Ballum, Netherlands

Photo: Andreas Ligtvoet via freeimages.com
Photo: Andreas Ligtvoet via freeimages.com

Canals and bicycles. The Dutch Masters and windmills. Cheese and tulips. They may be cultural icons, but these Dutch traditions keep luring you back to the Netherlands. After this trip, you’ll add islands and beaches to your ever-expanding list.

You’ve probably never connected islands and beaches with the Netherlands. Most people don’t. But there’s a group of barrier islands, known as both the Frisian Islands and the Wadden Islands, which run along the edge of the North Sea off the coast of the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark. The islands’ large sand dunes protect the mainland from big storms. Many of the islanders speak Frisian, a language recognized by both the Netherlands and Germany. While the West Frisian Islands, off the Dutch coast, are a protected nature reserve.

In Holwerd, you board a ferry bound for Ameland, the third-largest island in the West Frisian Islands. Ameland was considered an independent island until 1708, when the last member of the ruling Cammingha family passed away. It then became part of Friesland and, eventually, the Netherlands.

Photo: Hotel Nobel
Photo: Hotel Nobel

Today, the Wadden Diamond is still mostly covered with sand dunes. Strong currents rush toward nearly 30 kilometers of white-sand beaches. Seals compete with visitors for the perfect spot in the sun. Demonstrations are still given with a historic, horse-drawn, rescue boat. Plus, after climbing nearly 240 steps, you have a stunning, 360-degree view from the balcony of Bornrif, a red-and-white-striped lighthouse built in 1880. Elsewhere on the island, you’ll find the commanders’ houses (the oldest buildings on the island), the Sorgdrager Museum (focused on the island’s culture and history), and the little Ameland Airport, where search-and-rescue flights depart from the grass runway.

The airport sits outside of Ballum. It’d be easy to overlook the smallest village on the island, since it’s home to less than 400 people and the Cammingha castle was demolished centuries ago. But its little old houses are picturesque. Plus you’ll find a design hotel, whose restaurant and pub serve a liqueur only made on Ameland.

Hotel Nobel has been a hotel for more than 100 years. After a recent renovation, it now features modern, mostly white rooms with pops of purple and oversized photographs of models. With well-worn leather couches and chairs, the hotel’s pub looks cozy, though you’re heading outside to eat dinner by the fire pits on the terrace. The menu features all of Ameland’s specialities: rye bread, mustard, farmer’s cheese, mackerel, and catfish. But you zero in on Nobeltje, an herbal liqueur that’s usually served in punch, with coffee, or over ice. Tonight it will make the perfect apéritif. Proost to new Dutch traditions.

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