Besides windmills, the Netherlands has castles too. There are a number of them scattered around the country of which de Muiderslot is perhaps the most well known. Loevestein is another famous one. We decided to cycle to Castle De Haar, which is situated just west of Utrecht. The choice was partly based on the distance and the route we wanted to cycle. De Haar met the criteria as I wasn’t sure I would be able to cycle past 60 km/h on a bicycle of my brother-in-law.
We took off from Haarlem and cycled southwest past an old restored steam driven pumping station, Cruquius, which helped pump the Haarlemmermeer (Lake Haarlem) dry. Many years later, Schiphol airport was built in Lake Haarlem, so when the plane lands you are actually half a dozen meters or so below sea level at the bottom of a former lake. The name Schiphol comes from “Ship’s Hell”, as the lake wasn’t very friendly for ships.
After the Cruquius pumping station we crossed a man made forest, got lost and had to back track a few kilometers. The forest was built for the large horticultural exhibit “Floriade’ that takes place every ten years somewhere in the Netherlands. In 2002, it was in Haarlemmermeer. Often when the seasonal exibits are gone, a new suburb is built on the grounds of the former exhibit or a park with some pavillions and flower beds remains.
After the Floriade lands, we cycled past the southside of Schiphol airport, with some serious planes taking off over our heads. This part of the route is all on bike paths and lanes, but the route is not the most attractive one. Schiphol’s runways make it impossible to cross east-west easily though so choices are limited.
Eventually we pass through Aalsmeer, seat of the largest flower auction in the world (and largest commercial building in the world). After Aalsmeer, we slowly enter the ‘Green Heart of Holland’ a more or less protected area. It is that quintessential Dutch landscape, with green fields, grazing cows, ditches, wind mills and farmhouses.
The weather wasn’t too cooperative, with off and on drizzle, but after 60 kilometers we rolled into the caste grounds of De Haar near Haarzuilens. The story of the castle is an interesting one. (see below)
And just like in the fairytales, the moment we rolled through the gate of the castle, the sun started to shine.
After the self guided tour through the castle, which was frankly a bit disappointing, as you get to see a very small part only, we cycled to the nearby town of Breukelen on the beautiful Vecht river. The Vecht warrants a bike ride itself with stately mansions on its banks, but we kept that for another day.
We topped off the day with a ‘dish of the day’ for Euro 12.50 and a witbier on an outdoor pation on the near car free central square in Breukelen. The way back went by train from station Breukelen via Amsterdam to Haarlem.
About the castle
The oldest historical record of a building at the location of the current castle dates to 1391. In that year, the family De Haar received the castle and the surrounding lands as fiefdom from Hendrik van Woerden. The castle remained in the ownership of the De Haar family until 1440, when the last male heir died childless. The castle then passed to the Van Zuylen family. In 1482, the castle was burned down and the walls were torn down, except for the parts that did not have a military function. These parts probably were incorporated into the castle when it was rebuilt during the early 16th century.
The castle is mentioned in an inventory of the possessions of Steven van Zuylen from 1506, and again in a list of fiefdoms in the province Utrecht from 1536. The oldest image of the castle dates to 1554 and shows that the castle had been largely rebuilt by then. After 1641, when Johan van Zuylen van der Haar died childless, the castle seems to have gradually fallen into ruins.
In 1890, De Haar was inherited by Jean-Jacques’ grandson Etienne Gustave Frédéric Baron van Zuylen van Nyevelt van de Haar (1860-1934), who married Baroness Hélène de Rothschild. They contracted architect Pierre Cuypers in 1892 to rebuild the ruinous castle, which took 15 years.
In 2000, the family Van Zuylen van Nyevelt passed ownership of the castle and the gardens (45 ha) to the foundation ‘Kasteel de Haar’. However, the family retained the right to spend one month per year in the castle. In the same year, the Dutch society ‘Natuurmonumenten’ bought the surrounding estate of 400 ha. An extensive restoration programme of the castle and the gardens was initiated in 2001 and was completed in 2011.
After the death in 2011 of the last male heir, Thierry van Zuylen, his daughters also sold to the new owners the complete art collection and interior of the castle.
summarised from Wikipedia
See the route on Route.nl here