The Netherlands, with its traffic-free cycle ways, well signed networks and flatter terrain, must be near the top of any cycling family’s holiday destination list. We were no exception and so we headed off for a Netherlands family cycling holiday with a four and six year old. Our final destination was the almost car free island of Vlieland. However this post will take us from Zeebrugge in Belgium to Renesse in the western-most coastal province of the Netherlands.
After getting our bikes on the train to Hull and a night in a cabin on the P&O ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge, we were excited, well rested and ready for the five week trip ahead of us. We cycled off the ferry and used our map to find our way out of Belgium to the Dutch border. Once we crossed the border into the Netherlands, the cycle paths noticeably widened and our smiles broadened.
Set-up for a Netherlands family cycling holiday
We had two adult bikes, a Beinn 20 small for our four year old and a Beinn 20 large for our six year old. Additionally, we had a FollowMe tandem on each adult bike, a custom made luggage trailer and a Yepp Junior bike seat, which either child could use.
When cycling in the UK like this, it was not unusual to see heads turning, jaws dropping and even people taking photographs. We had expected to blend in a little more in the Netherlands. Our set-up, however, was still unusual enough to attract attention. Especially when Jeremy had Nathaniel’s bike attached to his bike on the FollowMe Tandem and then the trailer hitched onto the back of the Islabike.
Both children had various options. To cycle completely independently. Do a ‘team effort’ on the FollowMe Tandem. Have a chill out in the Yepp Junior (although only one at a time). These options meant we could manage the children’s tiredness levels better. Plus, the adults became more confident about predicting how far we might get in one day. We wanted to combine a cycle tour with a family holiday. We had no intention of cycling day after day after day. However, we did want to ‘tour’ the North Sea Cycle route (LF1) and have some fun on our Netherlands family cycling holiday.
Zeebrugge to Breskens
Our first day’s cycling included 15km to the Belgian-Dutch border where the cycle paths widened. Once in the Netherlands, it took us through sand dunes, quiet wooded paths and along a dune top route with fabulous sea views. The cycle paths were busy with other cyclists but what a joy to have not a car in sight. The children cycled independently much of the way and then hitched on as they got tireder and hungrier. We wanted to make camp before teatime and, more crucially, get to the campsite shop before it shut.
Camping at Breskens
That afternoon, we arrived at Strand Camping Groede, thrilled with how easy it is to cycle as a family, with rather a lot of luggage, in the Netherlands. The children were glad to see the adventure playground and enormous bouncy inflatable. We enjoyed a six night stay here. We particularly appreciated the proximity to a vast, sandy beach and our day trip to the port of Vlissingen. A long stretch of coast with nearly continuous beaches and a Strand cafe roughly every kilometer was just around the corner. A visit to the family friendly De Afslag, with its miniature village and indoor and outdoor playgrounds was a real hit with the kids.
Do you need to book?
We pre-booked any campsites that we wanted to stay at for a few nights and left gaps in between to allow flexibility. Having said that, we did email many campsites beforehand to check that they wouldn’t turn away a cycling family. The response was typically the same: ‘we can always squeeze cyclists in for a night’. That allowed us to reach the giddy heights of totally planned spontaneity!
Breskens to Renesse
Followed by a darkening sky, we retraced our steps to Vlissingen, enjoying a pause on the passenger ferry. Then we all pedalled furiously to make the next ferry at the beautiful old town of Veere. Dark clouds loomed but we managed a dry picnic and a cup of tea outside a cafe at Kamperland on the other side. Determined to get as far as possible before the inevitable rain came, we set off quickly towards our first sea bridge. A mile later, there was a cry from our six year old. She realised she had left her tiny rubber mouse on a swing at the cafe.
Wrong turn in the rain
So, mum and daughter turned back and dad and son planned to cycle onwards, slowly. We retrieved the mouse and cycled back to catch the other two up. The rain began. Fortunately the wind was at our backs, so we raced along. In fact we were going so fast we didn’t notice the others, who had turned right and were waiting to tell us to turn. The route signing was obscured by a tree and we sailed on so fast in the wind and rain that we didn’t hear their yells. After a while, we stopped, wondering where they were. The rain pelted down. I put on my waterproofs but our daughter refused. My powers of persuasion failed dismally.
Mindful of the cost and the low battery, I got out my phone, shielding it from the now bouncing rain. After more yelling than necessary, we figured out how to reconvene and I turned our bikes around – into the wind. A mile later I was sheltering under a bridge with a sobbing, shivering daughter. She was now rather vocal on the subject of being warm and dry and so I helped her out of sandals and summer clothes into more suitable raingear.
We found the others further down the route in a lovely warm cafe. They had hot chocolates waiting for us. We shook out our waterproofs and breathed.
Eventually, we tore ourselves away from the comfort of the cafe and, fully togged up this time, got back into the saddle.
Wind at our backs
The rain drummed steadily for the next couple of hours as we tandem-ed across the 9km long Oosterschelde barrier. It’s the largest of 13 dams and storm surge barriers, designed to protect the Netherlands from flooding from the North Sea. An impressive sight, yet we kept our heads down in the rain. It is exposed up there and the wind was extremely strong. We were on the flat, but Esther and I barely had to pedal to stay tucked in behind Jeremy, Nathaniel and the trailer. This certainly affirmed our decision to cycle with the prevailing wind. The wind did all the work.
Once we rejoined the mainland, we stopped briefly for snacks but soon pushed on along LF1. At one point we tried to read the map but it tore in the wind before we had chance to open it fully. Cold, wet and tired, we would all be glad when this day of cycling was over. The rain eased off as we pedalled through some beautiful woodland into Renesse.
Pizza never tasted better
We stopped in the town for dinner before carrying on to the campsite. There was no doubt it had been one of our trickier days on our Netherlands family cycling holiday. Still the beer and pizza tasted all the better for it!
It took us a while to find Vakantiepark Zonnedorp but when we finally arrived we were given a warm welcome. The owner’s father was a keen cycle tourer who had ridden round the world. As a consequence, cycle tourers who just turned up were sometimes given a pitch for free and asked to give a donation to a cycle charity instead of paying. The children were wooed by the enormous playground. A satisfying end to the day.