Off the beaten path: off-road experience in the Netherlands
The Netherlands off-road experience comes from the question of whether the Netherlands can be traveled off-road? And is it still possible to discover the original Holland off the beaten track today? Guillaume Ravau sets off from Sonnaz, France, with cameraman Yamaha Grizzly 660 – and finds slopes that are mainly used by farmers, which lead wonderfully along the sea through dunes. In quiet surroundings, he glides calmly through the sand. “When the weather is nice, it’s generally very pleasant to drive here,” assures Guillaume, “a bit like being on a carpet.” The die-hard quad and mountain fan who loves profiled routes is with cameraman and photographer Miguel de Sat on the way. A documentary film is to be made on this quad trip. The title is ‘Off the beaten track’.
Off-road experience Netherlands: Preparations for his trip
In order to be able to drive a quad or ATV in the Netherlands, you must have a registered vehicle; an identity card is sufficient for citizens of the European Union. Vehicle registration and valid insurance certificate are packed, because they are obligatory. Touring with the sat nav is easy. Guillaume uses his smartphone for this – and he has reception everywhere, free Wifi is available in almost all service areas.
To accommodate the Dutch hospitality, Guillaume packs a couple of bottles of good French wine in his luggage. “The Dutch appreciate the French,” he knows, “and also the French delicacies.” Guillaume decides to look for private accommodation – with a gift from a guest it’s easy to start a conversation and make people happy.
Protective clothing is a must on this trip because it is very wet in the Netherlands all year round. Additional equipment includes an integral helmet with a visor, which offers protection against cold, wind, sand, dust, rain and mosquitoes. In order to defy the strong sunlight, you should also wear sunglasses.
Ice Age Relics & Modern Science
Guillaume arrives via motorways and federal roads: to this day, these main traffic connections in the Netherlands and Belgium can be used free of charge. The round trip begins in the north, in the region of the provinces of Friesland, Drenthe and Groningen on the border with Germany, the least populated part of the country. The area is rural with numerous farms and forest areas. Strange structures stand at the edge of the sandy slopes. They are called ‘Hunebedden’ – megalithic tombs. “They are mostly oriented east-west, consistent with sunrise and sunset. 54 of these graves have withstood the test of time,” says Guillaume. “The Neolithic witnesses are tombs, unique to this part of the world. I was completely mesmerized by these granite blocks.”
Coming from the forest of the municipality of Westerbork, Guillaume is surprised by the sight of a much younger facility: Fourteen huge antennas are located from east to west over a length of 3 kilometers – radio telescopes with which celestial phenomena can be observed.
Rivers, Canals & Mills
A network of around 6,000 kilometers of rivers and canals runs through the country. The Netherlands has the densest network of shipping lanes in Europe. Cruising along the canals, the film team encounters barges with goods and raw materials, but boats and ships also sail here to pass the time. The Grizzly 660 is exchanged for an electric boat. “The impressions are not the same, nor is the engine noise,” reports Guillaume. “The speed isn’t the same either: it’s much lower. Nevertheless, gliding almost silently through peaceful canals on a beautiful day in glorious weather is a very special experience,” assures Guillaume, who goes one step further in order to properly immerse himself in the Dutch way of life: Guillaume rents a Dutch one wheel and pedals.
The mills are typical of the lowlands and can be found not only in rural areas, but also in more densely populated regions. Small and large pumps water into the canals and rivers. 1,000 mills are still in service; some to drain polders which, without the service of the mills, would be flooded and unavailable for farming. Especially in autumn, winter and early spring it often rains for weeks without a break, then the mills are supported by electric pumps.
Pyramid of Austerlitz & Bears
Further south, in the middle of Holland, hidden deep in the forest, the film crew discovers a strange hill crowned by an obelisk. A pyramid towers 36 meters high. “It was built in a month in 1804 by French and Dutch soldiers who were stationed nearby in a military camp,” says Guillaume, describing the building, which is unique in Europe.
Once in Bears, another discovery follows – not a setting for a Walt Disney film. The door dates from the Middle Ages, but it is the only original relic of a fortress that is imitated in steel and offers a wondrous sight. It is the work of Dutch artist Bep Mulder, a kind of replica of the old structure. Guillaume is fascinated by the surrealistic charm of the skeleton, which gives the building a very unusual appearance. People like to get married here in the summer.
Countless fields of tulips stretch out to the south of Amsterdam – a firework of vibrant colours. In the frenzy of colour, the grizzly is stopped to join the colorful action.
Conclusion & tips
Leaving the Netherlands means leaving a unique country with a fascinating history. It also means leaving very sympathetic people who love and respect nature, albeit in a ‘tamed’ form obtained by building numerous dams. After all, it is the only country on earth where half of the population lives below sea level.
Even if the Landscapes are not very different at first sight between south, north, the coast, the canals, the tulip fields and the mills, but this country is worth a trip off the well-known tourist path. “This small country and its people are very charming,” is Guillaume’s summary.
He recommends that tulip lovers come in spring. The summer should be avoided, as the coast and beaches are full of tourists during the holidays. September is ideal.
And: In the Netherlands it is important to drive slowly and calmly, because bicycles can unexpectedly cross everywhere, individually or in groups, 24 hours a day, even early in the morning. And they are very quiet. Gra
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