Peace, space and nature are the three ingredients that make up the philosophy of Buitenleven Vakanties. The organization that arose from a collaboration between Staatsbosbeheer, Natuurmomenten and Landschappen NL, offers atmospheric comfort homes in beautiful locations throughout the Netherlands. Angelique spent a weekend in the Leudal area in Central Limburg and enjoyed meandering brooks, rich forests and vast heathlands.
Text & photography: Angelique van Os
From the village of Nunhem in Central Limburg, I follow a dead-end lane that ends in the Leudal Forest. Bumping in first gear I avoid puddles and potholes by car, until the winding path stops at a former square farm, surrounded by idyllic fields where shetland ponies graze and young trees grow. As the extension of the restored house is the Ursula mill, or the Leumolen, This is the only Limburg oil mill still in operation and dates from the 16th/17th century. The quiet stream on one side of the bridge transforms into a swirling mass of water and attracts quite a few passers-by.
This is my fourth stay in an Buitenleven Vakantiewoning. After the quiet countryside around Haank (Zelhem, Achterhoek), the water surrounded ‘outsider’ Tjasker (Weerribben, Overijssel) and the former carriage house, De Twee Lindes (Ugchelen, Gelderland, with outdoor hottub), the Ursulahof is a completely different experience. The spacious six-person house that has been rented out for a year, is classified as a 2-1 detached house. The adjoining Leuhof is a four-person house. The farmhouse is a national monument and has an authentic appearance due to the farm-like building (stones) and wooden window shutters. When I enter the spacious living room, a light smell of hair penetrates the nostrils, and feel the gray wooden floor creak lightly under my feet. A bottle of wine is welcome on the table. Daylight glows faintly through the small checked windows and the huge wooden bench with felt upholstery beckons you to crash down. As with the other houses, the interior is largely provided by young Dutch designers and Houtwerk Hattem, a sustainable company that, in collaboration with Staatsbosbeheer, selects wood and incorporates natural materials into its products. The house is child friendly and ground floor, with three spacious bedrooms, each with their own soothing color tones. The large dining area in the open plan kitchen, which is fully equipped, invites you to dine extensively.
To the outside
Common denominator with previously visited houses is peace, space and nature, which are the ingredients of Buitenleven Vakanties. This is also emphasised by Els Dubbink, who is responsible for marketing. “We notice that the Dutch are in need of relaxation, privacy and space. Away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. That’s why our homes are spacious and have neutral colours. We want people to go outside and be surprised by the beauty of Dutch nature.”
And that is exactly what I do. Before I go out, the forester from Midden-Limburg gives Robbert Ouwerkerk, some background information. He tells us that the Leudal Valley is unique because of its centuries-old streams, high walls, wood anemones, weaning herbs, lily of the valley and orchids that colour the edges of the streams and meadows yellow-white in the spring and summer. In addition, the beaver is a striking inhabitant. Limburg was one of the first locations where the rodent was reintroduced and partly naturally found its way back. “Pay special attention to gnawed logs and woodchips,” says Ouwerkerk.
To see more of Midden-Limburg I take the car and drive in half an hour to the National Park De Meinweg, near the Meuse and the German border. Just like the Leudal you can wander along paths, cycle and horseback riding. I start from riding school De Venhof and combine the blue Paardengat- and white Rolven-nen route, together good for about 4.5 kilometers (and mostly possible for wheelchair users and pushchairs). The marshy area of the Rolvennen, with its high yellow grasses and dark brown vegetation, is a very different type of landscape than the Leudal Forest. The wet area provides a diversity of reptiles and amphibians, such as the viper, sand-agendis, scarecrow and toad.
The purple heathland with its generous sandy paths is a quiet area and it is wonderful to take a rest here on one of the benches with beautiful views. The further the route progresses, the fewer hikers I encounter. Gradually groups of oaks take over the heather and the path takes me deep into the pine forest. What a silence. Not even birds can be heard here. I don’t see a soul, only a fallen tree. When I sit satisfied in front of the fireplace in the Ursulahof in the evening with a good glass of wine, I feel fully charged to return to the inhabited world. However, secretly I’m already looking forward to another surprising Buitenleven spot.
Worn out valleys
rom the Ursulahof I start with the red Leumolen route, one of the new routes that the Forestry Commission has set out since 2016. This route can also be combined with the yellow Nature Information Path (also suitable for children, only about 3.5 km). On the way I indeed experience the diversity of the forest, although it is still a little bare in early spring. From May it must be a green oasis here, with for example a bed of eagle fern and rich oak leaves. The deep valleys of the course of the water are visible, like at the Koebrug. Here the water rubs out the bank, while a little further the sand is deposited. This creates both deep and shallow spots in the brook and there is an alternation of currents. In some places there is a difference in height of about ten metres, with adjacent meadows where cattle graze. With a bit of luck you can also spot the silver-blue kingfisher. The small birds find food in the rich brooks and build nests in the loamy layer of steep banks.
About Outdoor Vacations
Under the brand Buitenleven Vakanties, Staatsbosbeheer has been renting out holiday homes since 1998. However, the organizations have only since 2014 joined forces with Natuurmonumenten and Landschappen NL, from which the current concept of Buitenleven Vakanties originated. Els Dubbink explains that working together is a great way to bring people closer to nature. The three categories of houses – forester’s houses, outsiders and country houses and castles – will be given a new function. The organisation is also reinvesting their income in the homes and in nature management, such as footpaths and nature education.
The three different types of houses vary from each other because the forester’s houses are situated in the middle of nature, the cosy outsiders often stand on the edge of a small village and are a stone’s throw away from nature, and castles and country houses consist of suites and are surrounded by a park-like environment. Dubbink tells us that a new house on the island of Terschelling will be built in the autumn. A special feature is that work is being done on a self-sufficient eco-house in the Biesbosch and on an eco-lodge. This is a small-scale holiday home for one or two nights, which is part of a long hike and can only be reached on foot.
Staatsbosbeheer organises various excursions and activities in NP De Meinweg, such as twilight tours, morning walks, wild boar hunting and Kids Rangers programmes. Click here for info.
Thanks to Buitenleven Vakanties, Els Dubbink and Robbert Ouwekerk.