Life is full of surprises. The beauty and tranquility of the Dutch coastline near The Hague is one of those surprises. Rolling sand dunes stretch for kilometres north and south; wide, sandy beaches run as far as the eye can see; and colourful sailing boats flit across the grey-blue waters of the North Sea. You can see why this coastline has attracted artists over the centuries, including Vincent van Gogh who lived in The Hague for a year or so in 1882-3 and painted seascapes on this same bit of coast.
Cycling through The Hague to the former fishing village of Scheveningen – now a slightly tacky seaside resort stuffed full of casinos, friet and mayo concessions and a bizarre mix of architecture – I joined the LF1 long-distance cycle route which runs for 310km along the Dutch North Sea coast and headed towards another former fishing village, Katwijk.
This stretch of coast is known as the Meijendel Dunes and is one of the most important coastal areas in the Netherlands. On a hot, sunny day it is breathtakingly beautiful. The rolling dunes topped with brushwood and wooded inland valleys are home to over 250 bird species and a variety of other wildlife, including roe deer, foxes, toads, frogs and the elusive Sand Lizard. Protected from the wind coming off the North Sea, the silence of the dunes is wonderful.
The most unexpected sight amongst the dunes are numerous small lakes. Remarkably, these are a natural water purification system operated by Dunea, the water company which supplies The Hague. Water is pumped into these ponds from the Maas river and is allowed to filter through the sand for around two months. This cleans and purifies the water, which is then pumped from underground to provide drinking water to around 1.2 million people.
From Katwijk I continued alongside the North Sea towards Noordwijk, making occasional excursions on foot over the dunes and onto the beach before looping back towards The Hague. This area is hugely popular, and not just with cyclists. Over a million people visit the coast here every year, lots of them from Germany and Belgium. Despite the numbers, these seaside towns still have a pretty laid-back feel.
As you’d expect in a country renowned for being the world’s most cycle friendly, the LF-1 route is brilliant. Everything is well maintained, there are shelters, maps, signposts with distances and benches to rest on dotted along the entire route. Best of all though, the majority of the route is only accessible by bike or on foot – no cars are allowed – creating an unexpected tranquility. The Dutch know how to do cycling.