Benelux: City breaks, new tours and boating holidays

Benelux: City breaks, new tours and boating holidays

From battlefield tours and tulips to music festivals and boating holidays, the low-lying areas of northern Europe have plenty to offer your clients - mountain climbers excepted!

City breaks

Amsterdam and Brussels are popular city-break destinations, with tourists attracted to the former by canals and art (among other things), and to the latter for its medieval buildings, beer and chocolate.

Sell them to a more diverse audience and second-time visitors by pointing out the quirky, lesser-known things to do and see.

If they've ticked off the Rijksmuseum, the Stedelijk and the Van Gogh museum, gallery lovers can still find plenty to attract them to Amsterdam. This is a city with a museum for everything, from bags and purses to the Dutch Funeral Museum. Kids will love NEMO, the futuristic science centre, and the Amsterdam Dungeon.

Many clients will assume Brussels is a rather staid sort of place, but there are attractions for the young, too. Rock Werchter (July 2-5 this year) is Belgium's largest music festival, and before you scoff too much at the dubious accolade, this year it will host Coldplay, The Killers, Metallica and Placebo.

It's also the year of the comic in Brussels. There's a fascinating museum dedicated to the 'ninth art', housed in an art nouveau building and packed full of originals from Tintin to the Smurfs. Comic frescos are painted on walls all over the city.

Leger Holidays sells a Belgian Grand Prix break for speed demons and a Brussels Jazz Marathon break (May 23-25) for serious fans.


This compact, low-lying region lends itself to moving around, and both coach and rail breaks sell well. Great Rail Journeys features a number of short-break itineraries around Amsterdam and Bruges, and sell more budget versions as their newly launched Treyn Holidays brand.

Leger and Shearings Holidays offer similar short coach breaks to Amsterdam, Ostend and Bruges, the pretty Ardennes region and Luxembourg, and into the Dutch Alps at Valkenburg.

The tulip may be a humble flower, but don't underestimate its pulling power. Bookings for flower tours are consistently strong. Six million flowers burst into bloom between March and May each year in the legendary Keukenhof Park.

Leger offers four flower-related itineraries, including a cruise. Shearings twins Keukenhof with Ostend, Bruges or Amsterdam for five-day breaks.

Belgium and the Netherlands are littered with battlefields dating back not only to the World Wars, but also the scene of Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. Battlefield tours guided by experts are big sellers, and with 2009 seeing the 65th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, a renewed spotlight will fall on this area.

Leger has a dedicated battlefield tours website and a massive programme of tours, with a special four-day The Battle of The Bulge itinerary from £249.

The operator's four-day All Quiet on the Western Front programme is always popular, visiting Ypres, Arras, the Somme and Thiepval and starting from £199.

Shearings offers a five-day break visiting similar locations starting from £339.

Christmas breaks are also popular, with some tours visiting festive markets. This Christmas in Brussels there will be an ice rink among stalls selling marzipan, gingerbread and other treats, and in Liege, 155 wooden cottages will be decorated to form a Christmas village.

Leger offers a trip to the festive markets of Brussels, Bruges and the oldest underground Christmas market in Europe at Valkenburg, plus a range of festive breaks, including Ostend, Valkenburg and Ghent.

Shearings' Christmas market itineraries twin Belgian markets with Dutch or French counterparts.

The area's flat landscape is also perfect for cycling breaks. Saddle Skedaddle offers two Dutch itineraries. One covers the north, wending its way from Amsterdam through windmill country to the dunes at Bergen, on through the cheese-making town of Alkmaar to a nature reserve on Texel island, before visiting ports such as Edam and Volendam.

The southern Green Heart of Holland programme explores both the classic Dutch countryside and coast, plus urban centres such as Delft, Haarlem and Rotterdam.

Visitors can brush up on Flemish art and view a Van Eyck or two in their original locations. Kirker Holidays' five-night Art Cities of Flanders tour visits Brussels, Antwerp, Bruges, Leuven and Ghent.

On the water

More than 18% of the Netherlands is water, and Belgium too is criss-crossed by a network of canals, so they're perfect destinations to explore by boat.

Viking River Cruises offers a 10-day Tulips and Windmills cruise from Amsterdam. The itinerary includes Hoorn and Volendam, a village where fishermen still dress in traditional costume, the cities of Arnheim and Nijmegen, and Dordrecht, where passengers are taken to see a working windmill.

If clients would rather travel under their own steam, offer a boating holiday through pretty villages and picturesque countryside - flatness is a benefit here too, making the waterways virtually lock-free.

Hoseasons has four bases in Holland, giving access to the regions of Friesland, Gelderland and Overijssel, which is described as Green Venice, where chocolate- box houses line the waterways.

There's also a base in Belgium at Nieuwpoort, so holidaymakers can follow the poppies west through dykes and polders towards Dunkerque, or turn east to visit Bruges and Ghent. The fleet ranges from traditional barges to modern cruisers with showers and air conditioning, so there's no need for anyone to rough it.


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