Unspoilt Dutch landscape just a stone’s throw from Amsterdam
When you say Amsterdam, most people do not immediately envision rustling reeds, farms and polder landscapes. The countryside surrounding Amsterdam is, however, in reality beautifully peaceful, green and unspoilt. All you have to do is follow the Amstel River southward out of the Amsterdam city centre and you will soon see a lovely and pristine landscape unfold before your eyes. Before you know it you will be cycling past grazing cattle, country estates and historic villages. And the added bonus is that the river’s edge is home to a number of great restaurants and cafés with sunny terraces.
The cities of Amsterdam and Amstelveen derive their names from the Amstel River, which stems from the old Dutch word Aeme-stelle meaning ‘watery landscape’. The Amstel River flows from Ouderkerk aan de Amstel via Amstelveen to Amsterdam where it ends at the Muntplein in the very heart of the city centre. The riverbanks and the area surrounding the river called Amstelland are perfect for cycling and walking. The gently flowing river itself is also naturally ideal for a relaxing boat trip.
The oldest settlement on the Amstel River is Ouderkerk aan de Amstel that dates back to the twelfth century. The ‘Amstelredam’ fishing village was not established until a later stage when a dam was constructed at the mouth of the river. That small village would eventually grow into the powerful trading port of Amsterdam.
Numerous country estates owned by wealthy residents of Amsterdam lined the banks of the Amstel River to the south of the city back in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. One grand country house after another was built during this period by merchants who had struck it rich during the Dutch Golden Age. These gracious residences provided a place for their family and friends to relax in utter tranquillity. A few of these lovely country estates, including Oostermeer and Wester Amstel, have been preserved.
The picturesque village of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel is situated just eight kilometres to the south of Amsterdam. It is famous for its distinctive diaconiehuisjes, small houses that the local parish built for the villagers. Ouderkerk aan de Amstel also features a number of beautiful churches. The historic Beth Haim Portuguese Jewish Cemetery has 27,000 graves and dates back to 1614, making it the oldest Jewish cemetery in the Netherlands.
De Amsteltuin vineyard gives the area an air of bon vivant. This large vineyard is open to visitors year-round and it also regularly organises wine tastings, exhibitions and workshops.
Ouderkerk aan de Amstel has lots of sunny terraces at the water’s edge where you can enjoy drinks and light fare al fresco after a walk or bicycle ride.
The Ronde Hoep polder is the largest undeveloped area of the Dutch urban conurbation and is located just outside of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel. The exceptional thing about this area is that only the edge of the polder has been built up and the rest has been reserved for agriculture and meadow birds. A road accessible to both cars and bicycles circles the
length of the 17-kilometre ring-dike. This ‘Ronde Hoep lap’ is extremely popular with walkers, joggers and cyclists. The famous Dutch painter Rembrandt was also a fan of this countryside and Ouderkerk aan de Amstel and the surrounding environs feature in a number of his paintings.
After Amsterdam, Amstelveen is the largest city located on the Amstel River. Contemporary art lovers should not miss a visit to the Cobra Museum located in the Amstelveen city centre that also boasts a first-class shopping centre.
Visit the 150-year-old Clara Maria farm for a taste of traditional Dutch nostalgia. This farm still produces delicious Gouda cheese and makes wooden shoes according to time-honoured traditional methods. You can also experience the historic process of making cheese and wooden shoes at the Rembrandthoeve farm situated on the Amstel just to the south of Amsterdam.
The village of Uithoorn is located just twenty kilometres to the south of Amsterdam. The village’s beautiful Thamerkerk church dates from 1834 and is located right on the water’s edge. You can also visit the Fort along the Drecht in Uithoorn. This impressive fort forms part of the Defence Line of Amsterdam and was completely restored in 2000.
A number of cycling and walking routes through Amstelland are available. You can naturally also take a boat trip or round trip boat tour on the Amstel River. All the ATCB’s tourist information offices (VVV) will be pleased to provide you with a selection of the most attractive scenic routes. There are also a number of ferry services across the Amstel River that operate especially for walkers and cyclists from April through September. You can also sail on the Amstel River with an organised boat trip or even with a rental boat.
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