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To those who know it well or not, the Netherlands' image is projected as a fabulous fusion of tulips, clogs, canals, windmills, cycling, Dutch masters, the Golden Age and its cosmopolitan capital city Amsterdam. Although the Netherlands is one of the smaller European countries, its liberal influence across the globe can be felt, as does its colonial legacy, rich heritage and importance as a global financial hub.
The geographic flat plains, the light and water are the common denominators in the Netherlands, from the watery wetlands of Holland to the masterful engineering of channelling waterways in Amsterdam and its fishing villages from Durgerdam to the ports of Rotterdam and the coastline of The Hague - the seat of parliament. Flanked by the North Sea and country-borders to cousins Germany and Belgium, this Dutch EU member state was once largely underwater - the fertile-rich, flat landscapes of reclaimed seabeds are now given over to agriculture and the humble tulip – rows of the emblematic coloured flower bloom from March to May.
Almost every Dutch person is proud to own a bike, and this progressive nation was the first in Europe to decriminalise cannabis for personal and medicinal use. But to know about the Netherlands is really to look to the past – the Dutch Masters such as Vermeer, Jan Steen and Hieronymus Bosch learnt their craft here and depicted the rich history with their masterful use of light and neo-classicism, vast paintings that still influence art and literature today. Spend time in its cities where the legacy of art is renowned, and their cute-as-pie cobbled lanes known collectively as 'hofjes make a travel pitstop in the urban hubs of Amsterdam, Utrecht, The Hague, Rotterdam and Haarlem beyond fascinating.
Today, there's a buzz about the Netherlands, with Amsterdam, in particular, garnering attention for its cosmopolitan vibe, innovative foodie hotspots, cafés and culture. Artists Van Gogh and Rembrandt and Jewish diarist Anne Frank each have a memorial here in the form of museums and homes.
You are never far from water. It is easy to navigate the country by boat along the canals and vast lakes, take advantage of the fantastic train network, explore by bike or spend time among the architectural beauty or indulge in the Dutch national hobby, people watching. Another great pastime is enjoying the burgeoning beer scene – the home of Heineken and Amstel is seeing a resurgence in craft brewing and the perfect excuse to raise a glass to the Netherlands.