DE HAAR CASTLE – THE LARGEST CASTLE IN THE NETHERLANDS

Exploring castles is always one of my wife’s and my travelling interests.

Image courtesy of the author

De Haar Castle, located near Utrecht, is one of the most beautiful castles in the Netherlands. We decided to go there thanks to our friend who found a photo of this castle on Instagram. And it worth visiting.

I don’t find any record about the year of construction of De Haar Castle. Based on what we can find on the Internet, the oldest record of the De Haar Castle was dated in the 13th century, with several times of being damages in the past. The castle was rebuilt in the late 19th century by the architect Pierre Cuypers who designed the Rijksmuseum and Central Station in Amsterdam. De Haar Castle is still a place where the Van Zuylen family’s descendants come to stay every September (I was surprised when I heard about this). The area includes castle, ponds, parks and gardens on a 135-acre-plus precinct, and De Haar Castle is the largest castle in the Netherlands. 

Coming from a country in the Eastern culture, my wife and I both have a desire to discover more about the Western culture. For us, we love visiting church, cathedrals, and castles. Each of these places has a mysterious hidden story that quenches our thirst of exploring. Gazing the architecture of these places is our dream before coming to Europe. We can only see those things on the Internet or in Hollywood movies.

We took a train at around 9.15 am. Due to disruption, we had to change our route a bit to get to the final train station named Vleuten. It took one hour and forty minutes to get to that station. From there, a taxi picked us up to take us to the castle. We booked the cab in advance with a fair price, around €6.5 per person for a round trip.

To visit the castle, we had to buy the tickets online. It was mandatory for most of the travelling places during and after the COVID time. They have different offers for visitors: those who only want to visit the garden outside the castle had to pay €6, and those who wish to visit inside the fort had to pay €17. Our group had six persons, but only my wife and I chose the latter option. You can spend as much time you want with the tickets (of course, you have to get out when the castle closes). We read some reviews and guidance before, and they mentioned that three to four hours are enough for a visit.

Passing the ticket checkpoint, what we saw there was a jaw-dropping scene. There was a majestic ‘fairy tale’ castle surrounded by a massive garden with colorful flowers. We knew that this castle was splendid, but nothing could describe its real beauty.

My wife and I started our castle visit while our friends spent their time in the garden to take photos. Getting closer to the castle, we can see the monumental fortress surrounded by a moat as we imagined before. Coming inside, receptionists told us about the rules of the castle, what we should and shouldn’t do, and what we could bring inside with us. We had to take two red plastic coins with us, as a measure for them to control the number of people visiting the castle at a time.

We had to follow the one-way route tour inside the castle. That was another safety measure from the host to mitigate the spread of the virus (if any). Some other touristic sites also structure the visiting route like that (e.g., Louvre museum in France).

After we got impressed by the outside beauty of the castle, the inside of the castle amazed us more. We heard a lot about the life of aristocracy in Europe. However, the inner exhibition was more than we imagined. The main hall of the castle was the place for welcoming guests to the castle. Some famous people visited the castle, including Coco Chanel, Roger Moore, Yves Saint Lauren, to name a few. Looking up to the corridors and the roofs, there were art pieces about the Christian religion, including big religious statues.

Image courtesy of the author

From the Main Hall, we moved to other rooms in the castle, starting with the dining room and a small room next to it that exhibited cutlery used by the owner. The sets of cutlery were polish and shiny. According to the guide, they had to display cutlery inside a large glass box separately from the kitchen to avoid somebody stealing those small things. That cutlery was expensive, and that was the way the host protected them.

Following the route, we visited several rooms, including Library, Great Hall, Ballroom, and eight bedrooms of the owner’s family and guests. Those rooms all showed the wealthy life of the owners and helped us to imagine how a real aristocratic family lived. There were furniture, pictures, and articles which demonstrate what people did in different rooms. Most of the things exhibited inside the castle remained the same as before. Only one strange thing that we (and other tourists) noticed: the appearance some Evian plastic bottle of water on the tea-table of some bedrooms. Well, I didn’t know that Evian appeared since the Medieval period.

If I had to choose the most impressive room, I would pick the Great Hall. It was the place where parties were hosted, with fantastic decoration. That room was next to the Library (not really a library but only a reading room of the owner). From the start of the room, we could see the three set of couches/chairs and tables next to each other. We could quickly notice large pictures of the influenced family members hanging on the wall. There was also a large piano exhibited in the center of the room. On the corner of the room, the host showed two sets of classical weapons which made me think of Game of Thrones. The Great Hall was the most fabulous room because of its arrangement. We could find the harmonization of the articles’ color and light.

Image courtesy of the author

I would tell a bit about another room that was also impressive to me: the Ballroom. This room exhibited different work of art collected by the owner, or somebody gave the owner as presents. I was impressed by two large pictures which covered a whole wall. These pictures showed two scenes in bibles. I asked the guide about the origin of these pieces of art. She told me, in a not-so-fluent English, that these were two of a set of ten pictures in the world. There were three of them in De Haar Castle: two in the Ballroom and one in the corridor leading to bedrooms. About the other seven pictures, one is in Canada, one in Louvre (where we would visit by the end of July), and unknown places for the rest. The important thing was that all of them were around 500 years old and MADE BY HAND. I didn’t understand how people could make them by hand due to the large size and the sophistication of the work. It was a mystery to me, similar to how people could build a pyramid in Egypt.

The last place of the tour was the kitchen. The guide in this place was fun. He explained to us how the ventilation system of the kitchen worked when they made barbeque in this two-window room. The ventilation was a fantastic system operating underneath the kitchen area, which brought the smoke up to the top of the castle. I admired the person who designed that system.

Getting out of the castle, we strolled around the land, enjoyed the beautiful view of the castle, the garden with colorful flowers under the blazing sun. We also visited the deer park at the end of the trip.

“Hi there” – Image courtesy of the author

The journey to the castle was an exciting experience for all of us. We immersed in the life of the aristocratic class in a different culture. That was not like what we imagined before because what we saw in the castle was more impressive and stunning.

Here is the video we made for this amazing trip.

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Next trip: Belgium and Paris, our first journey outside the Netherlands during the COVID time. See you then.

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