Amsterdam - Pedaling around the IJsselmeer
Some clichés contain more than just a grain of truth. If you want to discover the Netherlands, then the best way to do it really is to get on your bike. One of the most fascinating routes takes you from Amsterdam all the way around the IJsselmeer. If you can cycle 50 to 60 kilometers (30 to 40 miles) a day, the tour will take you about a week – but you will miss out on a great deal. Nearly every stopover is a great opportunity to get off your "Fiets" – and take a good look around
Pedaling around the IJsselmeer
The tour starts in Amsterdam, and the first stop takes you to the little town of Edam, north of the Dutch capital. Each year in July and August local farmers bring their produce to the market square in small boats for the traditional cheese market. Although the market is now mainly a tourist attraction, the picturesque charm of this little town, where most of the buildings and canals are several centuries old, is perfectly authentic. The former fishing village of Volendam with its famous wooden houses and traditional costumes is definitely also worth a visit.
Tourist information office in Edam: www.vvv-edam.nl (also in English) Tourist information office in Volendam: www.vvv-volendam.nl (also in English and German).
Just like Edam, the towns of Hoorn and Enkhuizen enjoyed their golden age in the 16th and 17th centuries. It was from here that the Dutch East India Company traded with its overseas bases, and during this time both towns prospered and grew into major ports. Hoorn also gave its name to the southernmost tip of the Americas and every seafarer’s nightmare, Cape Horn. In those days, Enkhuizen numbered as many as 25,000 citizens (today: 18,000) and was considered a large city. Several historical buildings testify to the prosperity of that era. Further north on the trail, the little town of Medemblik is mainly famous for its 800-year-old Radboud Castle.
Tourist information office in Hoorn: www.vvvhoorn.nl (also in English and German, tourist information office in Enkhuizen: www.vvvenkhuizen.nl (also in English and German), tourist information office in Medemblik: www.vvvmedemblik.nl (also in English and German).
This next stage of the journey ends in Makkum, the Dutch mecca for windsurfing fans. The town is famous for the blue Delft tiles traditionally produced here and as the site of the oldest ceramics factory in the country, which, incidentally, welcomes visitors to take a tour. A major part of the route from Medemblik to Makkum takes you along the Afsluitdijk (the Enclosure Dam). For nearly 80 years, this 32-kilometer dam has separated the former Zuiderzee, a North Sea inlet, from the open sea. What we now know as the IJsselmeer was created when the inland sea was enclosed by the Afsluitdijk. This ambitious engineering project later led to the reclaiming of land from the IJsselmeer. The trip along the dam is one of the highlights of the whole cycling tour, although it can become a bit of a sporting challenge in unfavorable wind conditions.
Makkum-Weerribben-Wieden National Park:
This part of the route takes you through typically Frisian towns like Bolsward and Workum toward the Weerribben-Wieden National Park. Since these moorlands are mostly below sea level, they have to be drained, hence the ditches, furrows and "ribs" that give the park its name. This area is home to beavers, otters and numerous bird species. Although an extensive network of cycle paths exists, the best way to explore the national park is by canoe. Whatever mode of transport you choose, don’t forget to pack a good insect repellent if you come during the summer months.Info:
National Park Weerribben-Wieden: www.np-weerribbenwieden.nl (only in Dutch)
Situated close to the Weerribben-Wieden National Park, Flevoland is an artificial island, joined to the mainland by numerous bridges, that was constructed in the 1950s and 1960s. The entire area was first dammed up, separating it from the IJsselmeer, and then drained by huge pumping stations. Today, Flevoland is larger than the entire state of Berlin. The eastern part of the island is mainly used for agriculture while large parts in the west were turned over to nature. Almere, now the fastest-growing town in the Netherlands, also sprang up here originally as a suburb of Amsterdam.
Tourist information office Almere: www.vvvalmere.nl. tourist information office Dronten:
www.vvv-dronten.nl. tourist information office Lelystad: www.lelystad.nl. tourist information office Zeewolde: www.vvvzeewolde.nl (all in Dutch)
Back on the mainland, the town of Muiden offers an opportunity for a final stopover. The town features an old moated castle, the Muiderslot, one of the country’s major historical buildings. If you would now prefer a chance to cruise through the IJsselmeer instead of cycling around it, you can rent a boat in the marina in Muiden. The cycling tour around the largest Dutch lake ends 15 kilometers further west in Amsterdam. If you cannot bear to part with your bike just yet, simply keep it for a few more days while you enjoy exploring one of Europe’s most bicycle-friendly cities.
The town of Muiden: www.muiden.nl (Dutch only). Amsterdam Tourism & Convention Board:
www.iamsterdam.com (also in English and German)
Photos: Corbis (3), mauritius images (3), hemispheres/laif