Brielle: A tourist gem in South Holland

The road to Brielle (Den Briel) from Rotterdam is a sight full of power plants and the many industrial buildings located in the great Port of Rotterdam. The smell of this industrial part of the Netherlands is inevitable, so is the view of the the ships going in and out of the port. It is quite hard to expect, that in the middle of this modernity, lies an old, enclosed town that played an important role in the war between Netherlands and Spain.

The capture of Brielle, as it is known today, started the support of the Dutch to their king Willem of Orange against Duke de Toledo of Spain.

One of our Christmas gift to my parents-in-law is a book called 52 wandelingen met schrijvers naar hun jeugd. They love discovering new places during weekends (mostly Sundays) that they are free and every time they come over to our house, one of our agenda is to go wandelen (leisure walking). At first I didn’t like it because I am not use to talking for several hours without a destination but after a while, I began to look forward to these weekend walks.

Despite the grey skies and biting cold of that Sunday afternoon, we agreed to visit Brielle for our Sunday wandelen. And what an exciting discovery it has been.

Just like any other fortified old city in Europe, entering Brielle would mean lining up in the small gate where only one car is allowed to enter or leave. There is a separate entrance for people, one with a blue roof which on a gloomy Sunday gives you a happy glow.Since it was wandeling afternoon, we decided to leave the car at the nearby Jumbo parking lot. From there you will see a man-made lake made pretty with swimming ducks and swans but you have to watch out for the poop they leave on the road.

Brielle is a town true to the sense of a real Dutch dorp (village). It has a small canal running in the middle of the town where boats and yachts of different sizes were parked. This kind of panorama makes Netherlands unique and unlike in Amsterdam where you have to wrestle your way in a place where you can take good photo without somebody blocking your view, in Brielle it is just you and the tranquility of the canal. Of course, a canal without a bridge is not complete and there you have two, a stone bridge and little further from Albert Heijn is the original (restored perhaps) wooden bridge.

There are interesting statues and buildings in the city centre, like the small monument of Queen Wilhelmina pointing to the sky (which actually looked very funny to me because of its size) the beautiful Hoofdwacht building which is now a restaurant and facing it is the building of Libertatis Primitae (First in Freedom) an event that is celebrated in Brielle every 1st of April. At the back of the center, you can find St. Catherijne church towering over the whole village and before it was a small square with a canon and guillotine, reminiscent of the times gone by.

“I want to live here,” I told the husband while looking inside an old house with a wooden chair on its front window.

“We will need two cars for that and we will be stuck in traffic everyday,” he said completely dismissing the idea. To be able to go to Brielle, one must brave the horrendous traffic during rush hour in Europortweg and race with intimidating cargo trucks on their way to the port. It might not be a very good idea but how nice would it be to come home to such a peaceful town like this one, where you can take evening walks on its dimly-lit narrow streets and you won’t be bothered by the noises of the city.

The lovely thing about old cities un-touched by modernization is that there is a different feel when you are walking on their cobbled stones. Brielle seemed to have been sheltered from the fast-changing cities surrounding it. The names of the establishments retained a hundred-years-old feel on them like the Cafe ‘het Melkmeisje and the ‘t Poorthuys Pool Cafe. While walking past the old adobe houses and buildings with their unique stepped gables and red roofs, you can’t help but imagine the way people have lived here centuries ago. The architecture in Brielle is very well-persevered that seeing the names of big supermarkets like Jumbo and Albert Heijn attached on these old buildings seemed to be out of place.

During its glorious years, Brielle is a self-sufficient town, with its own harbor that is trading with the Baltics until it was added as part of Holland in 1371. It’s close proximity to Europoort, the largest seaport in Europe, provides travellers who dare to climb the 318 steps of  St. Catherijne’s tower a magnificent aerial view of the port and charming little villages around it.

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to visit any museum or even enter the church. I would have wanted to climb the narrow stairs and enjoy the panorama on the top of the tower but it is beginning to drizzle. So we left after a hearty late lunch at the Hoofdwacht.

But I promise to be back in the summer when I can take my old oma Gazelle and bike around the village.