Mrs Smith and I have established a mid-winter tradition: the local getaway. When we lived in New Amsterdam, we’d hop on trains from New York to the Hudson Valley for a bracing shot of quaint. Here in Europe, hoping to repeat the pattern in our newly adopted Amsterdam, we set out for the four-room Inn on the Lake in Broek in Waterland. Translation? ‘Trousers in Water Country.’ Pants packed, we jump in a cab in central Amsterdam, and as much as the cliché will allow, in 20 minutes we’re a world away.
Inn visitors have a choice to make: to Dam or not to Dam? (As in Amsterdam.) While this Broek in Waterland boutique B&B still grants access to one of the most compellingly beautiful cities in the world, we’re happy to stay put in the neighbourhood of our Noord-Holland guesthouse. Peering in the window of the refinished vicar’s quarters opposite the village church, we spy a buck trophy and chocolate-velvet chair tableau. Innkeeper Karel meets us at the lacquered door and leads us up the original wooden spiral staircase to one of the four rooms.
We’re in the Blue Room where a pretty ivy-like chandelier hangs over the Frette-linen-clad queen bed and a cute alcove looks perfect for little tagalongs – though we have none of our own so far. It’s heel gezellig – content and cosy – with a smartly fixed bathroom featuring a rain shower, granite sink, and an extra-warm towel rack. A tub might have been nice for a bit a leisurely co-bathing, but for an enticing claw-footer, book the Black and White room.
The hospitality here is heartfelt – owners Pamela and Karel make leaving the Inn deliciously difficult, whipping up restaurant-rivalling dinners. The weekly changing menu kicks off for us carnivorously, with a wrap of roast beef stuffed with local Serrano ham first, followed by cashew-encrusted cod, and a trifecta of mousse. Wine lovers note, the ghost of Calvinist past seemingly looms in the dining room (the inn can be a bit slow on the pour), but this doesn’t keep me from requesting a glass of port at the end of the meal. It is the last in the house; thankfully co-owner, chef and award-winning decoratrix Pamela, has a lovely sherry on back-up.
In the morning, a low yellow sun jousts with lumbering clouds fit for van Ruisdael. We linger over lattés, fresh fruit, yoghurt, dainty breads oven-baked with precision and decadent butter-poached eggs, peering out at the winter landscape. While a Lake Superior devotee might think this darling lake is a closer relation to a pond in dimensions, even they would have to admit it is mesmerising. With two rivers flowing in and out, and direct access to the sea, it is delightful. Frozen thick, it spends much of this season full of blonde skaters. The Dutch are inordinately attached to the idea of blades under foot and will jump on any body of water – canal, lake, pond, puddle – at the first hint of molecular realignment. It is a sight worth catching. More typically, the lake is covered in waterfowl cutting Vs in the water, and during temperate months the inn has a beautifully restored wooden cruising boat for hire. A sunny canal cruise with some hopjes sweeties and a few biertjes is among the great experiences in Holland, so if the weather is right, be sure to sign up.
Starved as these city-dwellers are of country light and air, we head north of Broek in Waterland by foot, though bicycles hired from Wim Tweewielers would really be the way to go. Speaking from experience, if you haven’t been on a bike in some time, you’ll feel as though you are 10 years old again, and the paths outside of Amsterdam are manageably clear of traffic. Gangs of local sheep stare us down until we arrive at Monnickendam. We continue north into the centre of a fishing and sailing town notable for its sloops and expertise in smoked eel. There are smokehouses throughout and even a statue dedicated to the trade.
Edam, best known for its cheese, is our next stop. We make an obligatory visit to the central shop which is seemingly held up by pillars of stacked yellow wheels. The beautifully restored L’Auberge in the lobby of the Damhotel lures us for lunch. The terrace, outfitted with sheepskin throws at every table, no doubt pulses in warmer months, and I plant a seed with Mrs Smith to make it back in the spring. Being so close to the water inspires an appetite for fish and so we pick at oysters and a mini sandwiches of shrimp, salmon and eel.
Drunk by now on chocolate-box cuteness, we forget to book anywhere for dinner. And Holland is a reservation country. You can walk into a half-empty restaurant and be refused service for not having a reservation. The upside is that there is no such thing as table churn, so you can loiter for as long as you like. We scramble to get a table at the raved-about Michelin-starred Posthoorn back in Monnickendam, but it’s with no luck. Kicking ourselves, yes, but at least we’re armed with another reason to return.
We find an opening at the local bistro De Drie Noten, one of only two restaurants in the 2,000-population village. The other is a pancake house slathered in Dutchery – single story, gabled roof, mounted Delftware, tulips, lacquered doors, Flemish script, rambunctious blonde families. It’s a wonder the staff isn’t clogged.
On the way back to our snug for a nightcap, I fantasise of taking up residence in the pastel-shaded village, given Broek in Waterland’s convenient proximity to the Dam. Mrs Smith, a third-generation New Yorker, pauses. ‘Let’s keep it for getaways,’ she says patting my head. As 15 minutes’ worth of get-yourself-to-church bells peal the following morning, I wonder to myself if, as much as we love it here, maybe if these sleepyheads might just keep it for weekend getaways.