Imagine an idyllic Dutch village, with little canals winding their way past picture-postcard houses. With quiet boats chugging under wooden footbridges, past majestic windmills and restaurant terraces full of….Chinese tourists.
Welcome to Giethoorn, seemingly the epicentre of Chinese tourism in the Netherlands.
It’s hard to explain why this remote village has become an East Asian mecca. Theories abound from being the focus of a Chinese documentary called ‘Ni Hao Holland’ to its recent inclusion in an International edition of Monopoly (positioned between Montreal and Taipei if you’re wondering) but whatever the reason, the influx of up to 200k Chinese tourists a year can’t be ignored.
There are signs everywhere in Chinese, from the ones warning you not to cross the footbridge into someone’s private garden, to those at bus stops, boat yards and restaurant menus. But despite the tourist invasion of all nationalities, Giethoorn manages to remain a glorious place to visit on a sunny day.
We decided to set off on the 90 minute drive from Amsterdam fairly early in order to arrive before 10.00. It was a smart move. Things were still relatively chilled out at that time and we figured that after a couple of hours on the water we’d be ready for lunch before the journey home.
Giethoorn is known as the Venice of the North and though the village is tiny it’s easy to understand why. There are no roads in town at all, just a series of small canals that wind their way past fairytale houses before opening up into a lake and nature reserve.
Most visitors hire a whisper boat, a small electric boat that is relatively easy to manoeuvre but for those who feel less confident, there are compact tour boats which generally take older guests through the village and beyond.
A regular visitor to the area recommended hiring a boat from De Grachthof which turned out to be a great recommendation. One of the nicest looking restaurants on the main drag, it has a large terrace and many boats available for hire. Boats don’t need booking in advance, although you may have to wait a little on a weekend in high Summer for one to become available.
We clambered aboard our basic whisper boat and were given clear instructions (in English) and a map from a super-friendly and helpful teenager.
There are just a few rules which should be taken seriously and include the following:
- Your speed must not exceed 6km/h, similar to a firm walking pace (this is as fast as the boats travel anyway)
- You must be at least 16 to operate a boat
- Traffic in the village is one way
- Don’t sail into the reeds where birds and animals are nesting
The journey starts through the village and then, depending on how long you’ve booked for, you have the option of meandering through the lake, round the nature reserve and beyond.
Even though we set off early, there were already other boats on the narrow waterways, and later the water traffic became more significant. It’s not a huge problem as boats tend to stay in single file. However with tourists who are, shall we say, not natural boatmen and visitors keen to stop and take selfies, little bumps are common and it can be frustrating when others slow down, reverse, or end up facing the wrong way and unable to steer.
Once out on the lake there is room for all, and though technically you have to be 16 to take control of the boat, Zacy did an awesome job, taking his responsibility seriously and concentrating hard in order to navigate effectively.
The views are glorious. Locals seem to be in competition for the most picture perfect house and take great pride in keeping their homes and gardens in tip top condition.
After a double loop through town, we decided it was time for lunch and settled down on the terrace of the Grachthof. Despite a wasp-heavy August the view was lovely and the food surprisingly good.
We thoroughly enjoyed our morning in Giethoorn. It definitely favours sunny weather and if you can make it midweek and ideally off-season you might even avoid the traffic and share its delights with locals rather than tourists. Either way if you’re looking for a watery day out, Giethoorn could be just what you’re looking for.
再见 (see you soon)