Sand, Sun, Flowers and Fun in Noordwijk on The Netherlands North Sea Coast

Sand, Sun, Flowers and Fun in Noordwijk on The Netherlands North Sea Coast

Standing on our balcony at the Grand Hotel Huis ter Duin (“House on the Dune”), we took in the view of a wide beach filled with colorful umbrellas.  An hour earlier, my wife, Michelle, and I were retrieving our luggage from Amsterdam’s Schiphol International Airport.  After too much time inside airports and on an airplane, we needed fresh air and exercise. Quickly changing into t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops, we headed for the beach.

The Netherlands might not be top-of-mind as a beach destination, but it should be. Walking on the hard packed sand at the shore line, sail boats glided by, children chased seagulls and couples walked hand-in-hand under a bright, cloudless Dutch sky.

For my first European trip in several years, I wanted to visit places I knew and some that were new to me. The Netherlands was the perfect destination. Amsterdam has always been a favorite but I didn’t know the North Sea beaches as much as I wanted to. This trip would take me thirty minutes south-west from Amsterdam to Noordwijk on the North Sea (“Noordwijk aan Zee”).

Located in The Netherlands’ Dune and Bulb Region (“Duin en Bollenstreek”), Noordwijk stretches from the dunes on the North Sea Coast to inland areas which include an important bulb and flower growing area that is aglow with color when the flowers are in bloom. A popular South Holland beach destination since the end of the Nineteenth Century, over the past decades Noordwijk has been transformed by an interest in wellness, good food and environmental protection.

Huis Ter Duin

Home base for the trip was the Grand Hotel Huis ter Duin. Built on the highest sand dune in the area, guests have an unobstructed view of the beach and the expanse of the North Sea.

During a tour, Jill Stokkermans, PR & Communications Manager, gave us a history of the hotel. A family affair, three generations work in the hotel. Since the 1970’s, the family’s goal has been to create a comfortable, luxury experience for guests visiting Noordwijk. That experience includes a focus on sustainability. Even small, easy-to-accomplish details can help protect the environment. For instance, Jill explained, the minibars in each hotel room are not stocked because expiration-dated food was often discarded. For guests who would like food and drink in their minibars, the hotel can provide a choice of tasty snacks and beverages. Since you pay for what you order, waste is avoided.

Attention to design details has also been important to the family. Commissioned by Marian Noordlander, her grandmother, Jill pointed out the distinctive, colorful carpets in all the rooms and the original paintings of Pierrot, the French-Italian pantomime figure often called the “sad clown.”

clown painting

We appreciated the design of our room, a junior suite with a large sleeping area and a separate sitting area. Both rooms had flat screen TVs and balcony-facing windows with a view of the beach. Adding a splash of color to the room in the sitting area, an abstract Pierrot painting hung above two easy chairs and a small table outfitted with an electric kettle and coffee maker. Outside on the balcony, another small table and chairs was the perfect place to enjoy a morning coffee or a late afternoon glass of wine, taking in the view of the beach.

The Grand Hotel blends the old with the new. When a fire destroyed parts of the hotel in early 1990, the family saw an opportunity to rebuild with modern materials while maintaining the hotel’s historic look. Continuing to improve the hotel, the Breakers Beach House was built on the rise between the hotel and the beach. The one-story cabana style building houses a spacious restaurant with indoor and outdoor dining reminiscent of architecture in Florida’s Palm Beach and on California’s Santa Monica beach.

For dinner one evening, we slipped on our flip flops and walked down the outdoor wooden steps to Breakers Beach House. With a seat on the large covered deck, we had a view of the sun hovering over the water and the beach.


Featuring seafood with an Asian accent, the menu had so many dishes we liked, Jill made suggestions. For starters, I liked the idea of Chapon oysters on the half shell with a classic mignonette sauce and a green salad. We shared the “Sexy Lobster” salad featuring tender Canadian lobster with grapefruit and a Japanese dressing. Michelle ordered the grilled shrimp and, in a sign of the waitstaff’s attentiveness, when she said she preferred sauteed spinach instead of the bok choy listed on the menu, she was told that was no problem. When the shrimp arrived, the server offered to remove the shells, which my wife happily accepted. To finish the meal, we had Dutch favorites, apple cake with whipped cream and an ice-cold, tulip-shaped glass of Bols Amsterdam 1575 Jonge Graan Genever.

Talking and enjoying the meal, we could see Jill had chosen the perfect time for us to have dinner. As we shared the apple cake, the sun dropped below the horizon and we watched its golden glow disappear into the darkness that embraced the beach.

A Walk on the Beach


The next morning, after having a generous breakfast from the complimentary buffet, we met Joost Bouwmeester, a naturalist guide. Friendly and entertaining, we learned from Joost an essential fact about The Netherlands. Much of the country is below sea level. For centuries, communities built dikes to hold back the North Sea. Without that protection, storms would push water inland with devastating effect.

Joost began the tour by telling us that what defends Noordwijk and the beach is hiding in plain sight. He pointed to the two-story tall sand dune to the north of the Grand Hotel. “Underneath that sand dune,” he said dramatically, “there is a dike.”

Since the twelfth century, the Dutch have used science, engineering, horticulture and ingenuity to balance the needs of humans with the preservation of the natural environment. Common sense, Joost said, is their weapon. “No one has to tell the Dutch that climate change is real. We know the story.” While others may fight about whether the seas are rising, the Dutch are already building stronger, taller dikes and sand dunes.

sand dunes

The dunes are beautiful and they shelter Noordwijk from the heavy winds and storm surges that happen during winter storms. But the dunes need protecting as well. Joost pointed to thick clusters of tall grasses. Because of their very large root system, Marram Grass was planted to anchor the sand against the violence of North Sea storms. Gesturing to the beach, he told us, without Marram Grass, “a couple of good storms and the dunes in front of Noordwijk would disappear. Eaten by the waves of the North Sea.”

But the ingenuity of Dutch environmental engineering is that no one relaxing on the beach or swimming in the water was thinking about the sand dunes and grasses that protect Noordwijk from winter storms. They were enjoying a bright, sunny, warm beach day.

We continued our walk north on a pedestrian and bike path with a view of hundreds of brightly colored umbrellas sheltering beach goers from the sun. Making the point that a Netherlands beach can be as alluring as one in Mexico, we passed surfboards, artificial palm trees, lines of bicycles, palm frond umbrellas, a sign for “Tulum” and small cafes like De Koele Costa that served snacks, sandwiches, salads and beverages.

Beachclub O

At Beachclub O., the inside areas and bar were full, so we happily settled into comfortable chairs outside on the covered patio. Over freshly made lobster rolls, Quirine Kamphuisen, president, Noordwijk Marketing, told us that one hundred and fifty years ago the area was championed by Queen Wilhelmina as a wellness retreat.  She and the royal family often visited the area and promoted the health benefits of clean air and bathing in the brisk waters of the North Sea. In 2020 Noordwijk was designated as a Spa District by the European Spa Association (ESPA). The focus on health continues in luxury facilities like Azzurro Wellness, a five-minute walk from the beach.

Azzurro Wellness is well-outfitted with modern gym equipment, a putting green, five tennis courts and an indoor swimming pool. The facility is for members and day-visitors. It was immediately obvious that this was a gym-with-a-difference because of the art. Giant illuminated male figures (“Bruddha” by Jurriaan van Hall) stand on one end of the pool. Facing the lounge with comfortable chairs and sofas were colorful busts of Louis XIV.  Throughout the facility, statues and paintings attracted the eye.

Marcel Zijlstra, director and co-owner, explained that the goal of Azzurro Wellness was to provide a facility where you can train, “but it’s also about health, eating and wellness. The biggest enemy of people working out is themselves. In here, we decided to make a club that gives them a workout and relaxation to last their lifetime.”

azzurro wellness

So, no pulsing work-out beats at Azzurro. Instead, there is calming music more associated with a spa. The interior design also adds to the relaxed feeling. The browns and sandy colors and the use of stone and wood mirror the look of Noordwijk’s dunes and the beach. This is a gym informed by the aesthetics of wellness, not by sweat and pain.

To promote the feeling of community, no nudity is allowed, so men and women together can use all the facilities, including the saunas, whirlpool, tanning rooms and indoor pool. Six days a week, a staff-supervised children’s nursery is available for children up to the age of 4.

Azzurro Beauty shares the lobby and continues the message of living a healthy life style. My wife and I were offered massages by Myra and Netty. Asked what kind of treatments we wanted, Michelle told Myra that she would like a deep tissue massage. My answer was very different. I needed a relaxing massage.

I followed Netty to the treatment room. She asked me to lie face down and covered me head to toe with towels. The massage began with her applying “Relax” oil from Tranquility Blend on my back and legs. The treatment was so calming, I must have fallen asleep because I was startled when she said it was time to turn over.

With a towel covering my face, her hands pressed against my chest, torso and then each leg. When I thought the treatment was concluded, it wasn’t. She removed the towel from my feet and applied more warm oil. Rubbing first the soles, then the tops of my feet, I was so relaxed, all my senses were focused on an experience of pure sensation. Any tension that remained in my body was eased away.

She removed the towel covering my face. My eyes fluttered open. Netty whispered “Was it good?” All I could offer was a halting response, “Yes. Very. Thank you.” She told me a shower was already running. As she left the room, she said, “I’ll see you outside. No need to rush. The oil on your feet might be slippery.” I didn’t rush. The oil was slippery and the shower was warm and comforting.

I rejoined Michelle who loved Myra’s deep tissue massage. Our next stop was around the corner. We walked, relaxed and happy to Dylans Restaurant, Bar and Lounge in the Alexander Hotel.

dylans noordwijk

In Noordwijk, Dylans is one of the restaurants where you go to splurge and indulge. Famous for the quality of its beef, we ordered a surf and turf meal that included oysters on the half shell, duck liver terrine and a steak with an onion compote, potato gratin and summer savory gravy.  After we enjoyed cocktails and warm sourdough bread with sea salt, olive oil and butter, we had our meal. Everything was delicious. As we were finishing, we saw a uniquely Dutch event taking place outside. I grabbed my camera and ran out to the street.

Music played. People waved from cars, pick-up trucks and small floats decorated with flowers. People on the sidewalk waved back. In the bulb and flower growing areas of The Netherlands, local parades celebrate a love of flowers. The next day, the floats and flower-covered-cars were displayed on Koningin Wilhelmina Boulevard that runs parallel to the beach so everyone could have a close-up experience with the brightly colored roses, safflowers, chrysanthemums, black-eyed Susans, wisteria and marigolds.


Bulbs, Flowers, Golf and Beach Yoga

My wife shouted to me from across the two-lane blacktop, “This is so much fun,” as we breezed on a country road in mini-electric cars, courtesy of Renzy. The local touring company provides open-air e-cars with self-guided GPS and audio tours of the local dunes, flower farms, windmills and castles. Our audio directions, “turn right,” “turn left,” were not leading us to “Home” or “Office,” but on a fact-filled tour of an agricultural area that grows bulbs for gardens around the world.

For our flower and bulb tour, we avoided riding in a noisy, polluting car or on a bus. We were instead using Renzy’s small, French Renault Twizy e-cars for an up-close experience of flower fields. To get an even closer look at a flower farm ablaze with dahlias and anemones, red, white, pale blue, deep lavender and yellow, we stopped by the side of the road.

The owner, Henk van Eeuwijk was working in the field. We complimented him on the beauty of his flowers and asked where he sells them. With a smile, he told us most of these flowers would never grace a dining room table. When the blooms are at their peak, the flowers are cut and recycled as compost. What he sells are the bulbs, not the flowers.

flowers in Holland

We love cut flowers, so it was disappointing to hear that all the beauty we saw in his fields would not be enjoyed. But later that day, we learned more about how a bulb farm works. At the family-owned De Tulperij, run by Daan and Anja Jansze, visitors can take a tour of the farm with stops at the café, gift shop, u-pick garden and show garden with 600 dahlias where local growers show off their best bulbs.

In the show garden, Daan pointed out the colorful dahlia varieties, including the very popular, very large “Café au Lait” with delicate pink and white petals. Like many growers in this region of The Netherlands, the farm sells bulbs, which are more easily transported than freshly cut flowers.

He grows tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and dahlias. Each season has its flower and each flower has its specific needs. Tulips, originally from Afghanistan and Turkey, for instance, need cold. Dahlias, from Mexico like heat. He agreed with Henk van Eeuwijk that the best bulbs are created when the flowers are removed at just the right time. Wait too long and the flowers use the bulb’s energy to make seeds, which yields inferior bulbs.

As we walked alongside a fallow field, Daan explained that the lessons he’s learned as a grower apply to home gardens. To keep the soil and bulbs healthy, he plants flowers from different families and rotates them every season. To give tulips the right amount of cold, he puts the bulbs in cold storage for the winter. The sandy soil in Noordwijk close to the North Sea is good for bulbs. The clay soil in Flevoland, another bulb and flower growing area, where we would visit later in the week, was better for growing and selling flowers.


While we were touring the bulb growing area, we stopped at Landgoed Tespelduyn, a 9-hole golf-course with practice holes and a lovely restaurant with a view of lush gardens and flower fields. Besides conventional golf, the course is used to play FootGolf where the holes are enlarged and players use their feet, ala soccer, instead of clubs to score points.

Had we visited in the spring, the tulips would have been in bloom and golfers lining up their shots would find themselves in a wonderland of color. Just imagine, Jim Kuipers, the Sales and Events manager, said, as he pointed to the bare fields around us, in late March and early April, those fields were covered in tulips, creating a landscape of brilliantly colored reds, yellows and purples.

yoga on beach

Back at the Grand Hotel, walking down the wooden steps, the Breakers’ flags moving in the wind, we spent the last day of our stay on the beach.  Michelle had a yoga session with Elke van Weezel from Yoga Beach. Under a cloudless sky, Elke directed Michelle in yoga poses. Behind them, I watched surfers, wind-surfers, sailors and swimmers in the water.

Along the shore, I imagined a century and a half ago when Queen Wilhelmina and the royal family traveled from Amsterdam to this beach to enjoy the health benefits of sea breezes and salt water. I’ve seen photographs of the Queen and her entourage as they waded in the water, enjoying the chill briskness, letting the hems of their long skirts get wet in the white foam. So much has changed since then, but not the pleasures and health benefits of this restful beach community.

When you go

For information about visiting The Netherlands, please go to

Discover Noordwijk, the comprehensive website has information about the beaches, nature experiences, wellness opportunities and visits to ESTEC (European Space Research and Technology Centre).

Noordwijk is close to Amsterdam’s transit hubs of Schiphol International Airport and Amsterdam Central train station. Easily reached by car, bus or train, we used Taxi Brouwer (Keyserswey 38-40, 2201 CW Noordwijk, +31 71 361 1000) to travel from Schiphol to Noordwijk. The convenience was definitely worth the added expense.

Guides: Joost Bouwmeester, +31 (0) 6 518 425 36, Joost is personable and fluent in English. Charming and knowledgeable, for years Joost worked in the flower auction business so he can tell stories about how flowers are grown, bought and sold as well as about the natural flora and fauna that you will see as you walk along the beach.  He can plan an individual tour or excursions with groups so you can hear everything you want to know about the life of the dunes.

Azzurro Beauty, Oude Zeeweg 57, 2202 CL Noordwijk, +07 36 14 702, Website in Dutch only. The Facebook page offers beauty tips in English and Dutch. Adjacent to Azzurro Wellness, Azzurro Beauty is open to members and the general public. Besides massages and facials, beauty treatments are available. A retail store in the lobby sells beauty and wellness products and jewelry.

Azzurro Wellness, Oude Zeeweg 57, 2202 CL Noordwijk, +071 361 22 21. Website in Dutch only. Facility details in English are available on the Discover Noordwijk website. The Facebook page has information in English and Dutch.

Beachclub O., Koningin Wilhelmina Boulevard 106, 2202 GW Noordwijk, +31 71 367 6894. Website mostly in Dutch.

De Koele Costa, Zeereep 21, 2202 NW Noordwijk. Website in Dutch only. Indoor and patio dining on the beach.

De Tulperij Farm, Oude Herenweg, 16 B, 2215 RZ Voorhout, South Holland, +31 6 42233291, open to the public from March to the end of October.

Dylans Restaurant, Bar and Lounge, the Alexander Hotel, Oude Zeeweg 63, 2202 CJ Noordwijk, +31 71 364 0777.

Grand Hotel Huis ter Duin (“House on the Dune”), Koningin Astrid Boulevard 5, 2202 BK Noordwijk aan Zee, +31 71 361 9220. A five-star hotel with 230 rooms, 20 suites and 4 penthouses, the hotel also has more than a dozen meeting rooms of varying sizes. The hotel’s three restaurants provide a range of service including the Michelin stared Restaurant Latour, the casual Brasserie La Terrasse and the Breakers Beach House with a view of the water. The Arti Hairstylisten, MC Wellness and Spa Center offer relaxation and beauty treatments. The MC Health Center has an indoor pool, sauna and steam bath. Hotel guests can reserve space on the spacious beach with seating and towels. A popular destination for celebrities and political figures, President Barack Obama stayed at the hotel in one of the penthouse suites when he attended a 2014 meeting in The Hague.

Keukenhof Gardens, Stationsweg 166a, 2161AM Lisse, The world-famous gardens are close to Noordwijk. Check the website for the dates and hours of operations. In 2023, the Gardens will be open to the public from March 23 to May 14 when the flowers will be in full bloom. Tickets can be ordered online beginning in mid-November, 2022. The Gardens are on the grounds of the Keukenhof Castle, which is open year-round.

Landgoed & Golfbaan Tespelduyn, Tespellaan 53, 2211 VT,  Noordwijkerhout. +31 252 241 333. Website in Dutch only.

Renzy, Electric GPS Audio Tours, Meer en Duin 36A, 2163 HC Lisse, +31 (0) 252 51 40 62, 2-passengers sit tandem style, one drives, one behind the driver, in an open car with gull-wings. Choose your language (Dutch, English, Spanish, German) and book the experience you want and the TomTom GPS guides you on a warm weather tour of the area. Check the website for the tours of the area which are offered from early April to the end of October.

Yoga Beach, Schoolstraat 42, Noordwijk aan Zee, Michelle Braams, +31 (0) 6 450 792 83. Website and Facebook page in Dutch only. Michelle is fluent in English, as are many of her yoga instructors like Elke van Weezel.