North Holland villages santpoort

North Holland village vibes

Let’s talk villages! This is the first in a series of articles exploring a few of the great little towns and villages tucked into the countryside around Haarlem.

I grew up in the mountainous countryside of Western Pennsylvania on the East Coast of America. My home town had a population of around 1400 people and was surrounded by farms and forests. I love Haarlem, but for me it’s the big city and can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming for my rural sensibilities. So when I’m jonesing for the small town vibes of my youth, I jump on my bike and head out to any one of the many Dutch villages in the nearby countryside.

Santpoort

My go-to favorite village is Santpoort. Santpoort lies 10 kilometers to the northwest of Haarlem and is a primary gateway into the Kennemer Duinen National Park. The town has two distinct districts: North and South. Santpoort North is the larger of the two and where you’ll find most of the tips in today’s article.

north holland villages: santpoort

Leafy village neighborhoods of Santpoort

At first glance, Santpoort appears to be just another enclave of wealthy suburbanites escaping from the crowds and costs of Haarlem and Amsterdam. Leafy streets lined with semi-detached villa’s, a picturesque high street and surrounding horse farms all contribute to that image of exclusivity. But don’t be fooled! This place still has a refreshing gritty side that manages to keep one foot in its rural and farming roots. It’s a combination that you don’t often find in villages around the Randstad, many of which have become saturated by the influences of the urban centers that they are near.

Windmill

north holland villages santpoort

Molen De Zandhaas

The most prominent feature in Santpoort is Koren Molen De Zandhaas. This windmill dominates the village skyline and is still a fully functioning business that grinds grain for many of your favorite local restaurants and bakeries. It has a fantastic, old-fashioned little shop in the base of the mill that sells grain mixes, homemade cookies and fresh local vegetables. You can even buy beer from the Santpoort Brewery MolenDuyn.

North Holland villages santpoort

The old-fashioned shop of the mill

 

 

 

 

 

When the mill is open (Thu-Sat), you are also invited to climb the ladder into the upper tiers and explore the inner workings of the mill. The view across the nearby village and forest of Burgemeester Rijkenspark from the third story deck is beautiful.

Main Street Shops

north holland villages santpoort

Village shops

The shopping area of Santpoort punches well above its weight for such a small village. Most of the shops are on Hoofdstraat, but it is also worth exploring some of the smaller side streets. Everything you need is here, from a well-stocked kitchen store to an eclectic Eastern art/new-age/yoga/meditation shop, along with local clothing, gift shops, a chocolatier and everything in between. The two shinning stars of the village, and indeed of the entire region, are the Italian Deli and the Butcher Shop. Pasta Casa has a deli case full of fresh made pasta, cheeses, sauces, olives and other goodies that will take you right back to your last vacation in Italy. H.H. Duin, just around the corner from Pasta Casa, is a fantastic butcher who make their own sausages, pates, salads, soups and other fresh meals. Their meats are all locally sourced and humanely raised. When it comes to aged rib-eye steaks, they are the best! If I’m hosting a party and need a specialty cut of meat, H.H. Duin is where I go.

Village festival

The country-posh contrast I mentioned earlier is most apparent at the annual village festival held in early August. This festival is a must-do for anyone wanting a local, mashup cultural adventure. On the surface it looks like a typical Dutch carnival with rides and games set up on the village green. But the festivities extend well beyond the midway with bicycle racing, parades, group walks, beer tasting and the ever popular Strongest of Santpoort competition. As evening arrives, it gets even more interesting. The beer trucks open and bands begin to play in the heart of the village as people pour out onto the streets. The mixing pot and diversity of the crowd, from tube-tops to turtlenecks, could be a case study in any university sociology class. The streets are packed, the beer is flowing like water and it feels like a brawl could break out at any moment, but it never does. Somehow, it all just works. And it’s one hell of a good time.

Sulky race

North holland villages santpoort

Sulky racing tradition

I also have to give a special call-out to the annual sulky race which takes place on the Thursday afternoon of the village festival week. This is truly a unique experience which has apparently been going on for centuries and was recently declared as an Intangible Cultural Heritage event in The Netherlands. The village brings in truckloads of sandy soil and covers the northern part of Hoofdstraat to set up the Kortbaan (short track). Think of it as a drag race for sulkies. On the day of the race more than 8000 people line the streets to drink beer, eat bitterballen and bet on the horses. It’s as up-close-and-personal with the racers as you can get and one of the most festive atmospheres I’ve experienced in my 18 years in The Netherlands.

Around Santpoort

Once you’ve done your shopping, drinking and betting on horses in the village proper, jump back on your bike and pedal to the outskirts of town along the edge of the Kennemer Duinen National Park. It’s here where you’ll find picturesque horse farms, small country café’s, a fantastic sauna and two additional landmarks of national noteworthiness.

Duin & Kruidberg

North holland villages santpoort

This massive country estate is now home to a boutique hotel, a Michelin starred restaurant and several great art festivals held throughout the year. It’s definitely worth walking the grounds and taking in the beautiful gardens on your way through to the trails of the national park.

Brederode Castle

North Holland villages santpoort
Brederode Castle is also found on the outskirts of Santpoort and have a very interesting history going back to the 13th century. These ruins are surprisingly well preserved given the fact that the Spanish used dynamite to finally breach the walls in 1573. You can tour the castle on your own and there are several displays in English. The castle also hosts numerous events and concerts throughout the year, including an epic Haunted Halloween event.
So when the city crowds are weighing you down, get out and explore Santpoort! Its authenticity and country chic vibe offers a calm, yet energetic balance to our little corner of the Randstad and is well worth the short bike ride from Haarlem.

 

*Photo credits: All photos taken personally by Dan Glasstetter

Dan Glasstetter
--