Travel Stories

THE NETHERLANDS: A Weekend by the Water in Flevoland

Wherever you are in Flevoland you’re at least a couple of metres under sea level. Around 100 years ago the Dutch began draining and reclaiming this land from the Zuiderzee and in 1986 Flevoland was officially founded, making it the newest province of The Netherlands.

I joined the team from Amsterdam&Partners for a weekend by the water, exploring an area of The Netherlands that’s completely new to me (and relatively new to the Dutch, too!)

At Batavialand in Lelystad (the capital of Flevoland) you’ll find a 60 metre long tapestry that shows the complete timeline of the land (and sea); from the woolly mammoths of the ice age all the way up to the making of the Marker Wadden islands. Inspired by the Bayeux tapestry, and stitched by a group of 25 women over a period of 14 years, it’s fascinating and fun – my favourite bit was the depiction of stock car racing.

Batavialand is a traditional 17th Century shipyard with everything you’d expect to see there, including a working forge and wood workshop. The ‘Lost Ships’ exhibition shows the story of hundreds of sunken ships, while outside on the water there’s a reconstruction of the Batavia that you can board and explore.

If you’re not into boats, maybe you’d prefer to pop next door to the Batavia Stad Fashion Outlet, and then to De Cantine for a lunch of traditional Dutch kroketten.

Lelystad is a relatively young and fast developing city, but nearby the islands of Marker Wadden are just 6 years old, and already established. This new nature reserve, in what was a stagnated lake, is breathing life back into the area with the creation of manmade islands and marshes, increasing the wildlife population drastically and providing breeding, resting, and feeding grounds for dozens of bird species.

While visiting the one island that’s accessible by human visitors, you might see a white-tailed eagle from the lookout tower, and in the underwater observation space you can stand eye level with the water top and get a ducks-eye-view of the lake, whilst watching tiny silver fish flit by below.

You’ll need a boat to get to Marker Wadden, you could take a ferry, but we opted for the more exhilarating RIB Experience, bounding over the waves at 44 knots (50mph) with the wind in our hair and big grins on our faces.

As we came back into Lelystad harbour we saw Anthony Gormley’s sculpture, Exposure, a 26 metre high pylon-like steel giant that is part of the Land Art collection in Flevoland. (Note to self – go back and do the Land Art tour).

We ate dinner by the beach at restaurant Zuyder, looking across the water from Almere to Amsterdam, which is so close (less than 30 minutes on the train) but seems so far away when you’ve just eaten half a pineapple and you’re stood on a light sandy beach, listening to a nearby music festival and watching the sunset over the water.

Where archaeologists might show us the history of a place by digging down and unearthing the layers of time, Almere’s history, as a 45 year old city built on the seabed, is readily visible, and to me – totally fascinating.

The new city centre, built beside the Weerwater lake, and designed in the 1990s by Rem Koolhaus (cool name) is built in layers – what looks like underground parking is actually the ground layer, the shops are built on the layer above and on top of the shops, houses and gardens with footbridges between them.

Weerwater translates as ‘water again’ – the lake was dug from land that had previously been reclaimed from the sea, and the sand from within it was used as building materials for the new city centre. Basically a quarry, but with aspirations.

There are so many modern buildings in Almere, The Wave and the Emerald are amongst the favourites of architectural admirers, but my love is for the entrance building of the Leonardo Hotel, designed by William Alsop. Nestled under the stilts of the main building, poking out from below, there’s a bulbous beauty that looks like a cut potato, and that’s just my kind of thing!

Lucky I was then, to be staying above this magnificent potato in the Leonardo Hotel for 3 nights, and eating my breakfast inside it each morning. 

We hired an electric boat and peacefully travelled from the lake onto the canals before heading to Strand 22 for lunch on the Esplanade. Panama by Van Halen played as I ate my kroketten. It was a good day.

Later I wandered through the old neighbourhoods (1980s!) alongside the canal, I watched cygnets slurping on duck weed, walked through the Koningin Beatrixpark, passed the construction site of skatepark, met a 3 legged cat, and finally made it to Albert Heijn, my favourite Dutch supermarket, for stroopwaffels and Chocomel.

I took the ferry across the lake to visit the international horticultural exhibition Floriade. It only happens every ten years, and this time Almere is its host, with the theme Growing Green Cities.

The exhibition is separated into different areas with Urban and Eco Districts and a Green Island. The overarching idea is to showcase creative, innovative, and sustainable solutions for future living.

The most interesting thing about Floriade, for me, is what will happen after it closes in October. There wasn’t much here before, but this is now the groundwork for a housing area. The Flores residence, a 13 floor tower which houses businesses during the exhibition, will be remodelled into 80 apartments, and much of the newly built infrastructure of the exhibition will be incorporated into a green living scheme. I like that.

I rode the cable car on my own, swinging around in the wind, over the A6 motorway, swaying side to side, 35 metres above the Floriade – a birds-eye-view of the exhibition. That’s one thing that won’t be staying when the exhibition closes, and maybe that’s not so bad!

The Netherlands has a good rail system and I found the easiest option was to travel by train. I travelled from London directly to Amsterdam by Eurostar, and then on to Flevoland. 

I stayed at the Leonardo Hotel in Almere, and I recommend you do too! I slept peacefully in a comfortable room, (Did I tell you there was an air hockey table in my room? There was an air hockey table in my room!) it’s in a really central location not far from the station, checkout isn’t until midday, and, key factor – you get to eat breakfast inside a potato.

Do you want to plan your own trip to Flevoland? Check out the iAmsterdam guide to day trips in New Land (I’ll come with you!)

I was a guest of Amsterdam&Partners and Visit Flevoland along with a small group of journalists and influencers. As always, my opinions are my own (and my ability to consume kroketten, probably world class).

If you’d like to keep up with what I’m up to work-wise (talks, events, exhibitions, that kind of stuff), you can find my Agenda on my website. And, if you’d like occasional updates about all sorts of other nice things, in your inbox, you can join my mailing list here.