Our slow travel expert visits historic towns and a vast unexpected wilderness on a Dutch rail journey
There are train journeys where one just gazes at hills rolling by beyond the carriage window. I love such routes, be they in the Alps, Iberia or the Balkans. Things are different in the Netherlands, where pancake-flat landscapes dominate. Yet even in the flatlands there is often visual drama. The rail routes skirting Dutch heathlands around Apeldoorn are wonderful. And there is a subtle beauty, especially at low sun angles, to the secondary railways which follow the River IJssel downstream from Zutphen to Zwolle.
Zwolle makes a fine base for exploring the north-east Netherlands, all the more so if your budget extends to a night or two at the excellent Ter Borch in Zwolle (doubles from €175) right by the station. From Zwolle, one might strike north to Friesland or take the short branch line out to the pretty town of Kampen. Or explore the Netherlands’ newest mainline railway (completed in 2012), the Hanzelijn, which runs west from Zwolle through the province of Flevoland. The Hanzelijn opened in 2012 and traverses a land of far horizons, much of it below sea level. All thanks to the far-sighted ingenuity of engineer Cornelis Lely (1854-1929) and the hard work of Dutch dykers and drainers who have created an entire new province from the sea.