We sat quietly on a bench and looked across the thick heather fields spread out before us. There was no one else around and the only sounds we heard were of some birds chirping in the distance. Suddenly, in the corner of my eye, I spotted a roe deer, with its reddish-brown hide, pointy ears and big eyes. Sensing our presence, it sped across the heather field, hopping elegantly across the bushes, and disappeared into the forest behind us. We gasped in awe. It was an absolutely magical moment in the Utrechtse Heuvelrug National Park ( or Utrecht Hill Ridge) in central Netherlands.
When my partner and I decided to plan a weekend getaway in a nature park, one of the first places that came to mind was the Utrechtse Heuvelrug National Park (map). This 40,000 hectare area, of which 10,000 hectares are classified as a National Park, lies less than an hour’s drive southeast of Amsterdam. It’s a stunning area of low hills, thick pine forests, heather fields (which are in full bloom in late-August), small lakes and sandy dunes. Crisscrossing the park are miles of hiking and cycling paths.
As we hiked through the forest, we discovered many different trees and shrubs. There was a wonderful array of berries and mushrooms, as well as ferns and moss on the forest floor. In some parts, the thick forest opened up to sandy dunes and heather fields.
Its verdant forests and proximity to the big cities makes it perfect for a nature getaway to relax and recharge. Despite being close to the big cities, we encountered only the occasional hiker or cyclist during our few days of hiking.
A little bit about the Utrechtse Heuvelrug or Utrecht Hill Ridge National Park
‘Heuvelrug’ means hill ridge and refers to the undulating landscapes in the area. During the last Ice Age, glaciers and water transported soil and rocks to this area which resulted in the hilly landscapes. Due to its location in the centre of the Netherlands and proximity to the delta of the Great Rivers, this area has always been strategically important for the Dutch and occupying forces (such as the French) over the centuries. The remnants of this past can still be seen today in the numerous castles and estates in the area. Find out more on the Heuvelrug website.
Historical places of interest in the Utrechtse Heuvelrug
In addition to the forests, there are numerous historical places of interest in and around the Utrechtse Heuvelrug National Park. Three places that I found especially interesting are the Amerongen Castle, Huis Doorn and the Pyramid of Austerlitz.
Amerongen Castle was built in the 17th century on the site of a medieval castle that was destroyed by the French army in 1673. The castle is famous as the place where in 1918, Wilhelm II (the last German Kaiser or King), abdicated and stayed for two years. Visit the castle’s website for more info.
This manor house, situated in the village of Doorn, is a national heritage site. After living in Amerongen Castle for two years, Wilhelm II (the last German Emperor) moved to Huis Doorn where he lived till his passing in 1941.
Kaiser Wilhelm II was buried in a small mausoleum on the manor grounds. A tour of Huis Doorn provides fascinating insights into his life and the time of the Prussian royals. It’s also more than worthwhile to stroll around the expansive park surrounding the house. Visit the website of Huis Doorn for more info.
Pyramid of Austerlitz
I never knew there were pyramids in the Netherlands until I visited the Pyramid of Austerlitz. This fascinating 36m high structure, topped by an obelisk, was built in 1804 by the French Army, led by General Marmont, as a monument to Napoleon who was crowned Emperor that year. General Marmont accompanied Napoleon in Egypt, which is undoubtedly where he found the inspiration for this monument. This pyramid remains, till this day, the largest pyramid in Europe.
The view from the top is amazing: surrounding it are the forests of the Utrechtse Heuvelrug and in the distance, the skylines of Rotterdam and The Hague, more than 50km away!
Buitenplaats De Bergse Bossen
For our little forest getaway, I booked a few nights at the Buitenplaats De Bergse Bossen Hotel (Booking.com), which is conveniently located at the edge of the forest. We arrived to find a hotel with a contemporary yet cosy interior, friendly staff and comfortable rooms. The forest is literally across the road.
I especially loved the many lounge areas both indoor and outdoor, with their comfortable furniture and fireplaces. There are two restaurants and meeting facilities.
We also enjoyed the food at the Brasserie, coupled with terrific service by the staff.
The hotel has bicycles for hire as well as handy maps with walking/cycling routes through the Utrechtse Heuvelrug forest. There are also facilities for children like a library and play corner, and the hotel is pet-friendly.