After what seemed like a forever winter, finally some sunshine in Europe! For only two months a year, the town of Lisse in The Netherlands hosts hundreds of thousands of spectators, looking for their chance to tip toe through the tulips (anyone else remember that old song?). Welcome to Keukenhof Gardens.
If heaven is a place on Earth, it's an 80 acre garden, a short drive from the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam. This wonderland contains seven million bulbs planted annually and is known for its tulips, but you will also find a fair share of beautiful roses, orchids, daffodils, and hyacinths in bloom! I had no idea that so many variances of tulips (and these other plants) existed! Just shortly after stepping through the entrance gates, a gorgeous display of deep blue tulips, which seemed to mimic a river, leading me deeper into what is known as "The Garden of Europe".
The sprawling historic garden is located on former 15th century hunting grounds, and was also used a an herb garden for royalty; "Keuken" means "Kitchen" in Dutch. The property passed hands a few times throughout coming centuries, and in 1949 the mayor of Lisse proposed the idea of creating a large-scale flower exhibit, where all Dutch growers could show the world their blooms, and hopefully amp up the already successful floriculture business. To this day, The Netherlands is still the #1 flower exporter in all of Europe, if not the entire world.
Of course if you're planning to walk the entire 80 acre complex, you might need to stop for a snack. Another perk of visiting this park is the many different types of food vendors to pick from, including traditional Dutch Rookwurst and waffles. Whether you're looking for something savory or sweet, you will leave satisfied after a visit to the adorable food truck park! For even more views of the beautiful blooms, check out a boat ride through the canal, or maybe take a break on the observation deck of a quintessential Dutch windmill. For kiddos, there is a petting zoo, and one Saturday each year, a colorful parade through town.
A few of my favorite pinks. The hyacinths smelled so incredible and fresh! I couldn't help but think how amazing it would be to live in one of the quaint nearby cottages, where I could let the floral Spring breeze flow though my home on a sunny day. If you make it through the seemingly endless cloudy days of winter, this garden of gorgeous is your reward!
My favorite pink and white tulips, simply darling!
Following an afternoon of strolling and taking in the sights we head to the nearby town of Amstelveen, just east of the garden in North Holland, for a lesson in Dutch Gouda cheese making, with a side of clog carving.
We were greeted with a friendly "moo" from the barn as soon as we arrived, and the hospitality didn't stop there! The farmer's charming wife gave us a lesson in cheese making, and explained the differences between a few varieties of cheeses, while also explaining the types of cheese she makes every day. Her whole presentation was wonderful, but the magic words she closed with, "samples", had the whole room drooling with anticipation!
The welcoming staff invited us to sample 10+ different types of cheese, made right there at the farm, with recommendations from the Dutch Farm owner along the way. Before when I said Keukenhof Gardens was Heaven on Earth, I meant it, but Clara Maria is definitely a close second! After my fair share of cheesy goodness, I ended up with a wheel of aged Gouda, as well as a young Gouda that is laced with spicy chilies, and lovably named: The Farmer's Flame, after his American wife's love for TexMex and spicy food. She is obviously my new best friend, with taste like that. The farmer's wife was kind enough to share a few recipes that she creates with the types of cheese I selected. I also picked up a block of goat cheese (I am unapologetically obsessed with goat cheese), a beautifully carved wooden cheese slicer, and honey mustard dill sauce. Souvenirs you can eat are always a bonus, and at least I will have this post to remember the day by, even after my cheese is gone. Now to add a good box of crackers to my grocery list!
The classic clog making demonstration was up next. Our friendly guide showed us ways to carve by hand, as well as different machines that are used to shape, hollow, and dry the poplar or willow wood which clogs are made from. We also learned the different types of clogs worn by fishermen, farmers, and even those worn for weddings. Traditionally, a man would tediously carve a pair of clogs for his love, the more ornate the better, and leave them on her doorstep as a means of marriage proposal. Now, I'm all for embracing cultures different than my own and agree that the clogs are cute, but I must say I sure am glad I married an American and scored some diamonds rather than wooden shoes!
If you fancy an authentic farm experience, or you're interested in checking out some serious flower power, head out to the North (Amstelveen) and South (Lisse) Holland regions. Both locations are easily reachable from Amsterdam, and would make a perfect day trip from the city, and are sure to fulfill all your Dutch dreams!
Are you ready to rock some clogs?
BON VOYAGE, BABES!