Had you asked me a week ago why anyone would want to travel to Brabant in the Netherlands, I would have probably replied that I knew next to nothing about it. So far, my awareness of the Netherlands did not stretch far beyond tulips, cheese and Amsterdam; it was only back in October of last year that I heard of Brabant Nacht from Vanessa, who wrote of her experience here. When Visit Brabant invited me to go see it for myself, I jumped at the chance – and just like Vanessa, I was completely taken by surprise.

The town of ‘s-Hertogenbosch especially was one of the most unexpected, interesting and lovely small towns I have visited to date. To me personally it’s right up there with Reykjavik in Iceland and Innsbruck in Austria. Exquisite architecture, a walkable city center, friendly locals, great restaurants and plenty of hidden gems make ‘S-Hertogenbosch a wonderful option for a weekend getaway. But it’s just one of many places within the Brabant region that has all the potential anyone needs to create some amazing memories.

Need more reasons to go? Here are 10 of them…

1. Brabant is full of cool design

Dutch design has long been a household brand; after all it’s been over 100 years since Mondriaan and a group of contemporaries coined the term “De Stijl”. In 2017 the national theme year is called “Mondriaan to Dutch Design” for which various locations throughout the country showcase both contemporary Dutch design and its history.

Nowhere in Holland is design as concentrated as it is in Brabant. Eclectic, modern, cool – there is nothing ordinary about many of the restaurants, bars and shops you find lining the cute cobbled streets in ‘s-Hertogenbosch city center. On every corner something to marvel at, roam the streets and it won’t take long until you come across the unexpected – a pink-walled restaurant with a gigantic disco ball, a dining table inside a glass house, an old school bus that’s been transformed into a night club.

But that’s only the beginning! Here are some great addresses to find cool design in Brabant:

Museumskwartier ‘s-Hertogenbosch – Stedelijk Museum and Het Noordbrabant Museum are two interconnected museums at the heart of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, as well as a cultural testimony to the entire country. Come here for an intricate exploration of Dutch culture, history, design and art. When you’re finished with your tour, head to the beautiful park cafe in the center, order a delicious Bossche Bol and sit back to smell the roses.

Dutch Design Week – Between October 21-29, the latest in design will be presented all across Eindhoven, making this the largest design event in Northern Europe. About 2500 designers will showcase innovative creations in product design, interior design, fashion and lots more.

De Kazerne – Also in Eindhoven – and by now considered an institution in Dutch design – is this restaurant, a former barracks, which doubles as an exhibition space. On the occasion of the famous Brabant Nacht, this is the place to go if you want to create your very own design piece extraordinaire.

          photo via kazerne

2. The people make all the difference

I knew Dutch people were happy and friendly people, but I didn’t realize just how open and welcoming they were! Within just two days I had three people ask me if I needed help finding the way, simply because I was staring at the map function on my phone. One of them ended up escorting me to the place I wanted to go. Another time I waited for my dinner date and the waiter went out of his way to chat to me and make my wait more pleasant. I got the impression that people here make an effort to treat each other with respect and kindness and I never once felt like a tourist being here, which is something I love and look for in the places I travel to. And you don’t have to take my word for it – ‘s-Hertogenbosch has actually won awards for being the most welcoming city in the Netherlands!

3. Love festivals? This is your spot

When roaming the Visit Brabant website you can find an infinite array of festivals throughout the year and there sure is something for everyone! While the Zundert Flower Festival in September is the world’s largest flower festival, Glow festival in November is all about light arts, enchanting visitors and locals of Eindhoven for 8 evenings in a row. The star among the many events in Brabant is of course Brabant Nacht, an unforgettable spectacle that attracts visitors from around the world, year after year. There is more than one way to live Brabant Nacht; in fact 17 of Brabant’s most noteworthy institutions open their doors to leave you amazed and buzzing with excitement. Be sure to check out all the available packages to find the one that suits you.

       photo by Vanessa Graf

4. It’s a wonderland for bike lovers

Biking along a tree-lined road, fields of yellow and green beside me, no cars near or far and the blue sky above me – that is probably my definition of freedom. One of my favorite feelings in the world is to just ride my bike, loud music on my earphones and the wind in my face. Brabant prides itself on catering to cycling fans with designated scenic bike lanes wherever you go. You can even follow one of the themed bike tours! How about the Van Gogh cycle route, where you can see with your own eyes the landscapes which inspired the grand master of mid-twentieth-century expressionism? Bikes are easy to rent virtually anywhere, and so much more fun and convenient than public transportation.

5. Getting lost has never been more beautiful.

Whatever your destination in Brabant, there is likely always at least one, if not several other places nearby that deserve your attention. In the case of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, we wandered around just outside the city center and found a super cool restaurant and an old school bus that seemed to double as a moving night club. Later at Beekse Bergen we took our bikes and roamed the park, always marveling at the river, the trees, the animals… I enjoyed purposefully getting lost in Brabant because I knew it would always be easy to find my way back. The Netherlands are not big enough to make you disappear – and that’s a good thing!

6. Food, glorious food!

How well you eat can make all the difference in your perception of a place you are visiting and Brabant will not let you down. The region is well known for its production of asparagus and strawberries, but various other fruits, meats and cheeses are also produced locally and sold at farmer’s markets and shops. Many restaurants experiment with unique food concepts and interiors, ensuring that your taste buds will be as well entertained as your eyes. For a special experience I recommend booking the Design Walking Dinner, where you are treated to a 3-course meal in 3 different locations. For this concept 6 chefs have created a dish inspired by the works of 6 renowned designers. You can book the tour here.

7. Feel the history

There is something that most of my favorite destinations around the world have in common - they effortlessly manage to combine traditional and modern lifestyles providing me with a full cultural experience of past, present and future. This is apparent all over ‘s-Hertogenbosch, where characteristic houses line the cobbled streets and old fashioned lampposts shine a light on your evening.

The village of Heusden also provided us with a welcome throwback into Holland’s past with 3 glorious traditional windmills making for a prime photo opp. After World War II, much of Heusden had to be refurbished and the windmills were replaced in the early 70s to restore Heusden with its traditional look, which is now enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.

8. It’s home to some amazing nature

It first hit me on that bus we took from ‘s-Hertogenbosch to the picturesque village of Heusden just how beautiful the region truly was, and I instantly regretted going against the advice of Tamara from Visit Brabant – who had suggested we ditch public transport and cycle over to Heusden. Those sunflower fields sure would have looked amazing on our Instagram feed. Heusden itself was tiny and after walking around for 10 minutes we seemed to have seen everything, but then there was this incredible view!

But my favorite piece of green was actually the area in and around the Beekse Bergen holiday park where we stayed in so-called “jungalows” with ducks and the like as our immediate neighbors, just on our doorstep. Beekse Bergen is an amazing place to relax yet to live an adventure or two and an especially great place for families. Part of Beekse Bergen is the Safari Park, which is essentially a zoo without fences where you can drive your car through the territory or join a guided bus tour, allowing you to see all the animals up close, including lions, zebras and camels.

9. Families will find their ultimate dream destination

I came to Brabant with my 3-year old and was super impressed with how much children were considered in all aspects of the many things on offer for families to enjoy. We visited a big favorite with young ones: The Efteling Park, an amusement park focusing on fairytales and old-fashioned magic. Many notable newspapers have names this park to be the best one for kids (Disney who?) and indeed, my little son still talks about the many wondrous figures he witnessed coming here. The Sleeping Beauty in her tower, the Long Neck figure from the Six Servants fairytale – they all gave us lots to talk about for days and weeks, and my little man sure lived an awesome adventure. By the way, the Efteling had some of the most beautiful rides I have seen at any amusement park, definitely a fun place to be for the entire family, small children and big ones, too.

Possibly  the best thing about Efteling to me personally was actually Bosrijk, the accommodation village we stayed in. It looked like an actual village from a fairytale where guests stay in beautifully crafted 2-floor houses with lovely terraces and the woods right around them. It was a perfect escape for a city girl like myself . To start and end the day inside a forest felt like therapy to my internet-enslaved mind.

10. It’s a true insider tip

It might not need to be spelled out anymore than it has in the previous 9 points, but Brabant sure is one of a kind, and very deserving of a spot on your bucket list. It’s located in the heart of Europe and a mere 1-hour train (or car) trip away from Amsterdam airport. There is something for everyone, whether you travel for food, nature, design, culture, history or people – and you get to discover a region that is not as overrun by tourism as some of Europe’s other beautiful regions. If you value an insider tip: Brabant is it.

*This post was created in collaboration with Visit Brabant. All opinions expressed naturally are my own. Thanks for a magical time!