Though not an Ontario bike trail destination, this one certainly has to be on your list. If you ever have the chance to cycle in Holland, you will love it! I can’t rave about it enough. It’s truly the best country in the world for cycling.
And the way my wife and I did it made it even more unique: we took a Bike & Barge tour of Southern Holland during the last week of May 2022.
The concept is you ride your bicycle during the day and meet up with your barge (riverboat) in the evening to have dinner and sleep on it. In the morning you have breakfast and ride off, while the boat sails to the next evening’s destination. If it rains or you are feeling tired, you can stay on the boat for the day’s ride, but we actually never sailed on it the whole week, odd as that seems.
Instead, the boat was our floating hotel and travelling restaurant. Pretty cool, eh?
Our “barge” was a very long riverboat (so long I could hardly get a photo of it) at 91 m and it had 52 cabins.
Holland, like most of Europe, has what I call a compressed landscape: the scenery is compact and forever changing. By the end of the week, I could not remember it all. (Glad I took plenty of pictures and videos.) And the history of Europe, of course, goes way back. We passed homes built in the 1600s. Old enough?
We averaged 50 km a day, which anyone can do at a leisurely pace in the Netherlands. The bike paths are wide and smooth, with no potholes or cracks worth mentioning. A pure joy to ride, car-free and carefree.
Our five days of cycling took us along established bike paths 90% of the time, with only a few detours onto quiet country roads. It was a well-thought-out mixture of scenic countryside routes that passed by quaint, well-kept cottages and farms and through small historic towns.
Our Dutch Loop
The trip began and ended in Rotterdam, and each night we slept in a different place. We passed through Kinderdijk, where we admired the famous windmills; Dordrecht, where we took in a steam engine festival; through the wetlands of a national park on the way to Gorinchem, then up to Utrecht. After that, we headed to Schoonhoven, which turned out to be one of our favourite areas, with patios to stop at for a cup of java or beer. The next day, we biked to Gouda, known for its cheese and market square, before making our way back to Rotterdam.
On the final day, there was an optional sixth 40 – 70 km ride out to Scheveningen on the coast and back, but we opted to walk the city instead.
Two things you will not see much in Dutch photos: wires—most are buried underground—and fences. Fields and homes are outlined by canals, rivers and watery ditches. They make the best fences (as long as you do not ride into one).
Part of our Dutch adventure was taking ferries and riding over countless bridges and locks to get across the water. Riding on top of dikes gives you grand views of the flat surroundings. Much of the landscape is farm fields with livestock and trees lining the roads.
The weather seems to change almost hourly. And when the North Sea is a-blowin’, you will know it. A relentless headwind on the fifth day made me wish I had an eBike.
One day we spent hours visiting the beautiful De Haar Castle outside of Utrecht. That made us late getting back to the boat, and we did hit some rain. But it wasn’t an issue since we knew there would be a hot shower and meal ready when we got there.
One of the most remarkable and pleasant revelations was how easily an English-speaking tourist can get around in Europe. English is the common language over there. Aren’t we lucky!?
In Amsterdam, I saw more signs in English than in Dutch. How great for tourism (Quebec, take note!). A server can give you an English menu if you ask. Anyone under 40 has likely learned some English in school and can help you out. Amazing! And the people are so friendly…can you tell I love this place?.
The Bike & Barge Experience
Our journey was with SE Tours on the MS Normandie. There were about 60 passengers and nearly all used eBikes every day, my wife included, which gave me a chance to test one. (More on eBikes later, now my wife wants one.)
What I found nice to see is that these new eBikes enable many seniors to extend their life-long love of cycling just a little more. And for those who may not have cycled in decades, an eBike gets them back out on the pathways, without fear of not being able to finish the day’s ride. (I heard a 78-year-old on our tour was still using regular pedal power. Wow!)
The rental bikes supplied (we didn’t bring our own) were almost new pedal power or eBikes and ran very well. They were upright cruisers with a typical Dutch-style design, and heavy, with only a few gears. But in Holland, one does not change gears often—it’s so flat—so this wasn’t a problem.
All the rental bikes came with a rear waterproof side bag and an optional handlebar bag. We packed a raincoat, pants, and vest in case it got cool, which it did at times, even in late May.
SE Tours gave us route map booklets and GPS tracks we could load on our phones. Every morning in the onboard lounge, a staff ride leader would host a slideshow and chat about what to expect (or what to avoid) on the route for that day. While we appreciated this, Holland has such marvellous paths, signs and directions it was almost overkill. If you pay attention, you just can’t get lost. Our tour leader rode the route, but we did not have to follow him.
We found the onboard food tasty and varied, almost as good as on the big cruise ships. And the beer selection was all fine German brands—no American lite draft, thank you. Breakfast was buffet style where you packed a lunch for later on your day ride.
Staff were helpful and friendly, and our room was made up every day. In the evenings, we could wander into town for a walk, and some nights there was musical entertainment in the large lounge.
As it happened, on our week most of the other cyclists were from Germany and Austria, and all were older, retired folks. There was a little bit of a language issue, but we managed just fine with smiles and small talk. If you prefer to hang with your own age group or nationality, inquire before booking.
If you wish to plan a Bike & Barge trip of your own, there are many tour operators and resellers, see what is possible. Of course, there are plenty of other countries to explore on a bike (with or without a boat). I did a memorable tour of the Loire Valley in France years ago that I should write about. It’s a great way to travel in comfort, without needing a fully loaded bicycle. Start dreaming…
To learn more and book a bike tour of your own, visit SE Tours
One of the largest tour operators in Europe, specializing in the bike & barge concept.
If you book with SE Tours, mention OBT in the comments and add the promo code – ontariobike5
They may compensate me a wee bit, and help fund my next bike trip if you do.
And if you want to know more about the cycling ways of Holland, read my other article –
Cycling in Holland & Denmark is the Best