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Travel & Holidays in later life


Despite many misgivings Reg Butler got on his bike and cycled through Holland.

Forty years ago I could just laugh at the idea of an 80-mile cycle ride before tea. But all those soft postwar years behind a steering-wheel take their toll, and I doubted my chances of surviving an ordeal by Dutch Bike, described in the brochure as a holiday. 

My family said don't worry, Holland is dead flat end to end, like a Dutch pancake, not rolled up like a Shrove Tuesday pancake. So even an elderly gent like me shouldn't really be crippled by a target of 30 miles a day. 

This may sound boring to enthusiastic sport cyclists who want hills and mountains, and the chance to use all their 24 gears. But for the holidaymaker who just wants a gentle wobble around Holland, the flatness is a bonus rather than a drawback. 

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If you're compiling your own bicycle tour, remember that Dutch Railways are well equipped to transport bikes. Cycles are welcome everywhere.

More informationHF Holidays,
Catalyst Housde, 720 Centennial Court, Centennial Park, Elstree, Hertfordshire, WD6 3SY. Tel: 0845 470 7558.

Send for a cycling information map and general brochures from
Netherlands Board of Tourism, P.O. Box 30783, London WC2B 6DH.
Tel: 020 7539 7950 

Travelsphere escorted holidays


What set me off was an HF Holidays brochure crammed with all the facts needed for a ready-priced cycling holiday. (HF stands for Holiday Friendship). You get a rented bike on arrival, a map with route notes, and your set of hotel vouchers. The clever idea is that they also transport your luggage from hotel to hotel. 

You merely pedal to your next stop, with nothing more than a camera and a Mars bar in your saddlebag. When you arrive at your overnight hotel, your suitcase is already waiting in your bedroom, delivered by the Holiday Luggage Service. 

I was particularly taken by this luggage business. The strategy has been to plan circular itineraries, with choice of perhaps three starting-points, beginning and ending any day of the week. The flow of cyclists around the accommodation circuit is thus spread without log-jams. Luggage is moved around by vans, like on a conveyor belt.

The company also features similar holidays in a number of other continental countries, ranging from Italy, Hungary and Austria, and through France, Germany and Denmark. Mostly they are planned along river valleys and around lakes.

These holidays are ideal for over-50s who can enjoy the freedom of very leisured cycling with a comfortable room guaranteed each night. 

Holland has been geared up for cycling ever since the invention of the velocipede. 

With 80% of the population owning a bicycle, the cycling lobby is all-powerful. Backed by that huge voting power, there has been development of over 6000 miles of special cycling lanes and paths, where motorised vehicles are taboo. 

EveBy pedal-power around the Amsterdam canalsn in Amsterdam, entire streets are banned  to motorists; and the canals can be explored by 4-seater canal-bikes.

 All the rural cycling lanes are clearly signposted. At every crossing-point there's a white concrete 'mushroom' signpost close to the ground, giving directions, distances and - even more helpful - a reference number which enables you to pinpoint your position anywhere in Holland. 

The most interesting cycling territory is rural Holland, inland - not so much along the wind-exposed coastline. 

In fact, wind is the equivalent of hills. Taking advantage of the prevailing wind - mainly south-westerly - you could coast along from the Hook to northern Holland, beside the sand-dunes; and then back inland, plotting your course along woodland paths to get protection from head winds. Dutch farmers don't grow hedges. 

You'll gather that there's nothing Tour de France about these holidays, with hotels strung 20 or 30 miles apart. Most of the accommodation is based on middle-grade family hotels, typically with around 20 rooms. 

Go windmill-hunting by Dutch bike As a sturdy nation of cyclists, the Dutch don't believe in finicky eating. The standard Dutch hotel breakfast gives choice of five types of bread - pumpernickel, brown and white bread, currant bread, toast; slices of cheese, ham, and hard-boiled egg; fruit, jam and honey. 

That's enough to keep you pedalling until 11 o'clock - time for coffee with a doorstep of currant bread, covered in thickly sliced butter. The Dutch are doing their best to reduce the dairy mountain. 

You are then all set until the midday snack: maybe a Dutch pancake one foot two inches across; or an uitsmijter, a heap of cold cuts and ham, with fried eggs perched on the summit. 

Then there's nothing more to eat until you stop for five o'clock gin with bitter-ballen, fried meat balls. Hopefully you can then last out till six, when the hotel dining-room opens up. 

On these arrangements, flexibility is the keynote. It's easy to extend the basic package each end of the circuit. Personally, I had long wanted to explore the lesser-known region of the Northern Netherlands, and took a train to the provincial capital of Groningen, close to the German border.

It's a mini-Amsterdam where cyclists reign supreme. Most of the centre is banned for cars. Every member of the 170,000 population has at least one bicycle. Visitors can hire a cycle on arrival at the railway station, which also features storage space for 2,500 bikes. 

Groningen is laid out roughly like a bicycle wheel. The rim or tyre is formed by the surrounding canal, which originally functioned like a moat beneath the medievThe Dutch even exercise their dogs by bikeal fortifications - long since removed. 

Most of the 15 bridges around the rim lead like radial spokes directly into the Grote Markt - the hub - where visitors can get well oiled in the numerous cafes. 

I stayed at the very attractive 24-room Auberge Corps de Garde, converted from the former guardhouse that protected one of the bridges. Bedrooms were furnished in antique style, and the restaurant was gourmet standard. Just perfect for a hungry cyclist. 

For another aspect of Holland, also look at: 

HOLLAND-BULBS - Flower-lovers' special

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

Bicycle Touring Holland: With Excursions Across the Border into Belgium and Germany  - to be published on March 31, 2005 - the most up-to-date publication for the touring cyclist.

Holland Insight Compact Guide - A useful supplementary guide for your saddle-bag, ideal for exploring Dutch cities by wheel-power. 

Holland/Netherlands Insight Guide  - A more detailed book from the Insight publishers, for taking a deeper look at the history, culture and sightseeing potential of Holland.

Dutch Painting by Christopher Brown - A general survey of the 17th century golden age of Dutch painting, a reminder of the rich galleries that are easily reached during a cycling  holiday.

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