So peaceful, so different and has such simple beauty that it hardly seems real. Imaging yourseld gently gliding along small canals past old, but pretty, pictureque thatched-roof farmhouses. One can turn down a “side street” (which is actually another canal) and drift under a wooden bridge. This actually exists; it is neither Venice nor Amsterdam, but Giethoorn, Holland.
Giethoorn is a mostly car-free village in the northeastern Dutch province of Overijssel about an hour and a half’s drive from Amsterdam. It’s known for its boat-filled waterways, footpaths, bicycle trails and centuries-old thatched-roof houses. This is the kind of surreal setting that storybook scenes are made from!
That backdrop is just like a fairytale European village. It is so calm that its nickname of the “Dutch Venice” may give a false impression of size and crowds and commercialism. It is extremely quiet, serene and remote; in fact, the loudest sound normally heard is the quacking of a duck or the chirping of a bird.
Giethoorn is at the centre of Overijssel’s canal system. The quaint little village is so dependent on its waterways, many of the houses cannot be reached by road. When the postman delivers the mail he travels by punt.
Giethoorn was established as a settlement of peat harvesters. Peat cutting created ponds and lakes, and people built houses on the islands between them. As a result, access was only possible by bridge or using traditional Giethoorn boats, or so-called “punters” (narrow boats pushed along using a long pole by a punteraar).
Fortunately, little has changed in Giethoorn. The tall wooden bridges are still there, and you can still travel the waters on a punter, as well as on an electric boat or a tour boat. A 1 or 2-hour boat tour takes you past the gorgeous 18th and 19th-century scenic paths.
If boating does not strike your fancy, footpaths beside the canals are ideal for walking or cycling. There are three canal-side museums to visit and the Schreur shipyard, where the Giethoorn punt was built. There are also a wide selection of cafes and restaurants, many of which are situated beautifully along the waters edge, as you may have guessed. Many of the hotels and holiday homes in Giethoorn are located directly at the water’s edge as well.
Giethoorn’s name originates from the first inhabitants’ discovery of hundreds of goat horns (gietehorens) in the marshland, remnants of a 10th-century flood. Today no goat horns will be found here, but the vegetation is still quite distinct.
This is definitely the place to go back in time and make you feel like you are in a real, live storybook setting!