This tiny little country keeps surprising me, even after twenty-five years. There was no particular reason why Friesland flew under my radar for such a long time, but it just did. I grew up in the South, and the Frisian lands felt distant in kilometers and culture. Why drive to Friesland when you can reach the North of France in the same amount of time? And what is there to do in Friesland, besides looking at the drowsy cows and sheep in the meadows? Really, it’s not like I tried to stay away from Friesland, but somehow we just never crossed paths. Until this past year.
Together with my parents, I went on a little road trip through the Netherlands. We headed off on a no-nonsense mini-vacation to enjoy the summer in the Friesland. I wasn’t expecting glitz and glamour, and I wasn’t looking for it either. I was ready to de-clutter my mind and clear the urban plaque from the crinkles in my brain. It was time to recharge my soul for another year of living in Amsterdam, a capital city crawling with impatient go-getters and wide-eyed tourists.
De Alde Feanen National Park
Friesland is one of the northernmost provinces of the Netherlands. Most of the country is quite densely populated, with our Western coast primarily consisting of interconnected urban hubs. In contrast, Friesland remains noticeably pastoral.
Despite it being one of the largest provinces in landmass, the population of Friesland is smaller than that of Amsterdam alone (646 000 vs 860 000). Going by the numbers, it should be quite unsurprising that the Frisian lands are so calm and quiet, so green and unspoiled.
The population of Friesland is smaller than that of Amsterdam alone. Going by the numbers, it is only logical that the Frisian lands are so calm and quiet, so green and unspoiled.
One particular area that just seems to consist of endless meadows, trickling brooks, little lakes, marshy swamps, and peaceful forests is De Alde Feanen National Park. It is one of the most important breeding grounds for over 100 species of birds.
In the afternoon, we paused our road trip and stayed at a campsite in the National Park. We slept in a hiker’s cabin for just one night, taking it slow and appreciating the unrushed rhythm of the Frisian countryside. The next day, we would drive to the coast and take the ferry to the Wadden Islands.
The Wadden Islands
The Dutch Wadden Islands are a natural treasure in the Netherlands; a region where urbanisation has never been able to get a grip. The archipelago has been designated as a world heritage site by UNESCO, and rightfully so. The islands protect the tidal mud flats on the mainland side and look out over the mighty North Sea on the other side. The islands are known for their typical lighthouses, pristine sandy beaches, as well as their wild seal population.
Spending the Summer in Friesland: Island Life on Ameland
One of the Wadden Islands (also known as the Frisian Islands) is Ameland. We drove up from De Alde Feanen towards the edge of the Frisian mainland. Ready for the island life, we left our car behind (no use for that) and waited for the ferry that would take us to Ameland.
Our little lodge stood on the grounds of a former fisher’s village called ‘Sier’, which has long disappeared into nothingness.
Once we arrived, we rented bicycles and headed towards the lighthouse. That’s where our lodge would be, where there used to be a tiny little fisher’s village called ‘Sier’ that has long disappeared. It was extremely windy and the salty air was violently flailing my hair and slowly filling my city lungs.
The space we booked was nothing more but a little room with two bunk beds and a tiny little bathroom. But it was all we needed, since we ended up spending most of our time in the dunes anyway. All we would do is cycle around, going from one tiny village to another. We had picnics in the sand and stopped at the beach wherever we wanted. It was such a sweet and simple summer in Friesland, I don’t doubt it will become a fond memory for decades to come.