Cycling to Hilversum (Netherlands): Where Modernism and Nature Meet

Hilversum is a town in the centre of the Netherlands. To the Dutch it is mostly known as the media universe of the Netherlands. In the past, our national radio stations were even called Hilversum 1 and Hilversum 2.

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There are many green cycling options east of Amsterdam in an area called ‘Het Gooi’. The area is shaped by glaciers and hence hillier and sandier than the west of the Netherlands.

This was not the reason we went to Hilversum though. Hilversum is also known for its modernist city architect Dudok. Of the many buildings he and his contemporaries built, the Hilversum city hall is one of the masterpieces. Dudok was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright.

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The famous Dutch directional signs, called ‘mushrooms’ Modern versions can be found in Calgary on the island in the Bow river and in Ottawa west of the Bank Street bridge and the canal (north side)

Naarden-Bussum station

We took the train from Haarlem via Amsterdam to the train station Naarden-Bussum. This station has a special place in Dutch railroad history as it was the first ‘suburban’ train station outside of Amsterdam. The station was built in 1925 and made it all of a sudden much easier for Amsterdammers to live in a leafy environment.

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Built in 1925, it is an important piece of Dutch railway building. Middle class families no longer had to live close to work: they could now live further away in green areas outside Amsterdam and take the train into work. (photo Internet)

Leaving the station you will cycle into a neighbourhood with beautiful mostly older houses. After a few kilometers the scenery changes into a mix of forest and small scale agriculture. The area is dotted with very expensive multi million dollar houses in the woods, often hard to see due to high hedges. Still you get a good idea of many building designs of the last 100 years.

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The Gooimeer is on the left. At the horizon, the reclaimed land of Flevopolder.

Gooimeer

The route veers north towards the shores of the Gooimeer (Gooi Lake). This used to be the coast of the Zuidersea, historically an important trading route for the Hanseatic cities in Northern Europe in the 1300’s. After a large dam was built further north, the sea became a fresh water lake. In the first half of the 20th century, parts of the lake were reclaimed by men for agriculture but eventually the Dutch realised they didn’t need all that land. The Gooimeer is now wedged between the mainland and one of the reclaimed areas, called a polder, hence the name of the province, north of the Gooimeer: Flevopolder.

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Not only did the Dutch create land, they also created their own alps in order to ski in a country without mountains.
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The material you ski on. No snow required.

Closer to Huizen we pass the artificial Alps, a ski hill without snow (it rarely snows in Holland, and if it snows it is a few cm). The material the hill is covered with looks like plastic doormats and apparently works quite well.

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A popular style in de Gooi area, big houses with thatched roofs.

We cycle into the town of Huizen with a bit of a non-descript town centre and leave it again towards Laren (population 11,000), another place with lots of mansions, where TV celebs, whom you have never heard of, live. If you are from Ottawa, think Rockcliffe but then much bigger. It apparently used to be a place with wealthy modest people, old money and artists. Fast money has taken over, “and the village is not the same anymore“, someone complains in a 2014 article in a Dutch newspaper.

Tafelberg Heather Fields

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One of the very few bikes with dropped bars we saw. This is on the Tafelberg heather fields west of Laren
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The heather just started to bloom end of July
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Sheep maintain the heather. Volunteers help maintain the landscape too. They don’t eat heather though but pull grass that could take over the heather.

We are not going into the village but cycle past heather fields instead, towards restaurant ‘Tafelberg’. With the exchange rate at CAD 1.50 for every Euro, we admire the restaurant from a distance and have our own lunch instead at a picnic table under a tree on the edge of the heather field. It is fun to see the sheep maintaining the heather. A fit grandmother plays soccer with her grandsons next to us.

Crailoo ecoduct

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The path that runs on the eco bridge next to the wildlife corridor. We are cycling on top of a railway yard here.
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The wildlife ecoduct seen from the west side facing east. You wouldn’t know it is a bridge: the 50 meters wide and 800 meter long Crailoo Zanderij is the world’s largest.

Dudok City hall

After more heather fields and a threatening sky we arrive at the ecoduct of Crailoo, a large bridge that allows wildlife to cross between two nature areas in the region. The ecoduct drops us in Hilversum, yet another large area with villas and a bit further south we arrive at the city hall in Hilversum centre, indeed a beautiful building by Dudok. The local tourist office has a brochure with an 8 km route with a number of Dudok building highlights. We checked out the first 3 kilometers by bike and saw three of his buildings, but then it started to rain and we returned to the centre.

Hilversum's town hall by Dudok
Hilversum’s town hall by Dudok

Willem Marinus Dudok (6 July 1884 – 6 April 1974) was a Dutch modernist architect. He was born in Amsterdam. He became City Architect for the town of Hilversum in 1928 where he was best known for the brick Hilversum Town Hall, completed in 1931. Not only did he design the building, but also the interior including the carpets, furniture and even the mayor’s meeting hammer. He also designed and built about 75 houses, public buildings and entire neighborhoods. (Wikipedia)

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Like Frank Lloyd Wright, Dudok liked his straight lines, but played with more light in the often cloudy Netherlands.
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The blue tiles are an interesting feature in Dudok’s city hall

Hilversum’s downtown shopping area is nothing to write home about, a string of chain stores and franchises. As the weather was borderline chilly we decided to forgo the patios and took the train back to Haarlem. The bike route is about 30 kilometers.

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