Nestled in the sandy folds of the North Holland dunes, just minutes from Alkmaar, Bergen Anzer is an artsy, wealthy coastal village.
As early as the 1600s, dunes, sky and sea were sources of inspiration for artists.
But it was the Expressionism and Cubism of the early 20th century that left their mark and became known as the Bergen School.
You can learn about the work of artists such as Charley Toorop and John Rädecker at the Krannenburg Museum in the inland town of Bergen, a few kilometers away.
On sunny summer days, the Blue Flag beaches are a piece of paradise, while the protected dune landscape promises adventure and a surprisingly diverse nature, served by a well-maintained network of walking and cycling paths.
1. Bergen Anzer Beach
Running north and south, and as far as the eye can see, the beaches of Bergen Anzer are close to many people’s ideals of perfection.
First, it’s never less than 100 meters wide, so if you value a little privacy, you can just walk up and down for a minute or two.
The water quality is so good that Bergen aan Zee receives a Blue Flag almost every year.
Beach racks are very slow, so bathing is generally safe for kids.
Despite the remote feel, there are great summer facilities such as lifeguards, beach huts, a surf school/water sports centre (more on this later) and lots of places to eat.
The North and South Pavilions feature sheltered patios to protect you from the beach’s only possible downside, the occasional wind.
2. Nordholländisches Dünenreservat
Bergen aan Zee is located to the north of one of the largest nature reserves in the Netherlands, comprising 20 km of sand dunes and the highly diverse ecosystems they support.
The pristine Saharan dunes are probably the most noticeable, but the reserve isn’t all sand, as there are also oak and pine forests and grasslands.
Hairy highland cattle help keep the woodlands on the dunes from encroaching, and you should be able to see wild horses from a distance.
After paying a “Duincard” to enter the reserve, bike paths and walking trails will take you through some stunning scenery, and you’ll see why Bergen School artists are drawn to the area’s lights.
A surprise hidden in a pine forest is the dune-side ski resort Il Primo, which offers winter sports for eight months a year.
3. Buitecentrum Schoorlse Duinen
Walking through the dunes of North Holland, you might wonder how this environment originated, how it is maintained, and what kind of wildlife lives here.
These questions can be answered at the Visitor Centre in Schoollse Duinen, north of Bergen.
Located in the shadow of the tallest sand dunes in the Netherlands, the centre hosts exhibitions about dunes, human history and finely balanced ecosystems.
Fact: More than 800 mushrooms are counted in the Schoollse Duinen in autumn.
Located at the intersection of an intricate walking and biking trail, the centre takes you through the beautiful pine orchid blooming woods in July and into the grasslands where highland cattle ruminate.
4. Krannenburg Museum
Kranenburgh is a neoclassical villa with a modern extension, founded in 1993 as an art museum. Dating back to 1882, the building was home to artist and writer Ans Wortel from 1968 to 1992.
The museum is opened by KunstenaarsCentrumBergen, an artist’s association founded in 1947, whose members include such celebrities as Charley Toorop, Constant Nieuwenhuijs and Adriaan Roland Holst.
Here you can immerse yourself in the art of the Bergen School and its contemporaries such as Else Berg, Gerrit van Blaaderen, Henri Le Fauconnier and Leo Gestel.
Revolutionary COBRA artist and poet Lucebert is featured in the Graphic Collection and Sculpture Garden, which also showcases the work of Jan Willem Rädecker and Jan Toorop.
One of the many things to love about the Noordhollands Duinreservaat is that there is a paved trail that winds through this otherworldly setting.
Naturally, you’ll see more dunes on your bike and have access to trails to remote beaches.
Cyclists are also well looked after, there are bike parking centres and places where you can rent a bike or get it serviced if you already have one.
The local Foets e-bike rental service will even deliver the e-bike to your door and pick it up when you’re done.
For more traditional bikes, you can find a large rental centre BikeMike on the coast of Egmond aan Zee.
If you’re in the area in the spring, there are fields of bulbs on the edges of the dunes that bloom this time of year.
6. Ruïnekerk (Bergen)
This church in the heart of Bergen’s interior is beautiful.
Now known as Ruïnekerk (Ruins Church), it has grown from a 15th century chapel to one of the largest churches in the Netherlands.
But in 1574, during the Eighty Years’ War, the building was looted and burned.
Eventually the choir was restored, but the nave and tower had decayed, and the hollow bay vaguely hinted at what was before.
The church was involved in more violence at the Battle of Bergen in 1799, and the outer walls are still riddled with bullet holes.
In the lantern on the roof, there is a carillon consisting of 27 bells installed in 1970. Come in and see the pipe organ designed by Johan Frederik Kruse in 1886 and moved here in 1913.
7. JCJ van Speijk Lighthouse
On the heights of Egmond aan Zee, the lighthouse has an interesting backstory.
It was built in the early 1830s and financed by the auction of relics related to Jan van Speyk (1802-1831). He was a naval lieutenant who became a national hero during the Belgian War of Independence when he detonated a gunboat instead of surrendering after high winds blew it into the port of Antwerp.
In addition to killing many Belgians, this act of defiance took about 25 crew members from his own ship.
The base of the lighthouse is shaped like a tomb in Van Speck’s memory.
In summer, you can go inside between 11:00 and 13:00, where you can see a small display about the building’s history and go up to marvel at the North Holland coastline.
8. Zee Aquarium
For rainy day activities, keep in mind that this aquarium behind the beach is home to more than 300 species of fish, as well as a variety of other aquatic life such as seahorses and seals.
There are more than 40 habitats in total, including an Amazon aquarium where you can see piranhas hovering, as well as Mediterranean, North Sea, Atlantic and tropical aquariums.
Kids can get a feel for the rays in the Roggenrief aquarium and get up close and personal with poisonous lionfish, sharks, moray eels and more.
The aquarium also houses shells from around the world, while a real adult sperm whale skeleton hangs from the ceiling.
9. Outdoor Activities Water Sports
The beach has a modest but consistent break, so if you’re a kid or a newbie, this is a great place to take your first class.
Bergen aan Zee Surf School has dynamic qualified instructors and also offers equipment rental/tuition for kitesurfing, stand up paddle boarding and bodyboarding.
You can show up for one-on-one lessons on short notice, and in the summer there are week-long surf caps for kids.
You’ll find this school at the De Jongens Pavilion on the beach.
To slow things down, Sluispolder Golf Club is located in the water-rich countryside between Bergen and Alkmaar.
The 18-hole home course here has 9 holes in a low-lying landscape with lots of tricky water hazards (holes 10-18), while the newer front nine are hilly and require more attention to bunkers.
The club also has a nine-hole par-3, a putting green and driving range, and is just 10 minutes from Lake Bergen.
10. De Kunst10daagse
Bergen remains a hotbed of creativity, as you’ll find at this ten-day festival, which coincides with the fall holidays in late October.
Around 260 artists present their work in 160 locations in Bergen and around Lake Bergen.
The gallery clusters in Crannenburg and Bergen naturally opened up, but there were also more unusual and intimate exhibition spaces such as shop windows, cozy little gardens and the artists’ own studios.
There are exhibitions of painting, photography, sculpture, ceramics, graphic art and installation art.
The De Kunst10daagse festival has been held since 1993 and attracts 40,000 people to the area every year.
The last Sunday of the event featured an art auction, a film screening at the Filmtheater CineBergen in Bergen and an outdoor concert at the atmospheric Ruïnekerk.
Where to Stay: Anzer’s Best Hotels in Bergen, The Netherlands
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