A journey through the Hoge Veluwe National Park

Even if you discount the fact that the Hoge Veluwe National Park has a world class art gallery and sculpture garden in its midst, it would still be one of the most extraordinary places in the Netherlands. Away from the North Sea Coast, there is little wilderness left in the manmade Dutch landscape; and, while the Hoge Veluwe National Park isn’t the wildest place on earth, its mix of landscapes play host to a surprising variety of wildlife.

There are numerous walking and cycling routes around the park, all easily followed, and taking you into just about every corner of this beautiful place. The park comprises heathland (awash in purple heather when I was there), forests, grasslands, surreal inland sand dunes and peat bogs. Cycling around it never lacks for a change of scenery. On a bright sunny day, it was a delight to explore.

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

There is a remarkable variety of wildlife roaming around the park, including some sizeable mammals. The park’s ‘big four’ are red deer, wild boars, mouflons, and roe deer, but you can also see foxes, pine martens and badgers, as well as lizards, frogs and numerous birds. Things weren’t always so easy for the wildlife here, this was once a hunting park for the original owners, Anton and Helene Kröller-Müller.

Perhaps I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I only saw one baby red deer, spotted in a thicket. There must have been some adult deer around, but they were clearly too well camouflaged in the woodland, or too smart to give themselves away to a passing cyclist. Perhaps these descendants of the animals imported to be hunted are concerned the bad old days will return, and no one will tell them before it’s too late.

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

I didn’t see see any animals, but the cycling alone is worth the €9.15 entrance fee. There are over 40km of cycle routes that take you on big loops around the park, and past the main ‘sights’ and into obscure corners. Even in a country where cycling is more accessible than almost anywhere on the planet, the trip around the cycle route is an uncrowded pleasure. The park may receive 600,000 visitors each year, but I saw hardly any other people.

I’m glad I found myself alone for long stretches, it was very peaceful, but given all the park has to offer it’s something of a mystery that there weren’t more people. When you do see people they are frequently cycling on one of the parks’s iconic white bikes. There are 1,800 of them stationed at the three entrances, and are free to use for visitors.

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

If you’re visiting the Netherlands don’t have you’re own transport, the Hoge Veluwe National Park takes a little bit of effort to reach. But this is a gem of a place. Visit the glorious Kröller-Müller Museum, cycle through enchanting landscapes, and bring a picnic to make a day of it.

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Landscaped art at the Kröller-Müller Museum

It’s hard to imagine that a museum housing nearly ninety paintings and one hundred and eighty drawings by Vincent van Gogh could, somehow, be overshadowed by something other than works by Vincent van Gogh. The Kröller-Müller Museum is, after all, home to the second largest collection of van Gogh’s in the world. Yet that wasn’t why I’d made the train journey to Ede-Wageningen and then cycled 15km to get there.

In fact, I didn’t even visit the indoor galleries, they will have to wait for a return visit. My main reason for visiting the Kröller-Müller, was to wander the 25 hectares of beautifully landscaped gardens filled with more than 160 modern sculptures from artists including Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore, Jean Dubuffet, Oscar Jespers and Barbara Hepworth.

K-piece, Kröller-Müller Museum, Sculpture Garden, Netherlands

K-piece, Kröller-Müller Museum, Sculpture Garden, Netherlands

Cube, Kröller-Müller Museum, Sculpture Garden, Netherlands

Cube, Kröller-Müller Museum, Sculpture Garden, Netherlands

Jardin d'Email, Kröller-Müller Museum, Sculpture Garden, Netherlands

Jardin d’Email, Kröller-Müller Museum, Sculpture Garden, Netherlands

Jardin d'Email, Kröller-Müller Museum, Sculpture Garden, Netherlands

Jardin d’Email, Kröller-Müller Museum, Sculpture Garden, Netherlands

I also wanted to visit because the museum is located in the heart of one of the Netherlands’ most beautiful areas, the Hoge Veluwe National Park. Which, for the Netherlands, is as close to ‘wilderness’ that you’re likely to get. The combination of a world class art collection set in a landscape of heathlands, forests and sand dunes, makes this an extraordinary place by any standards.

The Kröller-Müller is one of Europe’s largest open-air sculpture gardens, the works set within landscaped parklands that get noticeably wilder the further you walk from the museum buildings. The whole experience is part serious art gallery and part treasure hunt. On a warm, dry day it really is a special place to visit. I spent a couple of hours wandering around, hunting out as many sculptures as possible.

Kijk Uit Attention, Kröller-Müller Museum, Sculpture Garden, Netherlands

Kijk Uit Attention, Kröller-Müller Museum, Sculpture Garden, Netherlands

The view from Kijk Uit Attention, Kröller-Müller Museum, Sculpture Garden, Netherlands

The view from Kijk Uit Attention, Kröller-Müller Museum, Sculpture Garden, Netherlands

Square Sculpture, Kröller-Müller Museum, Sculpture Garden, Netherlands

Square Sculpture, Kröller-Müller Museum, Sculpture Garden, Netherlands

Mobile Home, Kröller-Müller Museum, Sculpture Garden, Netherlands

Mobile Home, Kröller-Müller Museum, Sculpture Garden, Netherlands

It’s hard to pick a highlight from the whole experience, but Kijk Uit Attention by Krijn Giezen, stood out. I’m not really sure walking up a gigantic staircase counts as art or exercise, but the whole experience was pretty breathless and intense. The stairs go up a wooded hillside before emerging out of the top of the trees and extending upwards. At the top, it feels like you’re floating in the air, hovering over the landscape below. The views are stupendous.

The museum and its collection exists today because of the vision of one extraordinary woman, Helene Kröller-Müller. She acquired one of the largest private collections of the 20th century, with around 11,500 artworks. She also made purchases that were considered ‘bold’ by contemporaries, including her accumulation of van Gogh’s work. It’s said that her passion for van Gogh put his name on the map, and significantly contributed to his fame following his death.

Helene was a visionary, no doubt, but the financer for her collection was her controversial husband, Anton Kröller. He built a vast business empire, and was one of the most powerful men in the Netherlands. Until, that is, the whole thing collapsed shortly after the First World War. Thousands of investors lost everything, a major Dutch bank was brought to its knees, and, although there were accusations of fiddled accounts, he was never held accountable for his actions. Sound familiar?

The hot sunny day I visited, other visitors were few and far between. Maybe that was because it was a weekday, but the reality is that for most visitors to the Netherlands (and quite a few Dutch people), the Kröller-Müller isn’t on their radar. It may only be an hour and a half from Amsterdam, but this is something of a blank space on the map.

Needle Tower, Kröller-Müller Museum, Sculpture Garden, Netherlands

Needle Tower, Kröller-Müller Museum, Sculpture Garden, Netherlands

Needle Tower, Kröller-Müller Museum, Sculpture Garden, Netherlands

Needle Tower, Kröller-Müller Museum, Sculpture Garden, Netherlands

Needle Tower, Kröller-Müller Museum, Sculpture Garden, Netherlands

Needle Tower, Kröller-Müller Museum, Sculpture Garden, Netherlands

Although there is public transport to the doorstep (or a fantastic cycle from Ede-Wageningen train station), the psychological barrier of getting there without a car is significant. As is the fact that, although the wonderful museumkaart gives you free access to the museum, you have to pay a fairly hefty entrance fee of €9.15 to enter the park. If you don’t have a museumkaart you can double that for the entire experience.

That said, you can spend the whole day here amongst glorious nature and equally glorious art. That combo of the museum and national park is value for money, and I’ll definitely be returning.

Tent Project, Kröller-Müller Museum, Sculpture Garden, Netherlands

Tent Project, Kröller-Müller Museum, Sculpture Garden, Netherlands

Floating sculpture, Kröller-Müller Museum, Sculpture Garden, Netherlands

Floating sculpture, Kröller-Müller Museum, Sculpture Garden, Netherlands

Palisade, Kröller-Müller Museum, Sculpture Garden, Netherlands

Palisade, Kröller-Müller Museum, Sculpture Garden, Netherlands

Phylloytaxis, Kröller-Müller Museum, Sculpture Garden, Netherlands

Phylloytaxis, Kröller-Müller Museum, Sculpture Garden, Netherlands

Brick Sculpture, Kröller-Müller Museum, Sculpture Garden, Netherlands

Brick Sculpture, Kröller-Müller Museum, Sculpture Garden, Netherlands