The glories of the Dutch seafaring past are nowhere better illustrated than in Enkhuizen. Long the home of a fishing fleet, in 1602 Enkhuizen became one of the founding ports of the Dutch East India Company. Trade in precious metals and silks, and even more precious spices, from Japan, China, Indonesia and India flowed through the town, making it one of the wealthiest in the Netherlands during the Dutch Golden Age. The town flourished on the vast profits from trade, leaving behind an almost perfectly preserved town centre much of which dates from the 17th Century.
To say that Enkhuizen is an attractive place is something of an understatement. The town may have the trappings of the 21st Century, but it is remarkable how much of it has survived down the centuries. History seems to seep out of every building and it doesn’t take much to imagine yourself back in the 17th Century. The town is compact, but its narrow lattice of ancient streets and canals makes for rewarding strolling.
The train journey from Amsterdam took us through the Waterland region and the equally historic town of Hoorn, another founding member of the Dutch East India Company. Enkhuizen is the end of the line for the train, the town’s station stops just short of the harbour and overlooks the Ĳsselmeer, the large body of water that used to be the Zuiderzee which once gave Enkhuizen’s ships direct access to the North Sea.
Most people who visit Enkhuizen, and it’s popular with tourists, come here because it’s home to one the best museums in the country. More of the brilliant Zuiderzee Museum later, but the town is something a star attraction in its own right. We walked along the new harbour to the entrance into the old harbour. It’s a picturesque sight, ships masts in the background and towering over the whole scene is the Drommedaris, a 17th Century tower that was once part of the city defences.
Our explorations didn’t get very far. The sun was shining and the opportunity to sit outside in the sun was too enticing to pass up; it was time for lunch so we pulled up a chair at a table overlooking the old harbour and soaked up the atmosphere. Quite some time later we finally set off to explore the town before heading to the Zuiderzee Museum. Not for the first time since I’ve been here I marvelled at how the Netherlands has managed to physically preserve so much of its history. I can only lament the situation in the UK.
Enkhuizen, like so many other Dutch towns, is so historic, so old Europe, so traditionally Dutch, so picture-postcard-perfect that it verges on the twee. That’s one of the most fabulous things about the Netherlands, but I’m beginning to worry I might be approaching historic town burnout. I’m pretty sure that’s a medical condition.