HOLLAND By Tim Cole There is one picture of Holland in the spring. Bulbfields. Myriad colours to dazzle the eyes and fill the senses. The defining images of this Dutch mastercraft are of Keukenhof, the stunning park that for just eight w
By Tim Cole
There is one picture of Holland in the spring. Bulbfields. Myriad colours to dazzle the eyes and fill the senses.
The defining images of this Dutch mastercraft are of Keukenhof, the stunning park that for just eight weeks every year showcases everything that is remarkable about the bulb trade.
Some seven million bulbs donated by the nation's growers are set out amid the beautiful parkland to patterns determined by Keukenhof's designer, Jasper van Der Zon.
This floral exhibition offers a fabulous cross-over between natural and man-made art.
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Nature's colours are woven in stimulating ways as you turn every corner through the acres of woodland and formal garden.
Some 800,000 visitors come to Keukenhof during these eight remarkable weeks when the show of tulips, hyacinths, daffodils and other bulbs is at it's most glorious.
To put that in perspective, around 1 million visitors tour Anne Frank's House in Amsterdam each year and approximately 1.5 million see the artworks on show in city's Rijksmuseum during any 12-month period.
In terms of the Dutch tourist industry Keukenhof certainly punches its weight.
There are plenty of reasons for visitors to return year after year.
The outdoor displays are never twice the same, but the park offers plenty of other attractions.
This year the park's theme is From Russia With Love and the jewel in the crown is a magnificent floral mosaic of St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow's Red Square.
There is inspiration to be found in the form of small display gardens with ideas that can be mentally transported as a whole or piece by piece to include in your own garden. Two of the gardens this year have Russian concepts.
Keukenhof has a number of pavilions where you can see everything from displays of orchids to a fashion exhibition. In one is an overview of the world famous Russian corps de ballet.
The tulips at Keukenhof were later than normal this year due to the harsh winter, meaning the display in the final weeks to mid-May is likely to be as spectacular as ever.
From Keukenhof you can get 'up close and personal' with the bulbfields themselves by taking a boat tour of the canals that criss-cross the surrounding landscape.
On your way to or from Keukenhof you can pop into Panorama Tulipland in nearby Voorhout.
Here you will find the world's largest and most colourful flower-panorama in the form of a 63 metres long and four metres high painting of the bulbfields.
You can stand in the centre surrounded by the artwork and get a picture of how the area looked in the 1950s.
The centre also has a museum displaying some frightening looking agricultural implements used by the bulb-growing industry in years gone by.
Keukenhof isn't the only place where the Russian love affair is on show.
In Amsterdam you can see a breathtaking exhibition of works in the exhibition Matisse to Malevich: Pioneers of modern art from the Hermitage.
It was a move to delight every art lover when the St Petersburg museum opened Hermitage Amsterdam as a western European 'extension' in 2008.
With this display it reaffirms every expectation.
Running until September 17 this year, it offers the chance to see masterpieces by the great Fauvists and Cubists including nine works by Derain and 14 by Picasso.
You will find Kandinsky's Komposition IV, The Port of Hamburg by Albert Marquet and The Signal by Henri Le Fauconnier.
The exhibition has Matissee's Sunflowers in a Vase from 1898 and Malevich's Black Square from c1932 as its historical and spiritual bookends.
You could stay in Amsterdam to visit all these attractions, but The Hague makes a pleasant alternative base.
Less overrun by tourists, it has a calmer air as befits the nation's centre of government.
Public transport is plentiful and the city is also easy to navigate on foot.
There is fine dining to be found aplenty, but two unusual options are on offer.
At Choix du Chef you can specify the number of courses you would like (between one and six) and any food that you cannot eat (members of our party individually eliminated shellfish, goat's cheese and chicken), but the chef decides what you are served given those constraints.
The quality of the food is not only extremely high, but the thought and creativity behind selecting each item to make a perfect meal regardless of the number of courses is remarkable.
At Maxime you get to choose yourself, but the menu is split right and left, offering just two choices for each course.
You are allowed to move between the two sides of the menu to your own requirements and whichever combination you come up with is likely to please your palette.
Neither option is for fussy eaters, but those with a taste for fine dining will be delighted.
Our base for the trip was the Mercure Den Haag Central hotel, extremely comfortable and centrally located less than ten minutes walk from the central railway station, with views from the upper floors across the whole city.
How to get there
easyJet flies to Amsterdam from three London airports: Gatwick, Luton and Stansted. The airline recently introduced a fifth daily flight from Gatwick bringing the total daily flights from London to Amsterdam to 11 a day.
Where to stay
Stay at Mercure Den Haag Central hotel in The Hague. Online prices start from €85.
What to see
Hermitage Amsterdam, Amstel 51, Amsterdam
Keukenhof Holland, Stationsweg 166a, 2161 AM Lisse Tel: 0031 (0) 252 465 555
Panorama Tulipland, Jacoba van Beierenweg 79, 2215 KV Voorhout
Where to eat
Maxime, Buitenhof 20, 2513 AG Den Haag
Choix du Chef, Hooikade 4, 2514 DH Den Haag, 0031 (0)70 363 06 58
De Kroonprins, Prins Hendrikkade 52-57, Amsterdam
For more information about Holland visit www.Holland.com