A Little Off Base: Nearby Netherlands worlds away from Britain
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — There’s a place not too far from the dreary confines of the United Kingdom where the off-the-beaten-track traveler can cling to the final throes of summer.
With expansive, white-sand beaches that stretch seaward from the ornate esplanade and seaside restaurants, glitzy nightclubs and buzzing casinos by the dozen, The Hague offers travelers the chance to bury their feet in the sand by day and samba with the hordes by night.
And with summer officially coming to a close, hotels are slashing prices to fill rooms and the beach will have plenty of room for visitors to stretch out and absorb those final rays of sunshine for 2006.
Our recent trip included a well-appointed room in a hotel directly on the beach for only 85 euros ($110) a night, including a full breakfast. That’s down from the regular summer rate that hovers around 150 euros ($190) a night for just about any room in the dozens of hotels that line the seaside.
The Hague, only a five-minute drive along a plush boulevard, is most known as the home of the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice, and the place where former Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic was tried and later died.
The beach resort area of Scheveningen may be only a few miles from the throngs of lawyers, diplomats and elected officials who work in The Hague, but it boasts an air of detached nonchalance and late-night revelry more typical of an American family vacation destination with a touch of spring break decadence.
The city is built around its old fishing harbor, which is still home to dozens of fishing vessels that troll the North Sea. The harbor is a bit dilapidated in contrast to the ultramodern architecture that fills the sky and roadside, but still worth checking out for a view into traditional Dutch life that centered on the sea.
Today, families tend to congregate on the more placid south side of the harbor while the young partygoers gravitate toward the north side, where rows of clubs and pubs host parties well into the night and early the next morning.
Despite the fact that it’s only a four-hour ferry ride and 30-minute drive from England, the foreign language heard most on the beach and esplanade and in restaurants is German.
The town is most famous in Holland for its annual Jan. 1 “cold bath,” in which hundreds of natives from across the country converge to take a ceremonial dip in the freezing waters of the North Sea.
At this time of year, though, water warmed throughout the summer months stays warm until late October, according to locals familiar with the water conditions. That provides an ideal environment to take a swim in the sea and lounge on the beach while wondering where another summer has gone.
Getting thereThe best bet is to take the ultra-fast ferry from Harwich. A rail-and-sail round-trip ticket is only 50 pounds ($90) from any point in England to any point in Holland if purchased more than a week ahead of travel. Loading the car onto the ferry for a full-blown family getaway is a bit more expensive, but surprisingly affordable still. Good luck and safe travels. Check out www.dutchflyer.co.uk for more information.