On the outskirts of the very small city of Amsterdam lies a glorious taste of the Dutch countryside.
Ouderkerk aan de Amstel is one of our favourite places to head to when the city is jammed with tourists in Summer and we want to escape to a riverside terrace for a touch of peace, a majestic view and a glass of something chilled. Located as the name suggests on the Amstel river, this heavenly village offers a slice of the good life and a real taste of Dutch river-side living.
There are several ways to get to Ouderkerk
Visitors in the know hire a bike in town and cycle the 10k along the Amstel river. Heading out past the Magere Brug or “Skinny Bridge” you’ll be in the ‘countryside’ within about 20 minutes, cycling past windmills and fabulous waterfront properties before riding out on the polder with the Amstel snaking alongside you. Its not surprising that the easy 40 minute ride is one of the city’s most popular out-of-town day trips for saddle-bound explorers.
Personally, I’ve always wanted to do this journey on an open boat or “sloop” – seeing others picnic on the picturesque banks, lying on the deck with a little radio, or even diving in for a swim has always struck me as an idyllic way to spend a glorious Summer Sunday.
But equally, a 20 minute drive or Uber out of town will get you quickly to this lovely slice of local life which has inspired many Amsterdammers including the most famous one of all, Rembrandt.
So what can you expect when you arrive?
Well, aside from a slower pace of life, herons and birdsong, look out for the lovely windmill which is just at the end of the Amstelpark. There are beautiful historic churches and houses, the Netherlands’ oldest Jewish cemetery and the Ouderkerkerplas lake which is lovely swimming spot.
You’ll also find some of our favourite restaurants, all with river-side terraces, packed shoulder to shoulder on a short cobbled street along a stretch of river at the heart of the village.
The first of these is Paardenburg – an upmarket Brasserie that serves one of the best versions of steak tartare around. The terrace is a stunning (and popular) spot to kill an hour or two and put the world to rights over a glass of white.
Next door is, Ron Gastrobar Indonesia. Ron Blauw is one of the city’s most famous restauranteurs. The empire (and Michelin stars) began with an eponymous eatery in Ouderkerk which achieved one star in 2004 and went on secure and retain another between 2006 and 2013. Ron then took a surprising decision to close the restaurant at its peak and move into Amsterdam proper, opening a number of less formal eateries including the one star Ron Gastrobar; Ron Gastrobar Oriental; Ron Gastrobar Paris, and even a hotdog venue in the Pijp called The Fat Dog.
Back in Ouderkerk, the restaurant was transformed into Ron Gastrobar Indonesia which is our favourite of Amsterdam’s many Indonesian restaurants and the most wonderful place to sample the fabulous Indo speciality Rijstafel. We thought it was fun when we spotted Louis van Gaal – the Netherlands’ most infamous football manager there, however our celeb spotting was wildly eclipsed by a recent visit from no less than Barak Obama who knows a thing or two about Indonesian food having lived in Jakarta as a child. If you really can’t make it out to the Ouderkerk branch, a close second is Ron Gastrobar Oriental Downtown in the centre of Amsterdam which is more of a Chinese/Indonesian mash up – with a dose of pizzazz to boot.
Then, there’s a lovely little ice cream parlour called Ijsje aan de Amstel where you’ll find an array of home-made flavours that are hard to resist.
Finally, for us the piéce de resistance – Loetje aan de Amstel. Bundled up inside in Winter or relaxing outside on the terrace in Summer – this was the first Loetje we visited (it has since been done up and expanded) and it was love at first taste. It’s our favourite branch of our favourite restaurant and the place we return to time and time again. Loetje is packed 7 days a week and reservations are essential. The chaotic queue for the car park hints at its enduring popularity but once inside the steak seals the deal every time.
At the end of the evening, driving back up the river in the glorious late dusky Dutch light with the last of the boats winding their way lazily home, has become one of our family’s favourite Summer meanders – and not just because Marc can see the sun setting over Ajax’s Amsterdam Arena somewhere beyond the polder in the distance…