Despite being barely a tenth of the size of California, there’s an impressive array of castles in the Netherlands (Holland) which are worth exploration.
Although the vast majority of authentically Medieval fortresses are long since lost, there are some beautiful ‘renaissance’ castles worth a look.
Plus – and it’s a huge bonus for any castle hunter – it’s super easy to get around the Netherlands, and pack multiple castles into one visit. Become authentically Dutch, and tour on a bicycle.
Secret Passageways Beneath Valkenburg Castle
Valkenburg is undoubtedly my favourite of this selection of Netherlands castles. From elsewhere on the site, you’ll know that my passion is for mysterious castle ruins, and Valkenburg checks every box – a selection of teetering, decrepit grey stone turrets, looming over the town below.
Hang on a moment though – did I really use the words ‘looming over a town below’?! The Netherlands is famously flat, and Valkenburg Castle has the very strange distinction of being the only surviving Dutch castle built on a hilltop.
Considering that pretty much every other castle in Europe has been built on a hill, cliff top, or at least man-made mound, it’s a pretty odd state of affairs!
Valkenburg brimming with Medieval intrigue. First founded in 1115, the castle is thought to have boasted towers 60ft (18m) tall.
It suffered numerous sieges during the Medieval period, and was largely ruined following the Spanish Dutch wars of the 1600s. (The Dutch tried to restore the fortress, but the French finished the job in 1672).
You’ll be intrigued by the vast network of ‘secret’ underground passageways which run beneath Valkenburg.
Back in Medieval times, these passageways were excavated by the men building the castle – they needed rock! However, as the years went by, the inhabitants of Valkenburg just kept on digging.
They built a labyrinth of secret tunnels beneath the castle – winding from the fortress to the evocatively named ‘Velvet Cave’.
One super secret passageway was a clandestine connection between the castle and the outside world. It meant that the castle survived the vast siege of the Brabanders – supplies could be smuggled in, without those besieging the castle ever knowing.
Incredibly, these tunnels were lost to memory for hundreds and hundreds of years. The full labyrinth of passageways was only discovered in 1937. Feel like exploring them yourself?!
The Reflective Perfection of Kasteel de Haar
Kasteel de Haar has got it all. Check out its perfectly pointed turrets, fearsome drawbridge, and calm, reflective moat.
There’s just one little proviso. Kasteel de Haar isn’t a true Medieval castle! It was constructed from 1892 onwards. But what makes it special is that it’s built – quite literally – upon the remains of an old Medieval castle. The architect used the outline of the old Medieval ruin, and built a new castle on top.
This first castle was founded in 1391. Nowadays, we don’t know that much about it – this first castle was destroyed about 100 years after it was built. Another structure was built in the 1500s, but this fell into disrepair.
In the 1800s, the land was inherited by Baron Etienne van Zuylen, and he decided to rebuild the castle.
It was a hugely ambitious project: when you visit, you’ll realise that the castle contains more than 200 rooms, many of them decked out with lavish tapestries and the very finest furniture.
But the Baron spared no expense – or inconvenience. He even arranged for the destruction of a neighbouring village to ensure there was enough parkland surrounding the rebuilt Kasteel de Haar!
I’ve visited Kasteel de Haar – discover more stories from my trip!