Category Archives: Travel Stories

HOLLAND: Factories of the Imagination (Food, Thought & Innovation)

99 Red Balloons played on the radio as we rushed across Tilburg. Windows down to let out smell of cigarette smoke. My driver pointed at a house in the middle of a roundabout, ‘They call it art!’ she laughed, as her curly hair blew in the wind.

She dropped me at Fujifilm’s Manufacturing and Research Laboratory. Sleek white and grey buildings, trees everywhere, oak saplings pushing their way up through acorns in piles. And huge toadstools, the size of berets. I had a brilliant meeting, a fascinating tour and a croquette for lunch. Magical. Come with me next year!

My driver on the way back, a very sweet older man who told me all about his three daughters, recommended the Intermezzo ice cream parlour to me, and as I was less than comfortable in my hotel room, I decided it was worth the walk there, in the rain. It was. Apple pie ice cream was the right choice.

I stayed at the City Hotel Tilburg (don’t stay at the City Hotel Tilburg!). Orange velvet curtains lit by a fluorescent tube, framed the view of St Jozef’s church, which was not really a ‘view’ as such, more just a wall, due to its immediate proximity. Dong, dong, dong– every hour for the hour, and a dong for half past. All night long. By 4am I was beginning to get used to it, and then… did you even know there is a Happy Hardcore version of Let it Be? I didn’t, but I do now.

In the morning I headed over to Eindhoven to meet up with the Visit Brabant team and joined them on a fabulous journey of food and innovation – starting at the Creativity World Forum.

I had an egg sandwich that wasn’t egg, and there was a pumpkin you could put your hand inside – a bit like that tree stump scene from Flash Gordon.

Eindhoven was once the famous home of Philips lightbulbs, when the company moved away jobs were lost, and factories stood empty… but not for long. The city invested in its people, and its people innovated. Those empty factories became centres of creativity and imagination, and now, amongst many other things, they house the annual Dutch Design Week– the biggest design event in Europe!

We ate French fries made from potato, sweet potato and parsnip, whilst Missy Elliot’s Pass the Dutch played in the background. I found a lamp that looked like a roast chicken.

Filling the fifth floor of one of the old factory buildings is the most interesting city farm I’ve come across. With a massive tank full of trout and hundreds of plants growing under LED lights, Duurzame Kost demonstrates aquaponics at its most efficient.

Dinner in Eindhoven, at DOYY, with Europe’s finest caviar ‘Anna Dutch’ made sustainably by sturgeon who live in big tanks outside the city. I ate a cone filled with ginger ice cream and goose liver, out of a miniature bucket, and I don’t regret it one bit.

After a rich and indulgent dinner we spent the most peaceful night at Teugel Resort in Uden. So quiet and calm. Such a relief!

In the morning we headed over to another repurposed factory site, CHV Noordekade in Veghel (if it sounds good to you, then watch this short film and be amazed).


This old animal feed complex blew my mind and lit a fuse with my imagination (as soon I arrived home I started googling ‘disused silos near me’). Built in 1918 by Escher (the cousin of Escher the artist) the facility made feed mix and cattle cakes. It is now home to cafés, restaurants, events spaces, a cinema, theatre, food hall, coffee roasters, bakery, a beer shop selling 1500 beers, a distillery, a small brewery (200 litres per day), a JUMBO supermarket, and the only car ever made in this small village – the prototype Bambino Sport.

I stroked a fish and got bitten by a bird. All the good things.


Lunch at Silly Fox.Thank you very much. The chicken and kimchi bao was da bomb. This duck with yoghurt and sauce, made on the barbeque with duck bones and orange, was delicious, and well-lit through the factory windows.

A quick stop at surplus food factory De Verspillings Fabriek, (they were busy making soup from MacDonald’s surplus tomato slices – the end bits that you never see in the hamburgers) and then, on to the Glass Farm in Schijndel.

Created by architect Winy Maas (the same chap who designed the fabulous mirrored Depot building in Rotterdam) for the empty square at the centre of his hometown, this glass building is covered in photographic images giving it the appearance of a semi-transparent traditional Dutch farmhouse. It felt a little bit ‘theme park’ to me, and I think that’s down to the scale, it’s oversized, being 60% larger than the original buildings on which it was modelled.

I met a most attractive (in my eyes) cat, but he hissed at me. So sad. I think this is the first time in my life that my cat whispering skills have failed to serve me. Must be a language difference. Later on, I met a man who was feeding him. He told me he feeds several strays, but this is the only one who calls at his door daily. Beautiful.

In the evening we dined at Wollerich in Sint-Oedenrode. A very peaceful restaurant, with one Michelin star, simple décor and delicious food presented on exquisite plates. At one point, my lovely Italian colleague Germana, in between singing opera for us, whipped out the Wheel of Fortune from her tarot cards and told me, ‘You are a ten. Small steps forward, no stopping!’

I stopped for a while, for another good night’s sleep at Teugel Resort. It’s really unusual to spend two nights in the same place when on a press trip, but this was a really welcome treat for me.

We drove into Den Bosch, Nothing Compares 2U played out on the radio as we slowly passed by convoys of farmers driving their tractors into town to protest against the government. We ate Bosch Bol for breakfast at Bolwerk, fresh from the famous Jan de Groot bakery, and then headed over to our final factory site, Tramkade.

Anne Reijnders, the food activist behind De Lekkere Man, gave us a tour of the Tramkade industrial heritage site. Previously a chicken feed factory, cookie factory, cigar factory all on one site, the area has been given over to developing social inclusion and a circular economy.

Lekker is one of the first words I learnt in Dutch,  it kind of means tasty, but also good and yummy, and is used all the time, not just for food. So, Anne’s ‘Lekker Man’ is a play on words and a bit of fun, but with a very serious undercurrent. She wants to put male meat on the table.

In the food production industry where many female animals are reared for their eggs or milk, the male animal is often born, sexed and then killed. As different breeds are grown for different reasons, and for example, the breed of chicken you have for eggs is different to the breed you have for meat (they grow at different rates and yield different results) the males, in mass industry, have previously been seen as a by-product and destroyed. If we are going raise animals to eat meat, Anne wants us to eat all of it.

Aside from the fascinating tour (the chicken feed factory is full of music producers, artists and designers, the cookie factory is now a cultural space, and the cigar factory a cinema and theatre) Anne also gave us man goat sausage in bread covering.

However much I am behind her ethos, man goat sausage is not my scene. (Anyone remember when I tried goats milk kefir and was poisoned by the taste of 1000 goats? Ah, Jesus!)

Koning Willem I College gave us their Dutch Cuisine ‘Impact Lunch’ (which included no goat) designed by the students who dutifully served us with shaking hands and charming smiles.

We made a quick phone call to an angel at Den Bosch Cathedral (It’s a thing, an €0.80 per minute thing) and then headed back to the station – trains to Schiphol, flights home for everyone. The end, again.

Halfway home on the plane the woman next to me whipped out a full McDonald’s burger banquet from her back pack. ‘I love cold fries!’she exclaimed as she tucked in vigorously. Could have slipped her my leftover breaded man goat too!

With the greatest thanks to Visit Brabant and Visit Holland for making this trip possible. As always, my opinions are my own (and my ability to Doctor Dolittle all the animals, clearly something that needs some work!)

HOLLAND: Worlds First Floating Farm, Rotterdam

I’ve been wanting to visit the floating farm since I heard that it was being built, I’ve been patient. I’m interested in food production, in processing and processes, in environmental innovation, and I like cows.

I was welcomed by Minke van Wingerden, who handed me a small plastic bottle of cold velvety milk, fresh from the previous day – pasturised, homogonised and bottled on site. (I had been expecting unhomogenised milk with the cream on top, but apparently this is not in demand in the area).

The floating farm opened in the summer of 2019 in the busy port of Rotterdam and now houses 35 red and white Maas-Rhine-Ijssel cows. It’s a compact and fascinating production plant which I am yet to fully understand, or maybe just yet to embrace.


The cows live, work (I class milk production as their job, even if it is forced employment), eat and sleep on the platform as it moves up and down on the water by up to two metres, tethered by the piles it’s centered on.

They are fed with hay, laced with leftovers from beer production and other tasty waste. Food troughs around the outside of their enclosure allow visitors to get up close and personal with the cows – whether they like it or not!

A robot milking machine lures the milk laden ladies with cookies, the machine reads the tag on their ears to determine if they need milking yet or they are just abusing the snacking station. The milk is then sent straight downstairs for processing and bottling.

Unlike on grass, the cows waste doesn’t have the space or other environmental factors to enable the formation of dried cow pats or the natural filtration through the ground. Instead, on the platform, a robot scoots round and scoops up the poop. The poop goes into a poop chute. A poop processor separates solids from fluids, and the liquid is piped off into large tanks to be collected for disposal elsewhere, whilst the dry matter is repurposed as bedding materials for the cows to sleep on. There’s no mud on the platform, everything brown you see there is excrement – cows make a lot of poop!

Across the bridge from the milk production pontoon is a small paddock for the cows to exercise and graze in. In the few months they’ve been there they’ve not yet had the chance to leave the platform, but when they do, now they have their sea legs, I wonder if the cows will get motion sickness.

From the platform, looking across the water, on the land, you (and they) can see the calves that have been removed from them. Three girls, two boys, destined for milk and meat. Skittish little things, big eyes, soft coats, very cute.

The concept of the floating farm is to bring food to the city, save food miles, and save space. I can see the benefits for the humans, but I’m not sure what the cows get from it.

Minke told me that they developed this farm because of concerns about rising water levels, the changing environment, transport and space, and because they want people to be able to come and see how hard the farmer works.

They call it Transfarmation.


I have so many questions, and I think the floating farm team do too. We should always ask questions – that’s where true innovation comes from. This floating dairy farm is the first in the world, a prototype, something to be learned from, a work in progress to be developed, and improved.

What happens to the land the cows would have normally grazed? Animals grazing land is a big part of land management, a big part of fertilization and regeneration, what will that space be used for instead?

Will the cows be as happy on a floating farm as they would be in fields? Does this affect their milk production, or quality of produce? Does it affect their longevity of production? More importantly, does it affect their quality of life?

What’s the difference in ‘food miles’ between bringing milk from a rural farm to a city shop for sale, and having one city spot where everyone goes specifically to buy and collect milk?

Will that paddock be big enough for 35 cows and their 140 hooves, stomping, grazing, pooping? The slurry robot is struggling to keep up with the job on the platform. Where does all that waste go when the lorries come to collect the full tanks of fluids?

Where do the tiny plastic milk bottles come from? Where do they go? Could they be replaced with glass?

What about the cost of the materials (financially and environmentally) of creating platforms for cows? For the building and maintaining, for the shipping of materials, for the production of the solar panels that run the machines, for the robots that have replaced the work of men – milking, feeding, muck shoveling.

Have we just got really lazy and selfish?

Ultimately, if we don’t have space to meet our demand, perhaps we should stop demanding so much?

I don’t know the answers, and I certainly don’t mean to sound righteous – I drink milk, I eat meat. I’m kind of asking, kind of thinking out loud, looking for conversation and thought, for explanations and further innovations.


I really hope the floating farm encourages people to learn about food production, to think about their own intake and waste, to think about animal welfare, and to cut down on consumption. I hope the extra knowledge about where food comes from helps us to reconsider what we buy, what we use, and what we might otherwise throw away.

As a visitor attraction as well as a working project, I hope the balance here swings away from that of a novelty cow petting pontoon and more towards a place of education and development. And really, I’d like to see the cows back in the fields where they belong.

These living creatures exist solely for our purposes and every day I wonder, are doing the right thing by them?


Floating Farm Gustoweg 10, 3029 AS, Rotterdam

With thanks to Floating Farm for inviting me to visit and ask questions. As always, my opinions are my own.

 

HOLLAND: Pow! Wow! Rotterdam – 2 Weeks in the City

I like the Netherlands. There’s a surprise for you! I’m always happy to have an excuse to spend time there, and after a brief trip to Rotterdam I was keen to find a reason to go back.

The opportunity to curate an exhibition for Europe’s largest street art festival Pow! Wow! Rotterdam and take the work of 70 international photographers to the heart of the city, filling a disused building wall to wall with newspaper prints – now, that’s a reason!

So, in early September I spent the best part of two weeks in Rotterdam, living out of The James hotel, each night – gazing from the 15th  floor window with my supermarket salad propped on the green stone windowsill, and by day – installing the exhibition, riding the metro up and down and across town, attempting to speak Dutch (so badly, but it brought a lot of joy!) and finally opening STREET / FORM to the public on 09 September.

I loved being in Rotterdam. It’s safe, it’s diverse, it’s interesting, and there’s an Albert Heijn supermarket around pretty much every corner! Praise to Albert Heijn for my daily dinner salads and for enabling me to have my first ever Green Tea Kit Kat. Thank you. Fulfilled.

I also ate a small pink cake and my mouth swelled up. Imagine a giant crying over a French Fancy – that’s me.


In the midst of this excitement I spent a couple of rainy days in Amsterdam, and a peaceful night at Nova Hotel. I’ve stayed here before, and although it’s bang in the middle of all the action, I still find it a bit of a haven. Outside the window of my ground-floor room, glazed walls formed a personal Japanese garden where the rain fell and pattered gently on the greenery. A bit like one of those mindfulness apps, but real, and with curtains.

I gave portfolio reviews at the Photo020  event in Amsterdam, in the most lovely location by the water, with good light, a good dinner and welcoming people (my reviews sold out immediately!) Then I popped home for 48 hours, picked up lights, clothes, Jayne, and headed back on the Eurostar.

The exhibition was a massive success. I was always going to be pleased with it, whatever happened, but having other people reinforce how I felt was just really rewarding. So many people commented on the democratic use of newspaper (it’s a Shutter Hub thing now, right!) and most excitingly, a lot of them told us they felt we were doing something that was a bit pioneering. How often have you seen Street Photography included at a Street Art Festival? I might not have been looking hard enough, but all those other people who said it, they felt we were doing something new and pushing the boundaries further, and I liked their opinions very much! (Full exhibition and PV photos here, if you’re interested).

Pow! Wow! Rotterdam was awesome – for us as contributors it was brilliant,  but for the community, the artists, and the 10,000 visitors to the festival, it was equally as excellent and inspiring.

Shutter Hub’s STREET / FORM was printed by Newspaper Club (our best newspaper printing friends) and the launch event drinks were provided by London’s Dalston’s  – best ginger drink ever drunk – according to many Dutch guests (lekker gember!) We held a pre-preview for a bunch of excited kindergarten kids, gave free portfolio reviews to photographers, collaborated on a Street Photography competition with team Pow! Wow! and I gave an exhibition talk to 30 Dutch instagrammers (who showed their appreciation of my language skill through laughter, thank you).

One evening it was raining really heavily as I left the exhibition. An old chap from across the road came rushing over and lent me an umbrella. So kind. Somehow I managed to destroy it on the way back to the hotel. But then, whilst listening to Killswtich Engage in my hotel room (with my Albert Heijn salad and my 15th floor view) I managed to repair it with a travel sewing kit and some electrical tape. Proud.

Another evening, when I was scurrying back to the metro in the low light, two men approached me in the quiet street. They started speaking to me in Dutch, but I didn’t understand, then one of them pointed at my bag and said, ‘Hey, you’re from Shutter Hub. I really want to see that exhibition!’

I love you Rotterdam!


Other moments of Rotterdam joy included:

Lunch at Op het Dak with Iris and Julia. Up amongst the city’s rooftops, eating food from the roof garden whilst hot sun streamed through the windows and small dogs competed for attention (toy poodle vs chihuahua. It was a draw).

Breakfast at Lilith. Eggs Benedict with vegan bacon. Facon. It was like a soggy Frazzle and I’m okay with that.

A good walk around the Katendracht area – docklands and old warehouses, magnificent buildings, and the Fenix Food Factory where the ‘meat’ Bitterballen turned out to be ‘beet’ and very delicious!

Dinner at Bazar with my friend Dagmar.

The Street Dreams exhibition – how Hip Hop took over fashion, with a brilliant film by Victor D. Ponten, and an enlightenment in how designer names were re-appropriated into street style by people who’d previously been excluded from accessing those brands.

Outside the Kunsthal, Solitaire by Joana Vasconcelos, gold rims and whisky glasses.

A man spoke to me in Dutch, and someone translated it for me – ‘If I’d have known she was here all week I’d have brought her some fish!’ 

I made a visit to the world’s first floating farm. I wasn’t convinced. I’m still processing my thoughts. I like cows.

I stopped in at Weelde and had a drink at De Zure Bom, enjoyed their open space and nice flowers.

I saw a black pigeon with a white boufont hairstyle. Like, proper fluffed up and glorious.

I walked 49.7 miles in 7 days.

And I finally found some neon socks.

Street wandering, shop window peering, photo taking, comb finding (yes, tiny comb #combtheory), ginger tea drinking, apple pie eating, Albert Heijn shopping,  hotel sleeping, exhibition speaking, break dance battle watching – in awe.

Thank you Rotterdam!

On the train home I held a random baby whilst his mum took his brother to the bathroom. It was really nice to be trusted (I look approachable) but he gave me a rash on my hands!

With the greatest thanks to Rotterdam Partners and Rotterdam Make It Happen for making this trip possible, and to Pow! Wow! Rotterdam for letting us hang out at their amazing festival. Thank you Nova Hotel and The James for your hospitality and comfortable beds.  As always, my opinions are my own (and my hotel room supermarket salad diet DVD will be out soon!)

BELGIUM: All the Food and a Long Weekend in Ghent

We left a big storm behind us in the UK, power cuts and trees down, (including one of our own, the witches tree, which fell graciously and away from the cars) and took the DFDS ferry from Dover to Dunkirk, making use of the premium lounge service and free pastry joy.

It didn’t feel like it took long, driving from home to Belgium in just a few hours, arriving in the afternoon in Ghent, and checking in at the neoclassical Hotel de Flandre. We were given directions to an annexe building across the street and down the road.

Through an alley, past some long grasses that whispered in the breeze, around the corner and into a lift. Up, and out, past the ironing board, down a corridor, over the door mat and into a tall modern room. Dark grey concrete beamed roof, like a lid on a carton of two humans. Doors banged shut like gun shots, echoed down concrete corridors. No soft edges.

The bathroom was kind of open-plan, with a sliding door, but an open ceiling, it’s walls falling short of the extra metres needed to reach the roof. Good light, beautiful light, and interesting views of the neighbouring apartments. I watched a man tie up a piece of meat and place it on his window ledge.

We took an evening walk, via Frites Atelier (Adam’s overly curious interest in potato products meant it was a must) and ate cherry ice cream as the light fell and the sky turned pink.

In the morning we went on a ‘nibbling tour’. We met our guide, Katelijn De Naeyer, outside the beautifully presented Oude Vismarkt (old fish market).

Bypassing the closed shop of Jean Daskalides, a renowned chocolatier, film maker and gynaecologist, (yes, that’s right) we headed past the castle to meet Hilde Devolder, Chocolatier.

I placed a small chocolate in my mouth. Green tea and cherry blossom. ‘Just let it melt on your tongue’ she said. It tasted like a rose garden and lingered like perfume. We took a tiny bag of tastes away with us for later – ginger, lavender, bier, salted caramel.

On to the confectioners of Temmermar for the famous Cuberdons, or Gentse Neuzen (noses). These ones were not in the traditional cone shape, but formed as little venetian masks. Sweet firm raspberry sugar gum, with gloopy fruit syrup inside. So sweet.

I ate three noses in one day, and I swear I’ll never do that again.

Another stop on the tour was Groot Vleishuis (big meat house) where they only sell produce from the East Flanders area. We tasted young cheese from Hinkelspel (which means hopscotch) Ganda ham (Ganda is the old name for Ghent – or Gent, as it should be) and Advocat in a jar, that you could eat with a spoon, and I did – a tiny silver spoon.

Over the square to the famous Tierenteyn Verlent  mustard shop. A crescent moon sits over the door of the timelessly serene shop . Beautiful stoneware jars line the walls and barrels of mustard sit ready for their contents to be ladled out (you can take your jar back for a refill too).

We wandered the streets with Katelijn, for the two hours of the tour, and then another hour or so as she told us stories of the city. Finally we let her go, up near the three churches (like some kind of middle-age church Manhattan), and carried on our explorations.

Our City Cards included a free boat trip, so we took it. Squished in with strangers, we motored up and down the river. A little girl kicked Adam throughout the trip, and a lady fell and banged her head. I gave her a Savlon wipe for the bleeding bits.

After the excitement we ate €2 chips from an interesting man in a potato filled window. He told us that Simon Calder (renowned travel writer and broadcaster)  had been there and filmed him (and his frites) twice. Adam paid extra for Samurai sauce.

More walking, a bit of resting, and then a wander across town to Cochon de Luxe for one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Eight courses of pure delight – the whole dynamic of exceptional flavours and textures, topped with good humour, was a real joy to experience. Lekker!

 At the end of the meal, tea (or coffee) with petit fours, pretty pink seabuckthorn roses  with vanilla gel, and bullet shaped Russian Roulette chocolates. I could hear the excitement and expectation on the table behind us as they wondered if they’d find the 1 in 100 that contained tabasco!

Cochon de Luxe is the triumph of husband and wife team Tom and Alison, they work, live, and laugh together here. You’ll find my full story on this wonderful dining experience in this Foodie Finds feature over on Surf4.

It was my birthday and they gave me a book on culinary Ghent and a sad little bag of candy (their words, not mine!)

I slept well, dreamt of gold faced piglets and bathrooms with sound proof walls.

On Sunday morning we visited the craft market on Grooten markt (where I stroked a dog with the softest ears, like white velvet clouds) then hung out in Graffiti Street with the Instagrammers and their over the shoulder pout poses, before heading over to Groot Vleeshuis for lunch. I had a Ganda Croquette and Adam had a meatball in in creamy tomato sauce with vegetables. Basically, it was a hot scotch egg and it was excellent.

A mix of desserts, including chocolate icecream, jellies, Geraaedbergse matterntaart (a pie with curds and almond paste) and Aalsterse vlaai, which was like a magical cross between a spiced bread pudding and an Indian barfi sweet. It was amazing. The addition of Guylian chocolates seemed an odd choice but apparently Guylian was the product of Guy and Liliane, husband and wife, before it became a famous brand. Last time I received chocolate seashells was after I helped an old man with his bowels. (If you need that story explaining!)

After lunch we went to the Design Museum, again using our City Cards. The museum is in a fabulous building, a blend of Rococo grandeur and modernist delight.

There was an exhibition about how we see/use animals. Creatures made to Measure.  It was quite incredible, and to be honest, I didn’t realise how much it’d had an impact on me at the time, but I’ve thought about it a lot since.

We listened to a record made from waste blood playing the heartbeat of a cow. It was loud and immersive, shocking and beautiful at the same time.

I learnt how in the 1930s a zoologist injected human female urine into an albino African Clawed Frog and found that if the frog produced eggs within twelve hours or so this was an indicator that the human was pregnant. And that was the beginning of the development of the pill.

Watch this ‘Meet the curator’ video to find out more, it’s worth it.

When people say art and science are two different things they’re missing the point. Everything is about investigation and experimentation.

In the morning we headed to Calais for the ferry. Priority boarding meant we were pretty much first on, so we picked the best spot to enjoy the crossing – front window, squishy sofa.

I know DFDS have put a lot of investment into their food offer (they have a new campaign called Field to Ferry) but I wasn’t expecting lentils, pomegranate seeds and edible flowers! There’s made to order pizza, pasta and salad, and also cake… I can recommend the lemon and poppyseed cake 100%.

Our weekend ended with a tour of the bridge. We enjoyed the views over Dover, the storm clouds rolling, lightening striking down. Then we watched the captain reverse park the boat and went home. 👌

DFDS operates services from Dover to Dunkirk and Dover to Calais, offering up to 54 daily sailings, with prices from £49 each way. All Dover-France ships feature a Premium Lounge, which can be booked for an additional £12 per person each way. Priority boarding is also available from £10 per car each way.

Ghent City Card €30 gets you 48 hours free access to all the sights, monuments and museums in Ghent, public transport and a boat trip.

More information on Ghent:  Visit.Gent.be

With the greatest thanks to DFDS and Visit Flanders for making this trip possible, and to Visit Gent for hosting us in their charming city. As always, my opinions are my own (and my ability to eat 3 weeks’ worth of food in the space of 3 days, probably something I should keep to myself!)

Holland: Dutch Castles and Country Houses


Up early, past the Banksy and onto the ferry at Dover before 8am to eat Eggs Benedict off linen-imitating paper placemats in the tranquillity and comfort of the DFDS Premium Lounge. A good way to start the day.

We drove through France and Belgium to the Netherlands, stopping at the motorway services for snacks and 70¢ loo stops (thank you Polly for paying for my pees!) At one place there was a cockerel chilling in the picnic area, so I took a few minutes to share a stroopwafel with him.

When I was invited on a mini tour of Dutch Castles and Country Houses I squealed with joy. You’ll never hear me turn down a nose around someone else’s house.

There was one time where I thought I was being lured into a house by a sturdy old man, but his William Morris wallpaper and spiral staircase won over my fears of being murdered, and it was only when I entered the living room and saw the naked bodies on the tele that I feared I’d been sucked into a pensioners porn den. All was well, he had an amazing collection of art books and it turned out to be an advert for Dove.

Slot Loevestein. First stop. A Medieval castle dating back to 1361, which in the 16th Century, during the Eighty Years’ War, became a State Prison. One of the prisoners was a chap called Hugo Grotius (known to be a founding father of international law) who was given a life sentence (and also allowed to take his wife, children and maid to prison with him). He escaped in a book chest and became the Queen of Sweden’s ambassador to France.

Later additions to the castle in the 1800s included bomb-proof bunkers and military housing. Loevestein’s role as an army stronghold finally came to an end after World War II in 1951.

These days you can explore the castle at ease, stay the night in the Officers house, or rent out a little soldiers’ cottage, have lunch in the Taverne, get a boat to a local restaurant in the evening, see a child’s skeleton in the museum, visit the shop and even get married. All areas covered.


We sat outside in the garrisons’ street, breeze rustling in the trees, sun streaking through the leaves. Cakes with strawberries, and chocolates, and tea in nice packets.

Someone asked, ‘Which are the most popular castles?’ and I couldn’t help but answer, ‘Bouncy’.

Landgoed Hotel Groot Warnsborn for the night, after a wander in the grounds and a four-course dinner. A beautiful ‘18th Century’ mansion set in magical gardens, within an ancient forest. In 1932, after full renovation, the house was opened as a hotel. Anne Frank stayed at Groot Warnsborn in September 1941; they think that was her last holiday.

Throughout World War II the hotel was a recreation resort for German soldiers, but during a party the whole house was burnt to the ground. The orangery, icehouse, and terraced gardens remained, but the house we now see was built in 1952.


Acres and acres of towering trees. Ferns and foxgloves, and beautiful scented roses. Somewhere there were burial mounds and crayfish in freshwater, but it was time for dinner.

Drinks on the terrace, then into the private dining room. The sunlight cast shadows from candelabras. Asparagus amuse bouche. Piglet with sweet onion, citrusy balsamic, crisp brown rice. Venison sausage and mashed potatoes. Beef with white asparagus and green bean puree. Hibiscus, rhubarb, matcha pudding.


Then bedtime, in my very wooden bed. A central wall in the room acted as a divider between the bedroom and the open bathroom. I only learnt that the table moved up and down the bed when I leant on it and it slid away from me. Split-second poltergeist moment there. After all the excitement I slept like a log (must have been all that wood!)


Huis Middachten was a delight to see. A fully working family estate, owned by the 25th Lord of Middachten, Count zu Ortenburg. Above the entrance the coat of arms reads ‘Malo Mori Quam Foedari’ (‘rather death than disgrace’).


Inside, a pair of beautiful wooden staircases swept upwards, luring us to look up at the Italian ceiling and take in its glorious form – like an elaborate blancmange mould. Rooms of traditional furniture, china, panelling and family portraits. Middachten happens to house the largest portrait collection in the Netherlands.

The gardens are very lovely, three centuries worth of design and care, and a dog cemetery. The Cedar of Lebanon, Weeping Chestnut, and male and female Ginkgo Biloba trees are a real treat to see. More roses – beautiful roses (54 varieties), rhododendrons, and so many lily pads on the moat, where frogs chirruped away at maximum volume. (Apparently the head gardener brought the frogs from home as they’d been bothering her husband).

We ate sponge cake with hot tea in the orangery. I got told off by the Count and his dog tried to put its football in my bag. A morning well spent.

Landgoed Hotel Rhederoord for lunch. I felt immediately at home, the hotel was luxuriously serene and welcoming. In the dining room the rain pelted the windows, blurring the view of the trees. We gathered round the long table and ate the best pork belly I’ve ever had, followed by veal and beef with broccoli puree. All absolutely delicious.

We went to one of the balconies and looked across the garden. Beautiful, even in the horizontal rain. Set in 15 acres of park and woodlands, the estate has its own farm and provides fresh vegetables through a Food Bank for 1500 families.

Not only does Rhederoord have an almost totally organic kitchen, but they also produce their own range of products – Water 159, bottled from their own spring (159m below ground), a blonde beer Het Geheim (The Secret) made using their spring water and delicate, smooth and delicious honey.

I definitely intend to go back. Come with me?

Kasteel de Haar is branded as Hollands’ one and only jet-set castle, aside from being the largest castle in the Netherlands, it’s selling point is that Brigitte Bardot, Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent used to party here.

As we walked towards the ‘Medieval’ castle I couldn’t believe how immaculate it was, how polished and new it looked, like it was from a film-set, almost Disney. Turns out it was built in 1892. Yes, I could be a detective.

Baron Etienne van Zuylen van Nijevelt inherited the ruins of De Haar and when he married Hélène de Rothschild they decided to rebuild the castle. It is not known exactly what the original castle looked like (not like this!) but they brought in architect Pierre Cuypers (Rijksmuseum and Central Station Amsterdam) who went at it with elaborate Neogothic aplomb. The family threw in all mod cons (central heating, hot water, and electricity) and the castle became a place to entertain and party, used only one month each year.


240 rooms, huge fake fireplaces, 16th Century tapestries, ornate brass chandeliers, tiles and patterns and wood panelling. And an interesting bathroom with what looks like a cigarette burn on the bathroom scales (I blame Brigitte).

It’s a fascinating display of wealth and workmanship, but give me frayed edges and faded grandeur any day. Or maybe – just give me the garden.


Kasteel Kerckebosch for dinner and sleeping. Both a success.

Owner Ingmar Sloothaak dubbed it the ‘Culinary Castle’ and I like that. Best kind of castle (after ‘bouncy’, of course). Kerckebosch is a lovely building, not overstated, not oversized, just lovely and made up of a mixture of period and reclaimed materials from other buildings including churches, abbeys and castles.


The original owner, Egbert Lintelo de Greer, finished building in 1911, then in 1940 the castle became a hotel. Over time it became less cared for, and in 2015 the main facilities were refurbished and Kerckebosch was reopened, much to everyone’s delight.

Dinner in the orangery – a new addition to the building, and perfectly, simply, in-keeping. The menu was eclectic, something for everyone – lobster rolls, Gado Gado, Rendang, salmon poppadums’, and short rib beef with whiskey cola sorbet. Tasty.


A wonderful evening and a peaceful night’s sleep. I sleep best in castles after big dinners.

In the morning I was ready for croissants and more castles, but it was time to go home already. 48 hours of castles and country houses – not an endurance contest, but, if it was, I think I could be quite successfully placed in the rankings.

Back on the ferry, back to the peace and pastries of the DFDS Premium Lounge. We went up to the bridge, met the captain, watched the waves through the glass floor, asked questions about engines and fuel tank capacity. We looked at the refurbished public areas, the cakes and the healthy lunches, and mostly the carpets.

Always looking for carpets, cats, or combs, sometimes castles, cars and stray croissants.

DFDS operates services from Dover to Dunkirk and Dover to Calais, offering up to 54 daily sailings, with prices from £49 each way. All Dover-France ships feature a Premium Lounge, which can be booked for an additional £12 per person each way. Priority boarding is also available from £10 per car each way.

Slot Loevestein Loevestein 1, Poederoijen 5307 TG Gelderland

Landgoed Hotel Groot Warnsborn Bakenbergseweg 277, 6816 VP Arnhem

Landgoed Huis Middachten Middachten 3, 6994 JC De Steeg, Gelderland

Landgoed Hotel Rhederoord Parkweg 19, 6994 CM De Steeg

Kasteel de Haar Kasteellaan 1, 3455 RR Haarzuilens

Kasteel Kerckebosch Arnhemse Bovenweg 31, 3708 AA Zeist

More information on Dutch castles and country houses: www.holland.com/castles

With the greatest thanks to DFDS anVisit Holland for making this trip possible, and with whom I was a guest. As always, my opinions are my own (and my ability to lure other peoples dogs, something I might rely on for a future career).