Dutch destinations: focus on Zierikzee
Zierikzee isn’t the first place that might come to mind for a Dutch getaway, but this little coastal town is well worth a visit. Here you will find 500 listed buildings, museums, a historic port and lots of cute shops and cafes.
The community’s history dates back to the 13th century and for hundreds of years it was best known for the Battle of Zierikzee. The naval confrontation of 1304 pitted the forces of King Philip IV of France against a valiant Flemish fleet controlled by the Count of Flanders.
At first the small and fast Flemish ships had the upper hand and easily beat their better-equipped but slow and clumsy opponents who were soon stranded in shallow water. The tide turned several ways the next morning after a saboteur untied the Flemish ships from their moorings. Their crews watched helplessly as they drifted out to sea.
The city also rebounded from the devastating fires of 1414 and 1576 which largely reduced it to ashes.
Two tragic events also marked the first half of the 20th century for the community. During World War I, a British pilot got lost and dropped eight bombs on Zierikzee. Several houses were damaged and a family was killed. The great flood of 1953 also heavily damaged the city.
Today, Zierikzee is home to just over 10,000 residents. Dozens of its centuries-old city walls, churches, gates, towers, squares and windmills still stand, making it a haven for photographers or anyone who loves classic Dutch architecture.
Things to do
Admire the views
Seeing the city’s 500 listed buildings would be a daunting task, even if you had several months to spend there. Most will choose to focus on the more photogenic spots in Zierikzee. Cross a double drawbridge and first visit the Zuidhavenpoort and the Noordhavenpoort. These 14th century gates once served to protect the city.
You will find classic boats in the nearby port of Nieuwe Haven and historic buildings in the Oude Haven district. A hike up the 279 steps of the Sint-Lievensmonstertoren will reward you with stunning views of the surroundings below. Its 15th century designers originally planned to give it a height of 200 meters. Some say 130, stories vary. A recession forced them to scale back their plans to a still-impressive figure of 62. Locals often call him by his nickname: By Dikke Toren (the big tower). Looks like he’s had a few too many bitter bullets.
Discover a museum
Nearby Domburg served as an artists’ colony and helped foster the careers of Piet Mondriaan, as well as Jan and Charley Toorop. You can find out more about those who flocked to the area to inspire their muses at Marie Tak van Poortvliet Museum. Photographers will enjoy insight into the history of photography and a collection of equipment unique to the camera museum. The exhibitions on the history of the city are completed in the Stadhuismuseum.
Have a good time
The catastrophic flood of 1953 devastated the area and led to the construction of the monumental Delta Works project. Deltapark Neeltje Jans is about 20 minutes by car from Zierikzee. It houses both a storm surge barrier and, oddly enough, a theme park. Some might consider it gross, but families love the aquarium, elaborate pool, and daily sea lion shows during the summer months.
The visitor center contains much more serious exhibits about the flooding in addition to the interactive Delta experience. The latter is definitely not for the faint of heart or for those afraid of water. Bring your walking shoes if you want to visit the barrier itself. It’s a bit difficult to get out of it.
Seal the deal
A 30 minute drive north will take you to A Stellendam seal. To be more precise, several seals in addition to exhibits about them. This somewhat oddly named sanctuary brings injured and sick seals back in good health before they are released back into the wild. Visitors can see the seals in the indoor and outdoor enclosures. The permanent exhibits also contain information on what it takes to save the creatures and help them become seaworthy again.
Go in search of Job Baster and his shady friends
Baster was an 18th century physician and naturalist whose legacy includes dozens of studies in medicine, horticulture and marine biology…in addition to one of the most unique statues in the country.
He is also credited with introducing the nation to what would become one of its most beloved pets. You’ll find a stone version of Baster with a puzzled smile on his face in Havenpark holding a goldfish. There are a few others watching him lovingly near his feet. Baster once raised the fish in his own private ponds. The project proved to be such a success that it quickly had some very shady fashion on its hands. People came from miles around to get one.
Where to eat
Kaoie Brewery is a good place to go if you like seafood or traditional Dutch dishes. It has a wonderful view of the harbor and a small terrace too. To aim Restaurant Cristo if you are looking for a romantic dinner. They specialize in contemporary French and Spanish cuisine. Cristó offers a fixed menu from Wednesday to Sunday with up to seven dishes. If you want to try a locally sourced Oosterschelde lobster, they should be on the menu at Maritime Brewery.
Do you have toddlers in tow or are you looking for a quick meal on the go? Aim for the few explanations Addicted to Fish and Chips. The Pizzeria, unsurprisingly, serves pizza along with other Italian dishes. There are plenty of traditional pies as well as daily specials that include less conventional ingredients like pulled pork. Lead Nilsson is a charming cafe serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Roekoekoe is a great place for lunch. Go for a “bagel bomb” with smoked salmon or Indian coconut curry dahl. They also do coffee if you’re looking for a place to relax mid-afternoon over a flat white and/or a slice of layer cake. They close most days at 4:00 p.m.
If you need pastries or a loaf of bread for dinner at a rental home or on Airbnb, look no further than De Man Die Bakt. This bakery offers a range of breads in addition to croissants and Zeeland rolls. These are ooey, gooey and absolutely delicious.
Where to stay
If you prefer your accommodation to be described in terms like “historic” and “unique”, book a few nights at De Zeeuwse Hemel. It is housed in a 16th century building and much of the decoration in each of its themed rooms dates back to the 18th century. It is part of a complex which also has a small restaurant, shop and garden.
Boutique Hotel Zeeuws Meisje is located near the harbor and its rooms have been described as “instagrammable”. From Oude Haven is one of many bed and breakfast options in town. Camping Kloet is a campground outside of the center that is quiet and quiet, at least in part because it doesn’t allow dogs or large groups.
How to get there
Zierikzee is located on the island of Schouwen-Duiveland. It’s about a 2.5 hour drive from Amsterdam. It is not accessible by train, but if you wish to use public transport many choose to take the rails to nearby Goes and complete the journey with a bus journey of around 20 minutes.
Havendage is a three-day festival scheduled to take place in 2022 from August 25-27. The program for its 33rd edition is not yet online, but it will certainly include the annual crowning of the Mosselprinses (Mussel Princess). You can find a complete list from previous princesses on the festival website.
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