Netherlands: De Vecht- Amsterdam’s answer to the Loire Valley

A bucolic river lined by 17th century mansions and ornate tea houses.

Why visit?

The two best ways to see the Netherlands are by boat or by bike. 

Both options are possible if you want to tour the Vechtstreek, the region centered around the Vecht river, a beautiful part of the Netherlands, rich in history, architecture, and water.

Central Amsterdam can show you what 17th century money bought in terms of urban real estate- but if you want to experience a rural version of this era, the Vecht is hard to beat.


Between Amsterdam and Utrecht, just 30 minutes from the Red Light district. Map.

THE VECHT IS an uneventful river, gently floating through the flat-as-a-pancake Dutch countryside. There are no waterfalls, no rapids, and no dramatic cliffs. Just a meandering river lazily floating between fields and towns.

But for centuries, the Vecht has been a playground for the well-to-do, and to some extent it still is. During the Dutch Golden Age, Amsterdam’s merchant princes built plush holiday homes here by the water. The river acted like an interstate highway, a fast mode of transport in relative comfort. This means it was possible to shuttle your family away from the city for the weekend, the 17th century equivalent of a quick city break in Business Class.

In many ways, the Vechtstreek is the Dutch equivalent of the Loire Valley, except for that it is far less known. 

Just like the French nobility built hunting lodges and chateaus around the river Loire to escape the smelly air of Paris, Dutch traders built stately mansions called ‘buitenplaatsen’, homes built largely for recreational purposes, and of course to impress the neighbours.
Where else can you swim in front of a castle? 
Few of these mansions were fortified, although several of them are labeled as a castle, including the picturesque Nijenrode castle, dating back to 1275, although it's been through a few rounds of exterior redecoration since.
Nijenrode Castle
A quintessential Dutch feature are the many tea cottages (Dutch: Theekoepel), and the Vecht area boasts a particularly large number of them. 

Although most foreigners would think of a rather flavourless beer brand as the Dutch national drink (we are looking at you, Heineken), the Dutch dominated the tea trade in the 17th century. (Globally, there are two words for tea, variants of ‘cha’ and variants of ‘tee’, and the Dutch are credited with spreading the latter, including to most of Europe)

Tea was obviously fancy and expensive, and if you wanted to show of your wealth, it was the tipple of choice. The Dutch super-rich started building dedicated tea cottages, small buildings, usually sited on the corner of the estate, so as to be clearly visible to all passers-by.

Tea cottages come in all shapes and forms....
Many of them were round(ish) (hence the Dutch word theekoepel, tea cupola) and they could be pretty lavish, built in grand neoclassical, or even Oriental or Russian style.

Tea cottages are typical Dutch, and the highest concentration of them is to be found here in the Vechtstreek. You could even stay in one if you like- it’s got rave reviews on AirBnB…

There are really two ways to tackle the Vecht- by boat or by bike. On a sunny day, floating down the river in your own vessel is hard to beat- and a quintessential Dutch experience. 

Dutch transport for kids. 
Whether by bike or by boat, you won't miss the cute towns that line the river. The southernmost town, Maarssen, is something like a mini-Amsterdam, with gabled houses facing the water. 
Breukelen, Loenen and Nieuwersluis all offer drawbridges, more brick buildings than you've ever dreamed of, the occasional windmill, and, on a warm summer day, kids for whom playing in the backyard means a dip in the river. Breukelen is of course the original Brooklyn- and to this day the NY borough has a Dutch-language motto. 
Inspiration for the Brooklyn Bridge?

Getting There:

The Vecht region basically connects Amsterdam and Utrecht, and either city could serve as a starting point. 

Public transport, as you would expect in The Netherlands, is pretty good. There is bus 120, which connects the two cities, and stops at a gazillion points in between. There is also a train, and if that's your preferred mode of transport, both Maarssen and Breukelen make good starting points.

Want to go cycling?

Bring your bike from Amsterdam, or Utrecht, and take it on the train. The Dutch are used to bikes on train, but the bike does need its own special ticket. Either Maarssen or Breukelen makes a good starting point. 

Want to go boating?

Two places we have good experience with are Ariadne aan de Vecht and JBB Bootservice.

Ariadne is probably the easiest to reach. Take bus 120, either from Utrecht, Amsterdam Holendrecht or Breukelen train station and alight at Nieuwersluis Dorp. From there it's a short walk. 

More information:
Utrecht Region website on the Vecht Region