Tulips as far as the eye can see in a kaleidoscope of colours is the sun-drenched spectacle which greets you at Keukenhof.
Once a year, from mid-March to mid-May, these former ornamental garden grounds in Lisse, a short drive from Amsterdam, spring to life to become one of the world’s biggest spring gardens.
And it’s not just home to Holland’s national flower. As well as tulips, millions of daffodils, hyacinths and other bulb flowers blanket the 80acres of Keukenhof, resulting in an intoxicating bouquet of aromas and an explosion of colour.
There’s more than just fields of flowers to explore too. Over the course of the eight weeks there’s more than 20 flower shows as the Dutch floricultural sector shows off the fruits of its labour in spectacular fashion in the park’s pavilions.
On our visit we caught the world’s largest lily show, which runs on the last 10 days of the season and features hundreds of varieties of this most pungent of blooms. 15,000 lilies had been used to create striking displays, from lilies spilling out of bike baskets and ornate picture frames to long-stemmed lilies cradling water features.
Each year, seven inspirational gardens within Keukenhof also take on their own themes, which draw upon current trends and aim to sow the seeds of creativity in visitors who may want to take ideas home to their own gardens. Highlights for 2018 included a Rebel Garden, which laughed in the face of gardening conventions with its wild colour clashes; a Hipster Garden complete with BBQ (though I’m not sure BBQs are the preserve of hipsters) and a Cupid’s Garden where you can take the most romantic of selfies. Be prepared to take your turn at the park’s most Instagrammable spots though, such as a flower-filled boat on one of the streams, where queues of people form, smartphone in hand, for the chance to get the perfect shot.
My favourite was the cool blues of the Delft Garden where the pale daffodils and white hyacinths are punctuated with mosaics and pots of that most distinctive of Dutch potteries. This garden is a picture postcard of the Netherlands sprung to life.
No visit to a Dutch tourist spot would be complete without a windmill, however, and Keukenhof has a fine one which towers over the park, as well as the surrounding bulb fields. Climb up the windmill’s winding wooden staircase and it offers the perfect vantage point to look out over the fields, which are free of crowds to allow the flowers to bloom undisturbed.
As well as natural art, each year the park plays host to sculptures, from abstract to more traditional forms, which are peppered amongst the flowers.
Though the artworks may go over the head of little visitors, there’s plenty to keep them entertained with an on site petting farm, maze and playground.
They’ll no doubt nag you at the many on-site shops too which are filled with Dutch delights, colourful clogs, Miffy merchandise and, of course, tulip bulbs. We couldn’t resist buying some for our own gardens: it’s hard not take a little bit of Keukenhof home with you.
•Keukenhof reopens next Spring. More at https://keukenhof.nl/en/
The history of Keukenhof goes back to the 15th century when it was used by the nearby Keukenhof Castle for produce for the kitchens. The estate grew to more than 240 hectares and in 1857 Dutch architect Zocher designed the basis of the current park.
Then, in 1949 a group of flower bulb growers and exporters came up with a plan to use the estate for a permanent exhibition of spring-flowering bulbs.
The park opened its gates to the public in 1950 and over the decades it has grown into a world-famous attraction.
To coincide with its Keukenhof mini-cruise, DFDS runs coaches direct from the port to the gardens for those on a two-night mini cruise.
But for those wanting to extend their stay and have a night in Amsterdam, it’s also easy to get from central Amsterdam to Keukenhof Gardens.
Pick up one of the regular trains from Amsterdam Central to Schiphol Airport, which takes around 20 minutes. Once there look out for the Keukenhof Express shuttle buses which are easy to spot - they’re covered in images of tulips. They will take you direct to the park in around half an hour and run regularly throughout the season.
For those stopping in Amsterdam, the Ibis Amsterdam Stopera is well situated on a wisteria-lined canal away from the hustle bustle of the tourist traps, making it more peaceful than most places. However, it’s only a fifteen minute walk into the centre.
It’s also one of the pick up points for the DFDS coach back to the port.
Every year, between March and May, more than one million visitors travel to Holland to see the bloom in full at the Keukenhof Gardens - and next year you could be one of them.
We’ve teamed up with DFDS to give away a prize as part of it annual Garden of Europe mini cruise package via its Newcastle-Amsterdam route.
While on board, DFDS passengers can enjoy the sea views, explore the extensive shopping facilities, dine in the recently renovated restaurants, watch new film screenings in one of the two on board cinemas, unwind in one of the four bars and enjoy live entertainment in the evenings. Children can enjoy the Kids Club and for older children there’s a games room.
The prize for two people, which is worth £300, includes:
•2 nights in an en suite cabin
•Breakfast and dinner each way in the ship’s on board Explorer’s Kitchen restaurant
•Coach transfers to & from Keukenhof (approx. 45 minutes)
•Entrance tickets to Keukenhof Gardens
•Approx 3 ½ hours to explore the park
The prize can be used between March 20 and May 18 2019 (with daily departures from Newcastle) subject to availability
To be in with a chance of winning, collect the three tokens which will appear in the paper from tomorrow.
Return the tokens, along with your name and contact details to DFDS Prize Draw, Katy Wheeler, Johnston Press North East, 2nd Floor, Alexander House, 1 Mandarin Road, Rainton Bridge Business Park, Houghton le Spring, Sunderland, DH4 5RA.
Once the prize draw is made, all entries are shredded and are not passed on to any third parties.
For more details on DFDS’s range of mini cruises visit https://www.dfdsseaways.co.uk/