Art and nature: the new way to go Dutch

By Kate Wickers, December 30, 2008
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Some of the 10 square miles of woodland in the Veluwe national park

Some of the 10 square miles of woodland in the Veluwe national park

My children were dubious. “Are you sure we can climb on it?” they asked for the second time. Even at the ages of two, six and seven they had learned that art is generally there to be looked at but never touched, let alone trampled over.

We clambered up and they shrieked with delight. Being able to interact with the outdoor exhibits in the Kroller-Mullers’ sculpture garden is just one of the highlights of a trip to the Hoge Veluwe National Park, the Netherland’s largest nature reserve.

It is difficult to find a genuine natural wilderness in the Netherlands, far enough from civilisation for the hum of motorway traffic and flight paths not to intrude on the peace. But the Hoge Veluwe, just north of Arnhem, is one such oasis — 22 square miles of natural bliss where the most stress you’re likely to encounter will be how to explain rutting deer to your kids.

We stayed at the Grand Café Hotel Kruller, located at the gates to the Hoge Veluwe. Quintessentially Dutch (imagine eating pancakes in front of a log fire) but with a modern twist (lots of modern art and bright furnishings) its spacious rooms — of which there are just 17 — easily accommodated the five of us. We also got first pick of the white bicycles, which you can borrow free to use within the park boundaries.

Pedal power is certainly the most efficient and fun way to explore the 10 square miles of woods, dunes and heath that make up the nature reserve. But you can also drive in to the park and explore on foot.

The Visitors’ Centre, or De Aanschouw, is a good place to begin as it provides information on the Park’s flora and fauna, history and landscape using fun audio-visual aids. And a visit to the nearby Museonder, the first underground museum in the world, is a must. Its three levels offer a fascinating insight into life underground, the highlight of which are the roots of a 135-year-old beech tree.

Three kilometres further on from the museum is Jachtslot St Hubertus, built by modernist architect H P Berlage in 1920 and the former country home of the Kroller-Mullers. In keeping with its environment, the unusual floor plan forms the shape of branching antlers.

In 1935 the Kroller-Mullers handed over their private estate, together with their extensive art collection, to the Netherlands on the condition that the park was maintained as a mix of nature and culture and an art museum was built within its boundaries.

The museum was created in one of the most scenic areas of the park and houses the Kroller-Mullers collection of more than 275 works, by, among others, Van Gogh (second only to the RijksMuseum in Amsterdam), Seurat, Picasso, Monet, Braque and Mondriaan. But it is in the sculpture garden — the largest in Europe — that you really see the Kroller-Mullers vision take shape as nature and art blend as one.

There are more than 60 works on display, by artists such as Hepworth, Rodin, Moore and Lipchitz. Many of them are interactive, such as the immense Jardin d’Email by Jean Dubuffet — an abstract, black-and-white landscape that we clambered up and over, without any officious museum attendants shouting at us to get off.

We picnicked in the grounds (Hotel Kruller provided it), and then had a fantastic post-lunch game of hide and seek. The sculptures provide wonderful hiding places and it took my kids 15 minutes to find my hiding place behind a giant bronze seedpod.

Back on our bikes and armed with binoculars we went in search of wildlife. Early Spring and winter, when the trees are without their leaves, are the best times to spot the hundreds of shy red and roe deer. At other times you can climb up to one of the viewing platforms, built six feet above the ground, and wait quietly for the deer to appear. A remote possibility when you have three noisy boys in tow, but even we saw an exciting tussle between two bucks. Wild boars, foxes, badgers and mouflons (Corsican sheep) are also found in the park but with the exception of the sheep tend to be somewhat reclusive. But we saw hawks and buzzards, which in summer cruise on warm thermals as they search for small mammals such as mice and voles.

The Hoge Veluwe is undoubtedly the most unusual national park in the Netherlands, not only for its impressive art collection and its unique landscape, but also for its appeal to all ages and interests.

Travel facts

Grand Café Hotel Kruller (www.kruller.nl; 0031 318591231) has double rooms from around £60 per night. More information on opening times, admission prices, special events, etc at the Hague Veluwe Park and Kroller Muller Museum: www.hogeveluwe.nl. Jachtslot St Hubertus can be viewed by private tour only, which are given daily.

    Last updated: 3:27pm, March 11 2009