the long queues to form a display in pride of place right outside the main entrance.
The gardens cover a huge area of more than 80 acres, so the whole experience was initially a little overwhelming. It’s hardly surprising that Keukenhof markets itself as ‘The Garden of Europe’, though in English, ‘Keukenhof’ translates as ‘Kitchen Garden’. The display area comprises a series of winding paths and see-through vistas, where 100 bulb companies and growers display the very best they have to offer.
A break for lunch offered an opportunity to sample some Dutch delicacies. Numerous little
huts were selling ‘friet’. These are chunky chips served up in a cardboard cone, with a cunning little sauce holder filled with a rather lethal spicy mayonnaise. Also available were ‘krokets’. These are very much the big brother of the croquette family. Generously filled with beef or vegetables, they are almost the size of your hand.
With the cars prominently on display, escaping the gardens took a little time. Classic cars usually attract a lot of interest, so we were happy to talk to visitors who wanted to know more about our E-types and XKs. A short run back to the hotel was followed by an evening meal in a private dining room filled with artwork. On the walls were a series of wonderful old paintings from the 16th century representing ‘The Faithful Shepherd’, and we learned that the ornate mantelpiece that dominated the room was built way back in 1495.
The second day proved to be more of a challenge. The unexpected closure of three major
roads threatened to blow the day’s drive out of the water, but organiser Lyn Trill had arranged a series of neat detours that saved the day. As a result, the teams safely arrived for coffee in the delightful old village of ‘De Rijp’, more or less on time. A lunch stop at Hoorn, in the north west of the Netherlands followed. In the afternoon, the run took us south, on to Edam. Somewhat predictably, many of us left this pretty medieval village weighed down with cheeses from the various emporiums that litter the town. The final stop of the day took in
the preserved village of Zaanse Schans. Here, in the shadow of a row of very tall and very old
windmills, one can learn the skills of clog-making and cheese-making.
There were no runs scheduled for the final day. This allowed the teams to rest or explore the
Netherlands on their own. Some of us travelled by train into Amsterdam and enjoyed a boat
trip around the city. Others chose Haarlem, while the more adventurous journeyed further
afield. One car drove up to the north to visit the Naval Museum in Den Helder, while another
couple headed off to the car museum at Gallery Aaldering, nearly 100 miles away.
At the final dinner, the prize for the Observation Trophy was won by Peter and Tina Reeves in
their Series 3 Old English White Roadster. They managed to find an impressive number of
pictures, despite the numerous diversions.
Overall, it was a memorable trip. Thanks are due to Paul and Lyn Trill and Kieran Line from Backwater Tours for their excellent support throughout.