November 18, 2019

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'Venice of the Netherlands' a scenic delight

Giethoorn offers an escape from the bustle of Amsterdam

Ron Pradinuk / Winnipeg Free Press</p><p>Dine on pasta, burgers, or at a Michelin two-star restaurant in Giethoorn.</p>

Ron Pradinuk / Winnipeg Free Press

Dine on pasta, burgers, or at a Michelin two-star restaurant in Giethoorn.

Amsterdam is one of those cities that is benefiting — and at the same time, suffering — from what has come to be known as overtourism.

It is a beautiful and fascinating city, and its canals draw so many people from around the world that at certain times of day, a stroll along a canal can feel like a huge traffic jam, where movement is slow and frustrating.

One of the solutions for overtourism, without losing the benefits tourists bring, is to draw visitors to interesting, but lesser-known sites away from the city for at least a day or two.

On my recent visit to the Netherlands, I decided to take one of these side trips — a full-day tour offered through Booking.com to the community of Giethoorn, situated in the northeastern part of the Netherlands in the province of Overijssel, about a 90-minute motorcoach drive from Amsterdam.

Giethoorn has often been described as the Venice of the Netherlands. The old section of Giethoorn is the primary attraction — it has no roads, hence no cars, and more than 150 bridges that criss-cross back and forth over its narrow canals.

Giethoorn is a photographer’s dream.</p>

Giethoorn is a photographer’s dream.

That’s where the comparison with Venice ends — since Venice is a densely populated area, and like Amsterdam, also suffering from overtourism.

Giethoorn is quiet. Extremely quiet. There are only three ways to get around this community of 2,500: walk along its approximately five kilometres of sidewalk, travel on the water (on a boat tour or by renting one of the many water vessel options available to explore the canals) or cycle along its recently opened bike paths.

Cycling is much easier along the canals on the outskirts. In the heart of the town, most bikers have to dismount to cross the bridges to avoid the tourists crossing at the same time.

Our tour included a guided canal cruise on a narrow boat that held only about 30 people. As we sailed, we passed dozens of other canoes, small motorized boats and even a few narrow, flat-bottomed traditional punter vessels being propelled manually by poles driven into the peat-moss floor of the canals.

Presented as a "Garden of Eden" in Chinese promotions, Giethoorn has been especially popular with tourists from China, who constitute the largest group of foreign visitors — with upwards of 200,000 coming every year. They, and the multitude of others who read neither Dutch nor English, make the canal rides a bit of adventure unto themselves.

Because the canals are so narrow, parts of them are designated for one-way boating. With some tourists unable to read the signs — along with seemingly being totally inexperienced in driving boats — tour guides often must act as police and/or instructors.

Ron Pradinuk / Winnipeg Free Press</p><p>Sailing along the outskirts of Giethoorn we pass animals and farmland.</p>

Ron Pradinuk / Winnipeg Free Press

Sailing along the outskirts of Giethoorn we pass animals and farmland.

None of this is enough to divert attention away from the beauty of the cruise itself. As we passed centuries-old thatched-roof houses and magnificent lawns and gardens along most of the waterways, it was easy to fully relax and appreciate our surroundings.

Cruising beyond the confines of the community, the canals opened up onto a lake area where recreational sailors, significantly larger and more luxurious yachts, and fishers enjoy access to the outside water world and all it holds.

On the other end, the canals flow past farmland where horses and other animals graze on one side, while shops and restaurants dot the other side.

Wandering on foot along some of the same routes is a photographer’s dream. So much attention has been paid to making and keeping Giethoorn beautiful that it is common to see visitors stop and sit on one of the benches to rest and admire the views before them.

Since most of the tour options tend to be for a full day, as ours was, most people are likely to have at least one meal while in Giethoorn.

It may be a Dutch village, but there are restaurants to cater to every taste and price — there is even a two-star Michelin-rated restaurant called De Lindenhof.

photos by Ron Pradinuk / Winnipeg Free Press</p><p>Old thatched-roof houses and magnificent lawns and gardens are everywhere along the waterways. </p>

photos by Ron Pradinuk / Winnipeg Free Press

Old thatched-roof houses and magnificent lawns and gardens are everywhere along the waterways.

While I had an excellent lunch at the Italian style Canal Grande, later in the day as I wandered past the House of Cheese shop — which offers more than 50 different kinds, most of which could be sampled — I had to turn around and go inside.

Once my taste buds agreed on a couple of samples, I found a table on one of the terraces along the waterways and had a wonderful pre-departure picnic.

As we journeyed back to the busier city of Amsterdam, I recalled an interesting sidebar comment by our guide on the boat cruise.

Houses are extremely expensive in Giethoorn, but he told us that it is not hard to find one for sale in the village these days. "More and more residents are selling," he said, "because there are too many tourists coming there who walk into their yards and trample the lawns and the flowers."

Clearly it is not just the big cities that can experience overtourism.

Interested in learning more about Northern Ireland? On Nov. 1 at noon at the Millennium Library, I will be presenting some of the best sites and experiences of Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland — many of which were the filming sites for Game of Thrones. Admission is free and you do not have to register in advance.

pradinukr@shaw.ca

Ron Pradinuk

Ron Pradinuk
Travel writer

Ron is a dedicated traveller, having explored 65 countries around the world as well as all but one province in Canada (Newfoundland).

Read full biography

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