Seven Reasons Why The Hague Is Holland's Favourite Family Holiday Destination
Most people think of Holland and automatically conjure up images of Amsterdam - canals, bikes and perhaps a little something in the cafes. The Hague - or as the Dutch say, Den Haag - on the western coast of the Netherlands is usually overlooked as the more prim sibling, home to serious sounding institutions such as the Dutch Parliament and the International Court. In fact it’s a cosmopolitan, cultured urban hub with its equally beguiling coastal arm, Scheveningen 20 minutes north, the most popular seaside resort in Holland. My family also loves it. We’ve been in crowd-free spring when the North Sea is a little murky (it’s still a little murky in summer, come to think of it) and in summer when the resort comes to life. Take a last-minute break this half term or book for next spring.
Sleep facing the sea on the wide stretch of sand at Kijkduin, the Hague’s second, quieter beach resort, 30-minutes from the city and the ferry terminal. There are a variety of hotels, B&Bs and campsites in the area but what could be better than this row of 20 self-catering wooden beach houses or Haagse Strandhuisjes, made from sustainable materials? Small but beautifully formed, each house sleeps four with a double bed in one room and bunk bed in the other, a sofa (in some houses this converts into a single sofa bed to squeeze in a fifth person), dining table, chairs and kitchenette. The entire front is all glass with double doors opening onto a raised decked veranda. Bedrooms are snug but given the location and that you’re on holiday, you’re only sleeping in them. Barbecues are stored around the back of each cottage.
Naturally, the decor reflects the location with driftwood, shells and less typically, chairs lined with old jeans. A mini-trolley allows you to pull your possessions around - or just the kids - and there are bats and balls which kept the normally phone-attached Maya and Louis on the beach until it got dark. Tea and coffee are provided along with soap. If you prefer a crowd-free autumn/winter break, cottages have heating and are available from March to October. And yes, of course, there’s free WiFi. There are still a few cottages available over half term, from €657 (midweek rates from €290).
At the start of the row of Beach Houses, Suiderstrand is a laid-back bar-cum-restaurant with vast amounts of quirky seating like ornate velvet sofas and a terrace right in the dunes set with low-level orange banquettes, tables and chairs. From breakfast dishes to relaxed dinners sat on the beach as the sun drops down (my nephew Louise hates sitting still so could jump on the climbing frame or run around the beach with my daughter Maya between courses) enjoying tapas-style plates such as prawns al ajillo, cooked in garlic and served with soft, sesame-strewn bread (pictured below).
To the right of the Beach Houses, Habana follows the local hippy-meets-vintage theme with wooden floors, ornate sofas and chill-out tracks. Again, you can eat any meal here, any time of the day, and we had breakfast of just-ripe avocado on toast served on a board with hearty toasted bread (pictured) and stacks of fluffy American pancakes with red fruits and honey.
The Sculptures by the Sea museum lures visitors with a collection of sculptures on the waterfront a few metres from the museum itself, some are so tiny they are hidden in the dunes (picture below left). These bronze quirky Fairytale Sculptures by the Sea created by American sculptor Tom Otterness appealed to the children although the privately run gallery which focuses on international sculpture with much of it outdoors, which adds to the holiday feel.
Two hundred years ago the first bathhouse was opened at Scheveningen beach which eventually transformed the fishing village into the country’s first seaside resort. Celebrations have ranged from sub-zero swims on New Year’s Day to the resort being chosen as the finish line for the Volvo Ocean Race. While the seafront is crammed with shops, restaurants and a useful but not particularly pretty shopping centre, the genteel resort beginnings are evident in the elaborately domed Kurhaus Hotel, which dates back to 1818. Facing the hotel, there’s the Pier, built in 1900 with shops, cafes and play areas for children and the constantly whirring Ferris Wheel, with enclosed pods giving birds eye views over the resort.
A great resource for cloudy days, SeaLife (picture, above right) reveals every type of sea-related creature from penguins to clownfish, jellyfish that glow in the dark and stingrays. Our favourite part was the blue-hued tunnel where sharks and turtles swim all around you and also when one of the staff got splashed at feeding time, which take place hourly throughout the day. A new Jurassic Seas exhibition until January 2019 includes such prehistoric species as the ten-eyed horseshoe crab.
Part of the attractive marina, Waterproef - see what they did there? - is one of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to for many reasons. Entering from the street all appears unassuming but once through the door, the large lofty space with wooden floors, open shelves and high beams looking out across the waterfront beyond is a welcome surprise. The atmosphere is laid back, the staff helpful but easy going and the food is incredible. Billed as modern French but revealing Asian and Mediterranean influences, I lost my heart to the Indian pumpkin a dreamy gently spiced arrangement (pictured, right) of butternut squash pumpkinseed, chestnut and coconut with a delicate crisp of papadum presented in a beautiful green glazed dish. This was followed by the surprisingly refreshing liquorice cake, combining white chocolate mousse, marinated dates and orange ice cream. The first floor has a private dining area lined with over 1,500 bottles of wine, something Waterproef is famed for. My partner Ali and I also discovered our new favourite wine, Schaller Extra-brut Crémant d’Alsace, which a light alternative to Champagne both in taste and cost.
Stena Line Ferries sail twice-daily between Harwich and the Hook of Holland all year round. The fact that there’s the plush red-seated cinema on board (adults €8.50, children up to 15 years old €7, family ticket €25 (two adults, two children) on board and arcades was a hit with the children, who whiled away the journey ‘gambling’ on the slot machines and watching Black Panther. They also liked the two restaurants including one serving three-course meals. Comfortable cabins are available for night crossings with porthole windows and televisions.
Return fares for a family of four from £178. Additional adults from £15 and children (between four and 15 years old) from £7.50 one way. Foot passengers from £36 per adult and £18 for a child. Infants (under four years old) travel free of charge. Cabins from £17pp each way. If you don’t drive, Stena Line's Dutchflyer combines rail and ferry travel with departures from any Greater Anglia station to Harwich International port where you can board one of Stena Lines two Superferries to Holland, from £55pp one-way. Save up to 10% this half term and children and pets can go for free. Stena Line is also offering customers 10% off pre-booked onboard meals and cabins on overnight crossings. Go Autumn offers are only valid on bookings made from now until 14 October 2018.