A holiday in The Hague

Hague, Netherlands. (Shutterstock)
Updated 04 February 2019

A holiday in The Hague

  • The Hague has been the seat of power in the country for centuries
  • It has some of Holland’s finest buildings, museums and art galleries

DUBAI: While it’s not the official capital of the Netherlands, The Hague has been the seat of power in the country for centuries — home to the royal family and to the Dutch parliament. That means it has some of Holland’s finest buildings, museums and art galleries, but doesn’t have Amsterdam’s full-time, full-on energy. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
There’s certainly plenty to keep visitors occupied on the culture front. For grand architecture, we’d recommend a visit to the parliament building Het Binnenhof, the beams of which are decorated with the famous ‘luistervinken’ (eavesdroppers) — wooden faces with a single huge ear on the side, meant to represent the higher power listening in when the hall was used as a courtroom in centuries past.

Equally impressive is the Peace Palace, home to the International Court of Justice. Opened in 1913, the Palace is the result of international cooperation and houses doors from Belgium, marble from Italy, wall carpets from Japan, rugs from Iran and so on.

Many of the city’s finest buildings are also museums and galleries. The excellent Mauritshuis is dedicated to 17th and 18th century art, particularly that of the Dutch masters including Vermeer, Rembrandt and Rubens. The gorgeous art-deco Gemeentemuseum, meanwhile, has a wide range of modern art classics as well as older pieces. A trip to those two venues alone could eat up an entire day.
Another big draw for art fans is the permanent exhibition “Escher in the Palace,” an exhaustive, mind-bending collection of works from the celebrated Dutch graphic artist at Lange Voorhout Palace.
If you need a break from the highbrow, and some retail therapy, The Hague has plenty to offer there too. If it’s raining (always a strong possibility in Holland), head to The Passage — the country’s oldest shopping center. It opened in 1885 and has since been expanded considerably, but still remains covered.

For those seeking more unusual trinkets, there’s a large, and very popular, art, antiques and book market that runs on Thursday and Sundays in Korte Voorhout in the summer, and at the Plein on Thursdays in the winter.
And if you want to shop like a local, get down to The Hague Market, which sits between the city two most multi-cultural districts: Transvaal and the Schilderswijk. It’s Europe’s biggest outdoor market and welcomes an estimated 25,000 visitors a day, in all weathers, to its 500-plus stalls.
Foodies won’t be disappointed by the range of options The Hague provides. Italian restaurant The Court; Tommy’s & Zuurveen, which offers international cuisine; and French eaterie Cottontree City by Dimitri are all highly recommended.
If you want to take in a great view while you eat, head for The Penthouse on the top floors of The Hague Tower, which promises views of “up to 45 kilometers” from its windows, 135 meters above street level.
To get a taste of the regal life, you could book a stay at the luxurious — and ideally situated — Hotel des Indes in the heart of the city. The hotel used to be a city palace and that royal grandeur is still apparent in its 92 rooms. If extravagant splendor isn’t your thing, then the romantic sophistication of the boutique Paleis Hotel might be a better bet. This central, 20-room gem is just a short walk from the Mauritshuis, and is a work of art in itself.

We opted for one of the numerous Airbnb properties on offer throughout the Netherlands, and stayed in the city’s seaside district of Scheveningen, well worth a visit if you’re on a summer trip. Just 15 minutes by tram from the city center, Scheveningen has something of a timeless ambience, like a postcard brought to life, particularly the old-school pier. It’s a charming and peaceful neighborhood, and its long, sandy beach is the most popular in Holland. It’s easy to see why. Be warned, though. This is the North Sea, and that water gets cold.
Possibly the Hague’s most-famous tourist attraction, though, isn’t its market, museums or seaside, but the peculiar miniature city of Madurodam — a combination of amusement park, scenic beauty (including more than 5,000 miniature trees) and ‘edutainment.’ Scale models of typically Dutch canal houses, cheese markets, windmills, flower-bulb fields and more combine with multimedia presentations to give a short history of this fascinating and beautiful country.

If you’re planning a trip to the Netherlands, but don’t want to be based in the hustle of Amsterdam (which is less than an hour away by train, so you can still visit easily), we’d highly recommend The Hague.

Catch the coastal chic of Biarritz

Biarritz is one of the best surfing locations in Europe. (Shutterstock)
Updated 24 June 2019

Catch the coastal chic of Biarritz

  • The French seaside town mixes old-world glamour with a very modern surfing scene
  • This patch of Basque Country — less than 20 miles north of the Spanish border — has a windswept, relaxed charm all its own

DUBLIN: It’s hard to put a finger on what makes Biarritz so special. Maybe it’s the faded charm, maybe it’s the sprinkling of stardust that the numerous guests (the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Frank Sinatra) brought to the city, or maybe it’s the low-slung surfer’s vibe, but this patch of Basque Country — less than 20 miles north of the Spanish border — has a windswept, relaxed charm all its own. It’s something of a hidden gem, with surfers, Parisian hipsters, retired French tourists and a smattering of in-the-know Europeans descending here every year.

Its most recent heyday was during the 1950s, when luminaries including Sinatra and Coco Chanel visited. From the 1960s onwards, Biarritz’s star fell, with Hollywood and the European elite favoring France’s Riviera as a holiday destination. Yet recent years have seen the town emerge back into the spotlight — although these days you are more likely to see surfers rather than film stars, as the town has embraced its position on France’s rugged southern Atlantic coast.

There are countless surf schools, and Biarritz is the birthplace of the sport in Europe. The (reportedly) first surfer here, appropriately enough, had Hollywood connections. Peter Viertel, a screenwriter, was in town as the movie he had co-written, “The Sun Also Rises,” was being filmed there in 1957. The long, wide sandy beaches provide the perfect place to learn, with the crashing Atlantic surf offering ample big waves to ride.

The town is small enough to explore in an afternoon, with countless cafés and restaurants dotting the narrow streets. There’s plenty of shopping too, with local boutiques such as Jox & An (which sells rope-soled espadrilles) next to the likes of Gucci and Duchatel, which features labels including Nina Ricci and Belenciaga. Indeed much of the town’s charm is seeing moneyed old French couples in their designer clothes rubbing shoulders with dreadlocked surfers in board shorts.

It might officially be in France, but Biarritz is Basque country, something very much apparent at Caroe, which mixes Basque and Nordic cuisine. This minimally designed pintxos bar specializes in local seafood and serves up everything from monkfish foie gras, smoked eel and trout gravlax. If you prefer a venue overlooking the water, head to Alaia, an ultra-stylish beachfront joint on Socoa Beach, 30-minutes south of Biarritz. You can enjoy lamb, mashed-potato pancakes, and hake and cabbage in front of the bobbing fishing boats. If you prefer to eat on the go, or grab something for a picnic on the beach, head to Les Halles market, which is filled with stalls dishing out sumptuous fare: from local goat’s cheeses and anchovies in olive oil and vinegar to limoncello jelly and hazelnut bread.

The most salubrious lodging in town is the Hotel du Palais, the brainchild of Eugenie de Montijo, the wife of Napoleon III, who chose a patch of hillside overlooking the Bay of Biscay for the Imperial residence. The hotel became the center for France’s elite, who holidayed at the sumptuous building and held balls, picnics and fireworks displays, while welcoming world leaders and royalty from around the world. These days the hotel retains all its old-world glamour, and its breakfasts are worth the room price alone.

There’s not a whole lot to do in Biarritz, but that’s sort of the point. It’s a place to while away the hours in a café, or to take long walks on one of the numerous beaches. It’s a place to relax in, not to do too much. If you do want to exert yourself, then there are a number of surfing schools where you can learn to ride the waves. Most offer similar courses (and prices), with La Vague Basque being the best reviewed. All ages and nationalities come here to learn to surf, so don’t be shy about getting that wetsuit on.

After a reviving dinner, head to the promenade and grab yourself an ice cream. One of the great French pastimes is people-watching, and the cafés along the promenade offer the perfect place to watch the world go by. Part French, part Basque, and with a wonderful mix of elegance, cool and Fifties chic, Biarritz might just be the best beach town in France.