Travel

This So-Darn-Cute Netherlands City Looks Like It’s Made of Gingerbread Houses

But baked by a Dutch master of art.

Rob Kints/Moment/Getty Images
Rob Kints/Moment/Getty Images
Rob Kints/Moment/Getty Images

While Amsterdam gets an almost-overabundance of attention, another city sits nearby, quietly majestic in its splendour. Located just shy of one hour south via one of the Netherlands’ super convenient trains is The Hague-a city that’s small in size, but is so charming it’s as if each house could have been constructed from gingerbread.

If you were considering a European Christmas getaway to celebrate peace on Earth and goodwill towards all, this just might be it. For starters, The Hague is a supremely peace-oriented place. It is, after all, the home of the Peace Palace, where, for over 100 years, diplomats from around the world have come to settle international differences.

Rob Kints/Moment/Getty Images
Rob Kints/Moment/Getty Images
Rob Kints/Moment/Getty Images

Accordingly, the town itself has a vibe that is decidedly harmonious. This atmosphere is perhaps accentuated by the fact that there are more bicycles than cars, making it a delightfully pedestrian, unhurried place.

The city also offers an array of activities both holidays-related and of the year-round variety that will keep you busy no matter the temperature outside. So to that end, here are a few things you should do when visiting The Hague.

Royal Christmas Fair
Royal Christmas Fair
Royal Christmas Fair

Shop the Christmas market

Starting December 8 and running daily through the 24, the Royal Christmas Fair is an expansive holiday market replete with twinkling lights, festive décor, and some 100 stalls offering a vast selection of foodie goodness and cheerful giftiness. Stands selling hot chocolate and mulled wine (called glühwein) abound, and the air is filled with the merry sound of carolers.

The market is located along a collection of small streets and plazas called Lange Voorhout, which is located directly in the heart of the city. It’s easily reached from pretty much anywhere in town, which makes it a breeze to wobble back to your hotel once you’ve had your fill of Glühwein.

Madurodam
Madurodam
Madurodam

Get lit at Madurodam

Located approximately 15 minutes north of the city centre via tram is Madurodam-a theme park filled with scale miniatures portraying various famous Dutch landmarks and cities. From December 6 to January 8, the park is decorated with thousands of holiday lights. You’ll find ice skaters whizzing over the frozen canals and a rotating series of gift and food carts pop up all over the place.

Then on December 24, the Winter Weeks celebration starts, during which the park gets even more decorative and festive. Families can participate in a winter treasure hunt, and from the 24–26, Santa makes regular appearances.

Tickets cost between 17–22.50 euros, and the proceeds all go to support a variety of charities, which makes the whole thing even more in line with the season of giving.

Escher in Het Paleis
Escher in Het Paleis
Escher in Het Paleis

Lose reality at the house of Escher

One of the most renowned names to emerge from the Netherlands was M.C. Escher, the artist best known for producing his impossible staircases, mirror imagery, and other surreal creations. At the museum Escher in Het Paleis, you can explore an expansive collection of some of his greatest works. It’s a delightfully strange place to spend a couple of hours, and as it’s located in the Lange Voorhout Palace adjacent to the Christmas market, it’s conveniently situated along any good holiday itinerary.

Insider tip: If you feel your stomach grumbling for food amidst all the art and holiday cheer, pop into Gastronomia Lusso just down the block from the museum. This cozy Italian café provides excellent coffee, as well as sandwiches filled with mouth-wateringly delicious sliced meats.

Restaurant Suzie Q
Restaurant Suzie Q
Restaurant Suzie Q

Browse the food scene

There is no shortage of tasty food options scattered all over the city, especially during the winter markets, when seasonal food carts are everywhere. Bøg offers a robust fusion of Dutch and Nordic flavours via entrees that combine elements like beef tartare, bone marrow, and berries or wild boar, kale, and turnips. Suzy Q offers a unique combination of East Asian and Dutch foods in a wonderfully wooden setting full of plants and art. And if you’re just looking for coffee, Boon has a cup of Joe that is, frankly, transcendent in its perfection.

Mauritshuis
Mauritshuis
Mauritshuis

Admire the masters of art

The Hague’s main museum is the Mauritshuis. Housed in a lovely, old building that stands next to the current house of parliament, its most famous resident is the Girl with a Pearl Earring by Vermeer, one of the great masterpieces of the Dutch Golden Age.

In addition to the aforementioned Escher museum, The Hague is also home to Panorama Mesdag, which is the name of both the museum and the epic circular painting housed there, created by Hendrik Willem Mesdag, one of the top artists to emerge from The Hague School of painting.

While you’re in the Netherlands, you should also be sure to visit the four key art museums of Amsterdam: the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk, and the Moco. They’re a quick jaunt by train north of The Hague, and while you could see them all in a very long single day, we suggest breaking them into two or three days. Be sure to book tickets for each ahead of time. The Van Gogh Museum in particular can sell days in advance.

Stijn Bos/EyeEm/Getty Images
Stijn Bos/EyeEm/Getty Images
Stijn Bos/EyeEm/Getty Images

Stroll along a romantic winter beach

The beach might seem like a strange place to go during the winter, but the beach on the edge of The Hague-a mere 20 minutes from the city centre by tram-is a pleasantly moody place during the holiday season. Watch as the waves crash and storms gather off the coast from a delightfully decorated boardwalk lined with shops and restaurants.

Walk into the covered market housed in De Pier, at the end of which stands a picturesque Ferris wheel. This is the perfect place to pick up a few stocking-stuffer souvenirs.

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Nick Hilden is a travel, fitness, arts, and fiction writer whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Men’s Health,The Daily Beast, Vice, Greatist, and more. You can follow his weird adventures via Instagram or Twitter.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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