Two for the price of one
PUBLISHED: 15:06 02 July 2008 | UPDATED: 11:39 12 August 2010
IT may not be the first place you think of when considering a European holiday but the Lower Rhine region, on the border of Germany and Holland, is a superb destination where you ll find yourself enjoying two countries for the price of one. The abundanc
IT may not be the first place you think of when considering a European holiday but the Lower Rhine region, on the border of Germany and Holland, is a superb destination where you'll find yourself enjoying two countries for the price of one.
The abundance of holiday possibilities, just a 40 to 50 minute flight from Stansted, renders the region an excellent choice for families, couples or individuals. Large cities and market towns provide shopping, spectacular architecture and lively nightlife. And the beautiful sprawling countryside, full of lakes, meadows and - of course - the Rhine itself, offers up a plethora of opportunities for thrill seekers or those who just want to take it easy. A good place to begin exploring is the large city of Arnhem, about 65km from Weeze Airport. The new award-winning central station is on the route of the high-speed link between Amsterdam and Frankfurt, making it very accessible, and despite its size, the city is clean, friendly and feels safe. Shoppers will love the centre which boasts swanky boutiques, innumerable shoe shops, exclusive jewellers and intriguing furniture and art shops. Despite much of Arnhem being razed to the ground during WWII, there remains plenty of enchanting buildings, one of which is the central church in the middle of town, on "Ruiterstr".
You can dizzily ascend more than 300ft to the top in an all-glass lift to reach a breathtaking view over the whole city.
From this 360 degree vantage point you can view Arnhem Bridge, famously eternalised in the Richard Attenborough film A Bridge Too Far about Operation Market Garden, and the allied forces attempt to recapture the occupied city from the Germans during WWII. Once you've got your feet back on the ground, and maybe had a coffee in one of the many pavement cafes in the square opposite, head to "De Korenmarkt" just a few minutes walk away.
Humming with people enjoying a late afternoon beer, it's the only place to be after sunset and the array of restaurants, bars and all-night clubs will keep you busy until sunrise.
Moving away from the city, The Netherlands Open Air Museum (www.openluchtmuseum.nl) on the outskirts of Arnhem is an intriguing family-friendly place about Dutch life, set in 65 hectares of park and meadowland which you can stroll, cycle or catch a tram around.
It deservedly won European Museum of the Year in 2005 for its interactive and innovative approach to telling the history of Dutch people, and the sheer size and variety of what it offers makes it easy to spend a whole day there.
The Lower Rhine region is steeped in history but it's location along one of Europe's longest and most important rivers has not always been an asset and during WWII, millions of people - mostly civilians from both Germany and Holland - lost their lives.
In their memory and just a 40 minute picturesque drive along the Dutch German border from Arnhem is the National Liberation Museum (www.bevrijdingsmuseum.nl) at Groesbeek. It's modern and attractive, built amongst now lush crop fields where the allied forces landed during Operation Market Garden.
The pretty setting betrays the bloody history between the two nations but a short trip to the battlefield graves is a sobering reminder, with the average age engraved on the tombstones - just 22.
Inside, details and artefacts of the world's most deadly human conflict are housed in cabinets, portrayed on film and explained in 3D models.
It's stylishly exhibited but it's not hugely interactive so younger children may become restless, nevertheless the contents are shocking and should grab the attention of anyone who takes an interest in history.
Something younger children certainly will enjoy though is the pedal-train-cum-bogey which you can find if you head to the town of Kranenburg, situated about 20 minutes from Groesbeek. The 'Grenzland Draisine' (www.grenzland-draisine.de) is a bit like a large warehouse trolley which travels along railway tracks, powered by four people's peddling. It's terrific fun and not as strenuous as it sounds because the land is so flat. Up to 10 people can fit on one and at €9 per adult and €4.50 for children under 12, it is an inexpensive, enjoyable way to wile away an hour or two and take in the flourishing green and yellow countryside, where lustrous rapeseed fields sit side by side with unkempt wild meadows.
A welcoming beacon at the end of the tracks is the old station restaurant, Caféhaus Niederrhein, which serves good value, tasty food.
The grandiose old splendour of the building gives it a classic and romantic feel and a large veranda with big wooden tables makes dining al fresco a delight, the perfect place to watch the world go by whilst supping a chilled beer. Keeping on the peddling theme, because the region is so low lying, flatland cyclists can go far and wide without exerting too much effort.
On the German side of the border, the Lower Rhine Route offers a well-signposted 3,000km network of cycle paths and on the Dutch side there is an intricate system of bike routes through both rural and urban areas which make peddling a delight. In fact one of the major assets of the whole region is its superb transport network, with regular trains and buses between both cities and more rural locations as well as its ease of navigation for drivers.
So if you're looking for a European holiday destination that's cheap and easily accessible, you'll be hard pushed to find a better option than the Lower Rhine.
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