Zierikzee and the longest bridge in the Netherlands

Timing is everything in life. On my cycle around Zeeland my time, and luck, were up. I’d had nothing but glorious weather, cycling under blue skies and a hot sun as I toured Zeeland’s coast and interior. That was about to come to a dramatic end. After leaving the mighty storm barrier of Oosterscheldekering behind, I headed into a strong, and getting stronger, wind en route to the ancient fishing village of Zierikzee.

Out of time. The Scheldt estuary from Zeeland Bridge, Zeeland, Netherlands

Out of time. The Scheldt estuary from Zeeland Bridge, Zeeland, Netherlands

I was looking forward to seeing Zierikzee and then to cycle across the Zeeland Bridge, at 5km in length the longest bridge in the Netherlands. I can report from first hand experience that half way across the Zeeland Bridge is no place to find yourself during a thunder storm. This is especially true when the rain is monsoonal and lightning is streaking across the sky. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

I reached Zierikzee after struggling for 20km into a headwind along the banks of the eastern Scheldt. After a full day of cycling it was exhausting stuff, and I was glad to arrive in the late afternoon for a rest and some food. I passed through one of the town’s medieval gates, it was immediately apparent that this was an historic town.

Zierikzee, Zeeland, Netherlands

Zierikzee, Zeeland, Netherlands

Zierikzee, Zeeland, Netherlands

Zierikzee, Zeeland, Netherlands

Zierikzee, Zeeland, Netherlands

Zierikzee, Zeeland, Netherlands

Zierikzee dates back to at least the mid-12th Century. It was a fishing village before becoming one of the towns of the Hanseatic League. Thriving on trade and fishing, it suffered a sudden decline in the 16th Century. That doesn’t seem to have prevented the town from constructing a wealth of beautiful buildings.

I parked the bike and went for a walk around, conscious that I wouldn’t have much time to explore before needing to get going again. It was another 25km to the town of Goes (there really is a town called Goes), where I’d get the train back to The Hague. The old part of Zierikzee is wonderful and, because I’d arrived in the late afternoon, there weren’t many other tourists.

Zierikzee, Zeeland, Netherlands

Zierikzee, Zeeland, Netherlands

Zierikzee, Zeeland, Netherlands

Zierikzee, Zeeland, Netherlands

Zierikzee, Zeeland, Netherlands

Zierikzee, Zeeland, Netherlands

Zierikzee, Zeeland, Netherlands

Zierikzee, Zeeland, Netherlands

Zierikzee’s central square is an attractive open space ringed by cafes and restaurants. I found a table overlooking the harbour and ordered up some food. I was only in the restaurant for 30 minutes, but in the time it took to eat a sandwich and sample a local beer the weather had changed dramatically. Big ominous-looking clouds had swept in and rain was definitely headed my way.

I’d have liked to spend a little more time wandering Zierikzee’s atmospheric streets, but I was now in a race against time and the elements, a race I was never likely to win. I cycled towards the Zeeland Bridge and, in the hope that the rain would hold off until I was on the other side, set off across its dramatic 5km distance. There were fabulous views down the estuary to the Oosterscheldekering.

Zierikzee, Zeeland, Netherlands

Zierikzee, Zeeland, Netherlands

Zierikzee, Zeeland, Netherlands

Zierikzee, Zeeland, Netherlands

Zierikzee, Zeeland, Netherlands

Zierikzee, Zeeland, Netherlands

Zierikzee, Zeeland, Netherlands

Zierikzee, Zeeland, Netherlands

The rain started to fall in big, heavy drops that grew in intensity until I was soon cycling into a torrential downpour. Thunder roared overhead, lightning illuminated the sky and the wind howled. I entertained myself making up newspaper headlines about the death of an idiot who decided to cross a bridge in the middle of a storm. It seemed like an eternity before I reached the other side.

The rain and lightning were extraordinary, so I took shelter under the bridge and waited. The storm eventually passed and somewhat bedraggled I set off again for Goes. It turned out that this was a false dawn. Ten minutes later the heavens opened again and I found myself wondering if people actually drown while cycling in Zeeland.

The Zeeland Bridge, Zierikzee, Zeeland, Netherlands

The Zeeland Bridge, Zierikzee, Zeeland, Netherlands

The Zeeland Bridge, Zierikzee, Zeeland, Netherlands

The Zeeland Bridge, Zierikzee, Zeeland, Netherlands

The Scheldt estuary from Zeeland Bridge, Zierikzee, Zeeland, Netherlands

The Scheldt estuary from Zeeland Bridge, Zierikzee, Zeeland, Netherlands

The Zeeland Bridge, near Zierikzee, Zeeland, Netherlands

The Zeeland Bridge, near Zierikzee, Zeeland, Netherlands

Goes is supposed to be an interesting town to visit, but I was soaked and my only interest was to not be there. I eventually I found my way to Goes train station and…wait for it…went.

A Wonder of the Modern World, Zeeland’s Delta Works

Zeeland is home to many wonders. Ancient towns built on trade and full of medieval buildings like Middelburg, Veere and Zierikzee; a beautiful coastline dotted with broad sandy beaches that, outside the summer months, you can have to yourself; and wide open spaces of traditional Dutch countryside dotted with cows and perfect for cycling.

This though becomes rather meaningless when you realise that all of this is made possible by one of humanity’s more extraordinary attempts to control nature, and to tame the wild North Sea: the Delta Works. Most of Zeeland is below sea level and, on too many occasions, the sea has smashed through the dykes that have protected Zeeland for centuries, bringing death and destruction in its wake.

Oosterscheldekering, Delta Works, Zeeland, Netherlands

Oosterscheldekering, Delta Works, Zeeland, Netherlands

Oosterscheldekering, Delta Works, Zeeland, Netherlands

Oosterscheldekering, Delta Works, Zeeland, Netherlands

Oosterscheldekering, Delta Works, Zeeland, Netherlands

Oosterscheldekering, Delta Works, Zeeland, Netherlands

Hardy Zeelanders have been fighting the North Sea from time immemorial. It isn’t by chance that the official Zeeland motto is Luctor et Emergo, I Struggle and Emerge (presumably from the flood waters). Historically the region has been subjected to terrible floods, including the infamous St. Elizabeth’s Day flood of 1404, in which over 100,000 people are thought to have died across the country.

It was the devastation of the 1953 North Sea Flood that led to the building of the Delta Works though. A high Spring tide coincided with North Sea storms, together breaking the sea defences and flooding vast tracts of Zeeland. When the dykes broke in the middle of the night on January 31st, there was no system in place to warn people of the danger. The result was the death of 1,835 people, the majority of them in Zeeland.

Immediately after the flood the Delta Commission was formed, the result was the Delta Works: dams, sluices, locks, dykes and storm surge barriers were constructed across and around the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt estuaries. The legacy today is extraordinary, described as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

If the Delta Works is a lasting legacy of the 1953 floods, so to is the siren that sounds across the Netherlands on the first Monday of the month. The siren was instituted after 1953 as a warning system in case of flooding. It can be heard anywhere and everywhere in the country and is tested every month to prove that it’s working.

Veerse Gatdam, Delta Works, Zeeland, Netherlands

Veerse Gatdam, Delta Works, Zeeland, Netherlands

Beaches near Veerse Gatdam, Delta Works, Zeeland, Netherlands

Beaches near Veerse Gatdam, Delta Works, Zeeland, Netherlands

Beaches near Veerse Gatdam, Delta Works, Zeeland, Netherlands

Beaches near Veerse Gatdam, Delta Works, Zeeland, Netherlands

If you’re not Dutch it comes as a bit of a surprise. The first time I heard it, I assumed that either the Luftwaffe was overhead or it was the Four Minute Warning and we were about to be obliterated in a nuclear war. Since no one was running for the air raid shelters I tried to remain calm and, as casually as possible, asked a Dutch colleague what the hell was going on. 1953, was the answer.

Cycling across the Delta Works you can appreciate their size and the enormity of the job they do. The estuary of the eastern Scheldt river is huge, the flood barriers protecting the people and agricultural land of this region equally impressive. Coming from Veere, I passed through the village of Vrouwenpolder (full of unusual public ‘art’), and crossed the Veerse Gatdam, a 2.8km long part of the Delta Works.

Construction of the Veerse Gatdam in 1961 created the Veersemeer and blocked the town of Veere’s access to the sea. It makes for a gentle introduction to the Delta Works, but next up on the chain of flood defences is the Oosterscheldekering, at 9km the largest of all the Delta Works projects. Partly a dam and partly storm surge barrier with sluice gates, it’s a monumental construction.

Seriously? Oosterscheldekering, Delta Works, Zeeland, Netherlands

Seriously? Oosterscheldekering, Delta Works, Zeeland, Netherlands

Really? Oosterscheldekering, Delta Works, Zeeland, Netherlands

Really? Oosterscheldekering, Delta Works, Zeeland, Netherlands

The Oosterscheldekering protects the Oosterschelde National Park, the largest in the Netherlands. It’s an exposed spot to be a cyclist, especially when the wind is blowing. My progress towards the other side and a well deserved late lunch in the town of Zierikzee was slow. Worse though were the ominous looking clouds that the wind seemed to be blowing in my direction…I didn’t know it yet, but I was in for a drenching.

Veere, twinned with Scotland

Veere’s picturesque harbour is filled with pleasure boats, here to sail on the Veerse Meer, a lake created by the construction of the Veerse Gatdam in 1961. Part of the Delta Works flood protection scheme, the Veerse Gatdam blocked Veere’s access to the sea, its fishing fleet forced to relocate to the village of Colijnsplaat just before the completion of the dam. The town is now officially landlocked.

Veere’s direct access to the North Sea has long gone, but there was a time when it was an important centre for the very profitable wool trade between Scotland and the Netherlands. In the 17th and 18th Centuries, the harbour would have been packed with ships loading and unloading their cargoes, and the name Veere would have been well known on the streets of Edinburgh.

Veere, Zeeland, Netherlands

Veere, Zeeland, Netherlands

Veere harbour, Zeeland, Netherlands

Veere harbour, Zeeland, Netherlands

Veere harbour, Zeeland, Netherlands

Veere harbour, Zeeland, Netherlands

Veere, Zeeland, Netherlands

Veere, Zeeland, Netherlands

Scottish wool merchants eventually established a permanent community in the town, and there are still traces of the Scots influence. This includes a couple of former Scottish merchant houses that are now a museum to the Scottish wool trade. In 1541, Veere was awarded ‘staple-rights’ to Scottish wool, which gave the town first call on the wool before it could be sold elsewhere.

The relationship between Scotland and Veere dates back to the marriage, in 1444, of Mary Stuart, the daughter of James I of Scotland, and Wolfert VI van Borssele, the Lord of Veere. The marriage created an enduring relationship between Veere and Scotland. Mary’s dowry included the exclusive rights for Veere to trade with Scottish wool merchants, and Veere’s wealth was built on those rights.

Veere, Zeeland, Netherlands

Veere, Zeeland, Netherlands

Scottish house, Veere, Zeeland, Netherlands

Scottish house, Veere, Zeeland, Netherlands

Veere, Zeeland, Netherlands

Veere, Zeeland, Netherlands

Veere, Zeeland, Netherlands

Veere, Zeeland, Netherlands

Trade with Scotland declined sharply after the 18th Century, as did Veere’s wealth, but the connection didn’t stop there. It is fitting that 500 years after the marriage of Mary and Wolfert, it was Scottish troops from the 52nd (Lowland) Division that liberated Veere from German occupation during Operation Infatuate in 1944. I can’t imagine that happened by chance.

Veere’s past wealth can be guessed at by the array of glorious buildings that make it one of the prettiest towns I’ve visited in the Netherlands (and that is saying something). Veere also owned substantial shares in the Dutch East India Company, which brought significant additional prosperity. Even then, it is remarkable to discover that in the 16th Century the population of the town was ten times larger than the 2,000 or so people who live here today.

Veere, Zeeland, Netherlands

Veere, Zeeland, Netherlands

Grote Kerk, Veere, Zeeland, Netherlands

Grote Kerk, Veere, Zeeland, Netherlands

Grote Kerk, Veere, Zeeland, Netherlands

Grote Kerk, Veere, Zeeland, Netherlands

Veere, Zeeland, Netherlands

Veere, Zeeland, Netherlands

Veere, Zeeland, Netherlands

Veere, Zeeland, Netherlands

What Veere lacks in population is compensated for by the number of tourists who visit the town. I cycled the 10km from Middelburg and arrived early in the morning, but even then there were plenty of tourists milling around. By the time I left a couple of hours later, coach loads of visitors had arrived.

Veere deserves the attention, it’s a fabulously attractive town with a lovely self-guided walk around the old city walls that tells you a bit about its history. There’s an enormous church, so completely out of proportion to the town’s size that it could only have been built as a statement to the rest of the world. The old town is full of wonderful old houses and narrow lanes, but all roads lead to the harbour and the waterfront.

Windmill on the old fortifications of Veere, Zeeland, Netherlands

Windmill on the old fortifications of Veere, Zeeland, Netherlands

Windmill on the old fortifications of Veere, Zeeland, Netherlands

Windmill on the old fortifications of Veere, Zeeland, Netherlands

Veerse Meer, Veere, Zeeland, Netherlands

Veerse Meer, Veere, Zeeland, Netherlands

Veerse Meer, Veere, Zeeland, Netherlands

Veerse Meer, Veere, Zeeland, Netherlands

After a leisurely walk and a quick bite in one of the many cafes, I was back on the bike and heading towards one of the Modern Wonders of the World, the Delta Works…

Cycling Zeeland’s glorious coastline

Setting off from Middelburg I cycled down a wide canal towards Vlissingen, which in the 17th Century had been a major harbour for the Dutch East India Company, and today is where most Dutch Royal Navy ships are built. I’d been told Vlissingen wasn’t particularly interesting, so I crossed the canal and headed for the coast further north.

It was a sunny day and the beaches were busy with people enjoying themselves, particularly Belgian and German tourists who flock to this area in summer. This isn’t surprising, these are the closest beaches to some of German’y largest cities, and Belgium is close enough you could almost throw a stone and hit it.

Cycling in Zeeland, Netherlands

Cycling in Zeeland, Netherlands

Cycling in Zeeland, Netherlands

Cycling in Zeeland, Netherlands

Cycling in Zeeland, Netherlands

Cycling in Zeeland, Netherlands

Cycling in Zeeland, Netherlands

Cycling in Zeeland, Netherlands

I’d been cycling for an hour or so and thought I’d earned a sit on the beach. As I came over the top of the dunes I was struck by the extraordinary sight of large ships sailing close, and I mean close, to the beach en route to the Scheldt River and the port of Antwerp. The ships seem so close that you definitely shouldn’t swim too far out into the water.

Antwerp is Europe’s second busiest port, and one of the top twenty in the world, so a lot of ships pass alongside the beaches of Zeeland. It’s a mesmerising sight as they glide along the coast and out into the vast Scheldt estuary.

Beaches in Zeeland, Netherlands

Beaches in Zeeland, Netherlands

Beaches and boats in Zeeland, Netherlands

Beaches and boats in Zeeland, Netherlands

Beaches and boats in Zeeland, Netherlands

Beaches and boats in Zeeland, Netherlands

Beaches and boats in Zeeland, Netherlands

Beaches and boats in Zeeland, Netherlands

Beaches and boats in Zeeland, Netherlands

Beaches and boats in Zeeland, Netherlands

After a walk along the beach I headed further along the coast towards the village of Westkapelle. The first thing I saw of Westkapelle – and I saw it from miles away – was one of its two famous light houses. This is the ‘oldest’ lighthouse in the Netherlands, the tower dating from 1470. Back then it was a church, the light was added in 1818. This at least explains why a lighthouse is such a long way from the coast.

Historic lighthouse, Westkapelle, Zeeland, Netherlands

Historic lighthouse, Westkapelle, Zeeland, Netherlands

Westkapelle, Zeeland, Netherlands

Westkapelle, Zeeland, Netherlands

Lighthouse, Westkapelle, Zeeland, Netherlands

Lighthouse, Westkapelle, Zeeland, Netherlands

Cycling in Zeeland, Netherlands

Cycling in Zeeland, Netherlands

Westkapelle seemed like a pleasant little place. Only when I came across a Sherman tank on top of a dyke, did I discover the village was the scene of dramatic and deadly events during World War II. In 1944 Allied troops were preparing to invade but this area was heavily guarded by the German army. The allies came up with a destructive plan.

The British air force bombed the dykes to flood the German defenders out. In doing so they destroyed a large part of the village, killing 180 civilians in the process. It took a year to repair the dykes. The Sherman tank is a memorial, not to Westkapelle’s dead but to the 4th Commando Brigade of the British Liberation Army, which landed here and fought inland to liberate the islands of Zeeland. I would come across other memorials in villages nearby.

World War II memorial, Westkapelle, Zeeland, Netherlands

World War II memorial, Westkapelle, Zeeland, Netherlands

World War II memorial, Zeeland, Netherlands

World War II memorial, Zeeland, Netherlands

Beaches in Zeeland, Netherlands

Beaches in Zeeland, Netherlands

Beaches in Zeeland, Netherlands

Beaches in Zeeland, Netherlands

Later, when reading about the village, I learned the truly disturbing fact that in 2012 Westkapelle became infamous in the Netherlands for the country’s worst ever sexual abuse scandal. A local resident abused around 250 young boys over a 40 year period. Worse still, his abuse was an open secret in this tiny community but no one reported it to the police. Strange but true.

Beaches in Zeeland, Netherlands

Beaches in Zeeland, Netherlands

Beaches in Zeeland, Netherlands

Beaches in Zeeland, Netherlands

Cycling past a windmill in Zeeland, Netherlands

Cycling past a windmill in Zeeland, Netherlands

I cycled along the sea wall and dykes separating the ocean from the land, passing through Domburg on my way to Oostkapelle, before turning inland back towards Middelburg. The flat landscape of the interior contrasts sharply with the coast, but to its credit you can cycle here and hardly see another person. Back in Middelburg I planned a route for my next journey through Zeeland.

Middelburg and the terrible glories of the past

Middelburg is an extraordinarily attractive town. Beautiful medieval buildings compete for your attention with ancient narrow cobbled streets, flanked by merchant houses with brightly painted shutters. Wander out of the centre and the remains of Middelburg’s star-shaped fortifications are today picturesque parkland, offering views back to the town and a couple of stately looking windmills.

This is a town that could easily verge on cliché, and yet it’s a modern, vibrant city with a lively student population. There’s no denying that history seems to seep out of the very fabric of the town though…it’s a long and glorious history, but one that conceals a terrible secret.

Abbey, Middelburg, Zeeland, Netherlands

Abbey, Middelburg, Zeeland, Netherlands

Stadhuis, Middelburg, Zeeland, Netherlands

Stadhuis, Middelburg, Zeeland, Netherlands

Middelburg, Zeeland, Netherlands

Middelburg, Zeeland, Netherlands

Middelburg’s charter granting it city rights dates back to 1217, a full 83 years before Amsterdam received city rights. The town though was on the map as early as the 8th Century, when it was fortified against Viking raids. By the time it became a city it was already an important trading centre, made wealthy through trade, including wool from Scotland, and fishing.

This wealth led Middelburg to remain firmly in favour of the status quo during the Eighty Years’ War against Spain. The town was strongly Catholic – it had one of only two pre-Reformation cathedrals in the Netherlands – and refused to support Dutch independence. Staying loyal to the Catholic Spanish Monarchy had a price though.

Middelburg, Zeeland, Netherlands

Middelburg, Zeeland, Netherlands

Middelburg, Zeeland, Netherlands

Middelburg, Zeeland, Netherlands

Middelburg, Zeeland, Netherlands

Middelburg, Zeeland, Netherlands

IMG_7522

The Cathedral, Middelburg, Zeeland, Netherlands

The Cathedral, Middelburg, Zeeland, Netherlands

In 1572 Protestant Dutch forces and their English allies laid siege to Middelburg. Two years later a starving population surrendered, the Spanish garrison was allowed to retreat but its failure to hold Middelburg meant the whole of Zeeland was in Dutch hands. An odd side notes to the siege is that one of Elizabethan England’s most famous poets, George Gascoigne, took part in the siege. Gascoigne was a soldier-poet who also attended the court of Elizabeth I.

Middelburg’s greatest years were to come after Dutch independence from Spain in 1648. Ships of the Dutch East Indian Company roamed the globe, bringing spices, gold and silk back from the Far East, and sparking the Dutch Golden Age, which made the Netherlands hugely wealthy and brought about an incredible cultural blossoming.

Windmill, Middelburg, Zeeland, Netherlands

Windmill, Middelburg, Zeeland, Netherlands

Windmill, Middelburg, Zeeland, Netherlands

Windmill, Middelburg, Zeeland, Netherlands

Old harbour, Middelburg, Zeeland, Netherlands

Old harbour, Middelburg, Zeeland, Netherlands

Old harbour, Middelburg, Zeeland, Netherlands

Old harbour, Middelburg, Zeeland, Netherlands

Middelburg was one of the founding cities of the Dutch East India Company, and the company’s second most important port after Amsterdam. Vast wealth flowed through Middelburg and much of the town’s superb historic architecture dates from that period. Not all Middelburg’s wealth came from spices however. You’d not guess it today, but this beautiful place was the epicentre of the Dutch slave trade.

Slavery, illegal in the Netherlands itself, fuelled the Dutch Empire in the Caribbean and the East Indies. Dutch ships also carried hundreds of thousands of African slaves to countries like Brazil. The Netherlands was the pre-eminent European slave trading nation up until the 1730s, and the Middelburg Commercial Company was the biggest Dutch slave trader. You don’t have to look far in Europe to uncover unsavoury truths about its history.

Old harbour, Middelburg, Zeeland, Netherlands

Old harbour, Middelburg, Zeeland, Netherlands

Old harbour, Middelburg, Zeeland, Netherlands

Old harbour, Middelburg, Zeeland, Netherlands

Old harbour, Middelburg, Zeeland, Netherlands

Old harbour, Middelburg, Zeeland, Netherlands

Statue in Middelburg, Zeeland, Netherlands

Statue in Middelburg, Zeeland, Netherlands

Middelburg, Zeeland, Netherlands

Middelburg, Zeeland, Netherlands

My meanderings around the town eventually brought me to the lovely old port, where traditional Dutch barges nestled alongside more modern vessels. On a lovely sunny day it was a beautiful sight, although it was hard to shake the idea of boats sailing from here to the coast of West Africa to barter for slaves who would fuel the sugar plantations of the Caribbean.

Exploring Zeeland, Magical Middelburg

There may come a time when I no longer get a thrill out of visiting beautiful and historic Dutch towns, but that time is not the extraordinary medieval city of Middelburg, capital of the equally beautiful Zeeland region. The Netherlands sets the bar high when it comes to ‘picture-postcard-perfect’ towns, but Middelburg is special even for someone who has visited more than their fare share of picturesque places.

I travelled with my bike, intending to leisurely explore the coastline and historic communities of the region. Zeeland is a chain of low lying islands that until recently have been at the mercy of the North Sea. The character of this region and it’s people has been forged by its love-hate relationship with the ocean. Simultaneously economic lifeline and fearsome enemy, and all too often bringing devastation.

Lange Jan and Middelburg Cathedral, Netherlands

Lange Jan and Middelburg Cathedral, Netherlands

Harbour, Middelburg, Netherlands

Harbour, Middelburg, Netherlands

Harbour, Middelburg, Netherlands

Harbour, Middelburg, Netherlands

The sea regularly caused destruction, but it was German bombers (some claim French artillery) that destroyed much of Middelburg’s medieval centre during the Second World War. In May 1940, the German advance on France met stiff resistance from French and Dutch forces in Zeeland. It was a one-sided affair, the German’s swept all before them in a ferocious eight day battle.

As the struggle for Zeeland drew to a conclusion the German airforce bombed Middelburg, destroying more than 600 buildings in its historic centre. A day later Dutch forces surrendered while French troops retreated south. The good news for modern-day visitors is that the entire city centre was reconstructed after the war, retaining its medieval core.

Stadhuis, Middelburg, Netherlands

Stadhuis, Middelburg, Netherlands

Statue outside the Stadhuis, Middelburg, Netherlands

Statue outside the Stadhuis, Middelburg, Netherlands

Stadhuis, Middelburg, Netherlands

Stadhuis, Middelburg, Netherlands

Stadhuis, Middelburg, Netherlands

Stadhuis, Middelburg, Netherlands

Despite a history dating back to the 8th Century, and its role as one of the most important trading centres during the Dutch Golden Age, when it was second only to Amsterdam, Middelburg is small place. Around 50,000 people live in the city today and, were it not for the massive 90 metre tower of ‘Lange Jan’ looming over the town, arriving at the small train station might be a bit underwhelming.

Lange Jan acts as a marker to guide you into the centre. I’d set off early from The Hague and cycled to the central Markt square to get a coffee and some breakfast before exploring the town on foot. The wide open space of the Markt is ringed by cafes and restaurants, but at one end is the wonderfully ornate gothic architectural delight of the Stadhuis.

Stadhuis, Middelburg, Netherlands

Stadhuis, Middelburg, Netherlands

Stadhuis, Middelburg, Netherlands

Stadhuis, Middelburg, Netherlands

Poetry on a wall, Middelburg, Netherlands

Poetry on a wall, Middelburg, Netherlands

Statue, Middelburg, Netherlands

Statue, Middelburg, Netherlands

Poetry on a wall, Middelburg, Netherlands

Poetry on a wall, Middelburg, Netherlands

Construction of the Stadhuis started in 1452 and was only finished 70 years later. The building is decorated with numerous statues of the Counts and Countesses of Zeeland. Most of the facade survived the German bombing but the interior was gutted by fire. Restoration work started immediately after the war and the building was reopened in 1950.

The building’s grandeur is slightly undermined by a more contemporary statue in front of it: a miniature of the Markt and Stadhuis between two seats. Nothing unusual you might think. But sit on one of the seats and water pours from underneath it, making it seem as if the sitter has had an ‘accident’. It kept plenty of children happy the day I was there.

Lange Jan and Middelburg Cathedral, Netherlands

Lange Jan and Middelburg Cathedral, Netherlands

Choir, Middelburg Cathedral, Netherlands

Choir, Middelburg Cathedral, Netherlands

Middelburg Cathedral, Netherlands

Middelburg Cathedral, Netherlands

Middelburg Cathedral, Netherlands

Middelburg Cathedral, Netherlands

Middelburg, Netherlands

Middelburg, Netherlands

The Stadhuis is the perfect place to start an exploration of the town. After a reviving coffee it was time to find out why Middelburg is considered one of the most attractive towns in the Netherlands…