Holland’s Hidden Treasure: Hoge Veluwe National Park

It's so quiet at De Hoge National Park that the sound of your bike is all you hear.
It's so quiet at De Hoge National Park that the sound of your bike is all you hear.

I’m convinced the Dutch are brought into this world, not in the conventional way—kicking and screaming like the rest of us—but pedaling busily into life on toddler-sized bicycles, bells ringing, with chubby little legs and feet knowing instinctively just what to do. The passion for two-wheeled activities is legendary in and around the vibrant streets of Amsterdam, even if the chaos often spells danger for unwitting pedestrians.

Where better to let your feet find the pedals again than De Hoge Veluwe National Park, a sprawling 13,590 acres (5,500 hectares) of wilderness, coupled with an impressive 26 miles (42 km) of bike paths that branch out like arteries across the park’s varied and alluring landscapes. Tucked deep inside the heart of it all is the prestigious Kröller-Müller Museum, home to one of the largest collections of Vincent Van Gogh works outside of Amsterdam.

An hour’s train ride east of the capital, Amsterdam, lies the city of Arnhem, and here one of the several entrances the park provides for its many perennial visitors. The ownership of the entire area is now in the hands of the Netherlands government, but was originally owned and occupied by the Kröller-Müller family in the early 1900s. Their joint vision was one of bringing together culture and nature for the common good.

The Van Gogh museum, finished in 1938, became the park’s showcase for the impressive art collection of Helene Kröller-Müller. After acquiring a substantial collection, it was kindly given to the state, and the museum was established.

It features a magnificent selection of Van Gogh’s works. The museum also houses impressive works by George Seurat, Pablo Picasso, Fernand Leger, Piet Mondriaan and many other leading artists. The temptation is to linger in the halls, taking in the ambience of decades of artistic toil, is strong, but the park at large, complete with trails that appear to lead off into the never-never, is simply far too enticing to delay a minute longer.

The forest and drift-sand that make up the landscape of the Hoge Veluwe can best be explored from the saddles of white bikes (witfiets)—the kind that you see at every corner in Amsterdam. They can be rented at three locations within the park. Prepare to get lost between the trees.Riding steadily towards the middle, I’m looking out for the signs pointing to the Museum and the 61 acres (25 hectares) of surrounding sculpture gardens—the largest such garden in Europe. A magnificent collection of sculptures is displayed in an unusual setting, surrounded by nature.

Various artists from the end of the 19th century to today are presented: Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Richard Serra, Mario Merz, Jean Dubuffet and Claes Oldenburg.

Occasionally the staff here have been known to move sculptures around, placing them in odd, unimaginable areas of the park to surprise riders along the trail.

The terrain, for the most part, is flat, as you might expect in the Netherlands, but now and then narrow paths, broken randomly by the groaning roots of surrounding trees, rise up and require us to stand and pedal just that little bit harder. Breaking clear of the woods every so often, the cycling trails, overlooked by verdant treetops peppered by the wind, give way to wide open spaces and lengthy views void of a single soul.

Largely man-made, the park takes on varied guises: dense woodlands of pines and Europe’s unique drift-sand or “wandering dunes.” In 2001, staff undertook the job of resurrecting the sandy landscape after falling winds, vegetation and self-seeding pines threatened to cover it once and for all. Over 123 acres (50 hectares) of pine were cut down, exposing the underlying sand once again. Word is, the dunes are on the move once more, and the staff couldn’t be happier! The evidence is all around us as we ride: warped and wind-beaten pines grow almost horizontally, branches reaching out like tentacles into the morning air.

St. Hubertus Hunting Lodge—the former home of the Kröller-Müller’s— stands proudly at the northern end of the park near the entrance at Hoenderloo. Taking its name from the patron saint of hunters, guided tours of the lodge are free and if requested, available for special events. Strictly no guns, though—leave the Smith and Wesson’s at home.

Not far from St. Hubertus, and near the Hoenderloo entrance, camping is available. Modestly priced sites provide those that prefer to explore the park over several days, ample space to pitch a tent, or even bed down a caravan and stay a while longer.

For the more organized, the Hoge Veluwe offers day trips for groups including the Art and Nature combo that takes in the museum, sculpture gardens and some scenic riding on specially reserved blue bicycles—perhaps the blue ones never caught on in fancy Amsterdam and were given early retirement in the woods.

A keen eye might also spot wildlife in different parts of the park: Red deer, wild boar and moufflon (short-fleeced wild sheep) roam freely throughout and are often seen in the early morning or at dusk.

A day at the Hoge Veluwe wouldn’t be complete without obtaining a cycling diploma— for those who have never put foot to pedal, that is. What is interesting to note is that it’s offered to “foreign” visitors, alluding to the fact that lessons, of course, would never be required for a local.

When it’s time to tether the steed to the rack and settle down with a Heineken beer after a long day in the saddle, it’s charming to think we could hop back on and take it all in again, riding straight back the way we came.

If You Go

De Hoge Veluwe National Park
Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions North America:

How to Get There

Take the A1 motorway from Amsterdam and follow the signs. Alternatively, shuttle services now operate between Amsterdam’s Van Gogh museum and the park for 10 Euro (US$ 12) return. Traveling time is approximately 90 minutes one way.

Where to Stay

Camping is available from April to November for 3.50 Euro (US$ 4.20) per person, plus park admission. Accommodation is also available in nearby Arnhem.