‘s-Hertogenbosch, a.k.a Den Bosch. Nope, I hadn’t heard of it either. I was visiting a friend who lives there and wondered if it is that far off the tourist map, is it any good? I was on a mission to see whether this little known Netherlands town was keeping any secrets.
First stop was to a little cafe where I was treated to the local specialty, a Bossche Bol. A gigantic cream filled pastry smothered in chocolate. Basically, I died and went to profiterole heaven. I mean you can’t go all that way and not try the traditional delicacy? I love having legitimate reasons to have naughty but nice indulgences! Just across from the cafe is the gothic Sint Janskathedral, a Roman Catholic mega cathedral dedicated to Saint John. The most recent restoration saw the addition of an angel with a mobile phone on the roof. Apparently, there is a number so that you can ‘call’ her and ask for advice. How lovely.
Den Bosch was founded by the first Duke of Brabant, and to protect it the city became a walled fortress, complete with rivers diverted to create a moat. There’s nothing better than seeing a Dutch city from the water so I jumped onto the ‘Heaven and Hell’ boat tour for the afternoon. It is a trip that mainly celebrates Den Bosch’s most famous resident, the crazy artist Hieronymus Bosch. We cruised along the canals and although the commentary was in Dutch my friend gave me a brief translation. It was a gentle, mesmerising ride, brilliantly illustrated with sculptures from Bosch’s artworks. We journeyed around the old city moat, under bridges, through tunnels and also out into the open river. At one point we entered a dark passageway and a moving projection of Bosch’s work depicting hell and then heaven was played along the walls as we sailed by. It was a brilliant way to be completely immersed in his paintings. An exquisite visual delight!
After the tour, the boat conveniently finished at the Hieronymus Bosch Museum and the ticket included free entry. We had so much fun looking at the fantastical artworks and trying to figure out what was happening in each one, a fabulously entertaining guessing game. It was also very interesting that not much is known about this guy ‘Bosch’, it is unknown when he was born, he possibly could be German, they aren’t even sure that some of the works are actually his, or what they mean. It was a pity that none of the works on show were the real deal; the most famous pieces are mainly exhibited in Spain. Nevertheless, the boat and museum definitely amused and educated, and was a total bargain.
After such an artistic adventure we decided to take a pause in another cultural direction, beer! My friend took me to the Cafe Bar de Luc, which is a super cosy pub in the heart of old Den Bosch. It’s been around since 1975 and has its own brewery, which makes a great selection of tasty beers. Although it was very busy we managed to get a table, sampled some of their brews and enjoyed the friendly atmosphere. You can take a tour of the in-house brewery or take a bite from their large menus. Instead, we decided to go on a spectacular culinary discovery.
Making up around a fifth of all refugees, many Afghans have moved and settled in the Netherlands, fleeing the troubles in the motherland. As a result, there are now quite a few restaurants serving up an authentic taste of home. We rocked up to the Zaher restaurant without a reservation, and despite being very busy they managed to squeeze us in. The waiter was very welcoming and funny, my friend even thinks he should have his own comedy show. He advised us to choose the tasting menu, which would give us an unlimited sample of most of the dishes on the menu. My, what a brilliant piece of advice that was!
We were given a fabulously flavourful introduction to the amazingness that is Afghan food. The starters were great, with a delicious coriander dipping sauce. Then the multitudinous dishes of the main course arrived and took up the whole table. The aubergine, pumpkin and lentil side dishes were stunning but I was completely dazzled by the outstanding two of the dishes, the wedding rice and the marinated chicken legs. The rice was very luxurious, with carrot, raisins, pistachio, and almonds; chicken legs had been marinated for over twelve hours and literally fell off the bone, it was so good I ordered more! To round off the spectacular dinner we were treated to three mini desserts. The mulberry ice cream was really nice as it was such a different taste to the usual dessert flavours. Wow! The service was also perfect and the atmosphere was friendly but also classy, good for any occasion. I thoroughly enjoyed my food so much that I was completely stuffed and rolled into bed. Perfect!
The next morning I was understandably not mega hungry super early. I met up with my friend for a lovely lazy brunch at the hip cafe DIT. There was a very funky space with a trendy menu to match. I decided to go with the recommendation from the lovely attentive staff for the best breakfast in Den Bosch. I wasn’t disappointed, fresh salad, croissant, egg, ham and cheese, juice and coffee. In true Dutch style, if the night before was pretty interesting, you can order an extra croissant, paracetamol, a glass of cava and even the morning after pill! There’s an attractive outside seating area for when the weather is accommodating and a fully stocked bar for evening hangouts. Totes on fleek.
It was time to get some exercise and walk off all of that lovely food so we took a little drive out to the National Park de Loonse en Drunense Duinen. This is a large park of around 35 km² which mainly consists of sand dunes that have a network of paths for cyclists, horse riders, and hikers. It’s great to have such an unusual open space to explore and relax in within easy reach of an urban centre. As expected, the park is well managed and signposted so it was pleasant to explore, a wonderfully strange landscape to discover in the middle of the country. We hung out at one naturally shady shelf-like spot for a while and could imagine it as a nice weekend barbecue space.
All too quickly my time in Den Bosch was over. The impression I got was of quite a sophisticated, old, fairly quiet town, with some interesting history and a classy vibe. It is a southern town, devoid of foreign tourists but still offers plenty of activities and amusements for visitors. It is a lovely way to foray into what the Netherlands has to offer the more discerning tourist.
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