Zeeland in the south of the Netherlands is so close by for us Belgians, that it feels foreign and yet strangely familiar. On a recent autumn weekend, we drove our rental camper across the border and went for a road trip through the mesmerizing island of Schouwen-Duiveland.
Friday late afternoon we hand over our kids to their dads. ‘So terribly unfair you go on a campertrip without us!’, they say. Fortunately as a reporter and a photographer we have a solid excuse: it’s for work. Only after we promise them next time they can join in the fun, they calm down. Kids with wanderlust, it can be an ordeal people.
Our camper is ready and seems to be wagging his tail. Or is that just an illusion? Destination of the day: Schouwen-Duiveland, the second island of Zeeland in the south of the Netherlands. This paradise for naturelovers is only a 100 km from our homebase of Antwerp, Belgium.
First stop is the charming Zierikzee, where we settle down on a large parking ground just outside the city centre. The fact that tiny Zierikzee is considered a ‘city’ is a bit comical but reveals a lot about this unspoiled island. It’s a relief that urbanization has not yet taken over. We hope it can stay that way.
Despite its small scale, the town of Zierikzee has hospitality to offer that wouldn’t be misplaced in buzzing cities like Antwerp or Ghent. Take Bij Kees for example, where we enjoy a rather fabulous dinner that is often hard to find in a country like the Netherlands. The chef, Kees Visser, serves up a seasonal menu of three, four or five dishes, all excelling in taste and sophistication. The inviting atmosphere and friendly service make it a worthwhile experience.
In the soft evening breeze we walk back to our van, parked on a camperspot outside the city. The view is not very interesting, but it’s a very practical place to enjoy all that Zierikzee has to offer.
Saturday morning we get up early and head over to Roekoekoe, that’s supposed to serve Zierikzee’s best breakfast. Decent coffee (from Antwerp roasters Caffenation by the way) makes for a very good start, and with inspired dishes like sourdough toast with mushrooms, egg and parmezan cheese, French toast and grilled banana bread with Greek yoghurt, even the most non-morning person turns into a happy bird.
Completely energized we head to bikeshop Jan de Jonge, where the owner picks a bike for both of us. His detailed plan will allow us to navigate the surroundings of Zierikzee, cruising through small villages like Ouwerkerk, Oosterland and Nieuwerkerk.
At Hooked we pick up a fish and chips lunch, which leaves us in bewilderment. The fish is fresh and delicious, of course, we’re in Zeeland. But the fries are equally good. Wasn’t that our thing as Belgians?
After admiring the old museumport, we jump on our bike. Biking in Zeeland is braving the wind, we notice as soon as we ‘ve left the protective walls of Zierikzee. From the Gouweveerse Zeedijk we look at the swirling Oosterschelde, only a little out of breath.
To our left side there’s greenery where ever we look. In front of us we can see the silhouette of the Watersnoodmuseum.
This museum tells the heartbreaking story of the disaster that took place on the island in the night of January 31st 1953. It’s located in a series of concrete caissons, seamlessly blending in in their natural habitat. The flooding caused by an unusually great storm made 1800 casualties, many of them children. The stories, testimonies and memories of this catastrophe are not easy to digest. It’s a vital element in helping visitors understand the island better.
After our museum visit we get on our bikes again and move away from the seaside. In the small town of Nieuwerkerk we stop for a local delicacy named Bolus at bakery Ten Hove. They seem to take their sugary treats very seriously in Zeeland; there’s even a yearly competition. Bakery Ten Hove is usually one of the winners, and still very proud of it.
Just before closing time we turn in our bikes, still a tiny bit breathless from the trip. In the evening light we drive west, passing hamlets like Schuddebeurs, Dreischor and Zonnemaire. The idyllic town of Brouwershaven is the perfect place to stop for a pot of locally sourced mussels and seabass at Herberg ’t Swarte Schaep. Nearby our camper is parked for the night in Scharendijke, at a farmer’s camping ground. Nothing but golden silence.
Sunday mornings are for slowness and lots of time. We make coffee and take our time to have breakfast. Much to our delight, we can even sit outside in the slightly wet grass while listening to the sound of passing seabirds. And of our neighbor, a nice lady and experienced roadtripper, who tells us about a great place to spot seals.
Where are they?
Later that morning we drive to Brouwersdam. It’s right next to the N57 motorway and can be reached through a road that at first glance looks like a parking spot. At the end of the road you’re rewarded with a magnificent view: on your left side there’s the sea, on your right hand you look at the Grevelingen lake.
It’s the biggest salt water lake of Western Europe and is situated in between the islands of Goeree-Overflakkee and Schouwen-Duiveland. The lake offers plenty of watersports facilities, while the sea is dotted with kitesurfers.
‘You have to be lucky’, said our next door neighbor at the campersite. And apparently we are not, because the seals don’t show today. But with a bit of good will, the kitesurfers look like seals as well.
In the woods
Sunday afternoon we trade the sea for the woods. Passing through Renesse and Burgh-Haamstede we drive to the nature reserve of Westerschouwen, that prides itself on being the biggest forest of Zeeland. From the many possible hikes we choose the 8 km long Shelter Route, starting out from the Boswachterij at the Kraaijensteinweg. What a wonderful discovery: Zeeland has it all.