It was still dark outside when we stepped out of the sleeping coach onto the narrow hallway of our train. I took a sip of the steaming hot cup of coffee the conductor had brought me just a few minutes earlier and was reminded of the mornings spent in trains in India, cold wind blowing through the open windows and doors, drinking chai to get warm, and asking the passengers around whether we had slept through our stop already.

The memory didn’t last long though, as the train pulled into a sleek-looking railway station. We were in Germany, not India, the weather was just below freezing, and our destination was not the Himalayas, but the Netherlands.

Two changes of trains and one missed connection later, we arrived in Brabant, in the south of the country, for a weekend filled with art, design, and outdoor adventures. Here’s what we experienced.

From ultra-modern warehouses filled with bars, eateries and galleries to serene lakes perfect for birdwatching, Brabant is the perfect place to spend a weekend!


Eindhoven: Design and the City  

Our home base for the first two days in Brabant would be Eindhoven, one of the region’s biggest cities and former tech and industry stronghold. The city used where Philips‘ headquarters were located, which lured a lot of talent, creatives, and like-minded companies to the region, creating a Silicon Valley-ish cluster of innovation. When it became cheaper to produce elsewhere, the industry giants slowly started to take root in other places and left the city empty for quite some time. Now, the halls might not be filled with machinery and laborers anymore, but Eindhoven’s hallmark innovation and love for technology remain – there are tons of start-ups, tech incubators, co-working spaces, workshops, and creative agencies repurposing the old industrial buildings.

From ultra-modern warehouses filled with bars, eateries and galleries to serene lakes perfect for birdwatching, Brabant is the perfect place to spend a weekend!

Unconventional art at Van Abbemuseum

We grabbed a bike (we were in the Netherlands, after all, so cycling is a must) and headed into the city. First stop: The Van Abbemuseum, home to contemporary art and out-of-the-box ideas. It is unconventional in more ways than one – the building consists of an old(er) part, built in the 1930s, and a modern expansion, leading to two very different facades. It was founded by a cigar producer (say what?), and it frequently questions commonly held standards in the world of arts and culture.

Creative culinary adventures at the Down Town Gourmet Market

We only had an hour and a half to browse through the exhibitions and the museum shop (and genuinely enjoyed it!), but it’s definitely a good idea to plan a little more if you’re visiting yourself. Our next stop was a little too alluring, though, for us to stay much longer: it was time to eat. We hopped on our bikes and headed over to the Down Town Gourmet Market. Imagine a food court, in industrial-style halls, with plants growing everywhere, neon signs announcing the stalls, and an app which lets you order at your seat from all the different food vendors – and you can kind of imagine what it’s like. It was tough to decide between all the delicacies, but we opted for a bunch of different dishes, tapas-style, from Spado-Food. Chef Patrick was raised by a Spanish father and an Indonesian mother and creates the most delicious dishes from both food cultures – hands down the best tapas I’ve ever had.

Arts and culture at Strijp-S

Next up was a bike tour through the old Philips factory grounds, Strijp-S (and Strijp-T). This is where the creative energy of Eindhoven really comes into its own; there’s a gallery, art space, hip restaurant, skate hall, indoor permaculture farm, or Virtual Reality hall around every corner, it seems. We stopped to visit here and there, had an ice cream at Intelligentia ICE, marveled at the skilled skaters, and simply took in the fascinating mix of the old Philips factories and fresh concepts for this part of town. A short bike ride away, the studio, shop, and restaurant of famous designer Piet Hein Eek awaits curious visitors – the generous exhibition rooms let you have a look at the giant workshop downstairs, letting you see the production and result at the same time. We hear the food here is great, too, but we had already made dinner plans and headed back to the city center.

Dinner in the middle of a gallery, or a gallery in the middle of dinner?

The restaurant of choice was Kazerne, which also includes a gallery – or is it the other way round? Before, after, or during dinner, you can walk around and have a look at the art on display. The food is delicious, too – a great and artsy ending to a wonderful day. Exhausted, but happy, we fell into our beds at beautiful Inntel Hotels Art Eindhoven. The next day would be just as full of adventures as the first had already been.

Day Two: Mountain biking in the dunes

Day two was a surprising one – we were headed to the National Park Loonsche & Drunese Duinen to go mountain biking in the dunes. Yes, you read that correctly – we were planning to go mountain biking in the flattest country in Europe! As both of us are really passionate hikers and spend most of our free time on one peak or another, we were skeptical at first, but also curious. What was this Dutch version of mountain biking? Well, turns out, it’s quite similar to what we were used to – there is a proper MTB trail laid out, stretching 26 kilometers (around 16 miles), with obstacles, jumping platforms, and lots of technical challenges. At first, we took it slow, getting used to the wet and muddy conditions and the bikes we rented at Natuurpoort Van Loon. Feeling like two old grandmothers, we stopped several times to let other, faster bikers pass. We got the hang of it soon enough, though, and spent the next two hours riding, jumping (well, trying to), and thoroughly enjoying the beautiful scenery.

It’s quite a popular trail, even if the only people using it seem to be men (we think we caught a glimpse of exactly one other woman out there, but we’re not even sure about this one) – but still, be prepared for lots of traffic on the route. We checked it out on a Sunday; chances are if you go during the week, you’ll find it less busy.

Walking around the Blind Walls Gallery in Breda

Quite a bit more exhausted than we had thought we would end up, we drove to our next stop, the city of Breda. Checking in at Luxury Hotel Nassau Breda, which used to be a cathedral and monastery but now hosts guest from near and far (talk about unusual repurposing, right?), we had just enough time to wash the mountain bike dirt from our bodies before Dennis from Graphic Matters picked us up for a very special tour of the city.

Besides doing what seems to be a thousand projects at once, Dennis is one of the initiators of Breda’s Blind Walls Gallery, quite an unusual showcase for local and international art. What’s so special about it? Well, the gallery is not just confined to a few rooms or a closed-off space, but spreads out all over the city. Artists have been (and continue to be) invited to turn old, neglected walls into works of art, creating giant murals all over town which not only look stunning, but tell a story about the city. Every piece of street art is connected to a fact, a story, or a little something of Breda, turning cultural heritage that is often so easily forgotten into something visual, creative, and gorgeous. There’s an app which helps you find out more about the murals as you walk through town, but the tours tell you information you really couldn’t get anywhere else.

A dinner institution

The second day had been exhausting, in the best of all ways, and full of new impressions, so we were perfectly happy to stay at Hotel Nassau Breda for dinner. The hotel’s very own restaurant, Liefdegesticht (which in one way or another is a reference to the Dutch word for love institute), is crazy about good food. So are we! Or, at least, about eating it. Chef Bart Klomp has worked in several Michelin-starred restaurants before working here, and the dishes are a testament to all the things he learned from his experiences. Bottom-line: Hotel Nassau Breda doesn’t only have luxury rooms, but also luxury food.

Nature made by (wo)men at Biesbosch Museum Eiland

The last day of our trip to Brabant was reserved for one thing, and one thing only: Visiting the Biesbosch Museum Eiland. As we were driving to the museum, we marveled at the gorgeous nature all around – swamps, birds, rivers, and lots of open space. Who knew that the Netherlands, the most densely populated country in Europe, boasted this much unobstructed nature?

It turned out a little while later, when visiting the museum showcasing the history of the area, that we weren’t entirely right. The fields and waterways around us were actually man-made, to give the rivers more room to prevent flooding in other cities. Farmers and families who had been living here were relocated a couple of years ago to create this swampy area – the goal is to make the surrounding Dutch cities less at risk for serious flood damage. The exhibition was beautifully designed, albeit only really elaborately explained in Dutch. You can still visit the award-winning building as a visitor center free of charge, though – as a first stop before you go cycle, walk, or take a boat tour in the area.

Birdwatching and relaxing in Biesbosch

Seeing Biesbosch by boat was exactly what we did next – we stepped onto the whisper boat, named for its almost silent electrical motor, and visited the parts of Biesbosch that you can only access via the water. In summer, these boats are filled with curious visitors, but this time of year, we had it almost all to ourselves. We relaxed, watched the scenery go by, and observed the many different types of birds that call this part of the Netherlands their home.

A bit tired, we finally drove back to Breda, talking about dikes and floods and climate change, and went out for our last dinner in the Netherlands – at Chocolat. We thought we couldn’t possibly eat much after the day we’d had – but once the dishes started arriving, it was as if we hadn’t eaten all week. The restaurant’s cozy atmosphere and very friendly staff made the delicacies we were served taste even better. What a delicious ending to an already very stimulating trip!

A virtual reality sauna? Is that a thing? 

As we had a long train ride ahead of us the next day, there was one last stop on the itinerary before going back home: a spa. Sensecity, to be exact; a beautifully decorated, Bali-inspired little spa in Breda, offering individual experiences to help people relax in the best way possible. It’s anything but a usual wellness experience – you can book floating sessions, high-tech massage tables, and a virtual reality sauna experience, to name just a few. I tried the latter and spent my morning sitting on some coast and watching the waves, virtually of course, all the while experiencing a very real and hot sauna session. Really – there’s no better way than this to prepare you for eleven hours in several trains across Europe!

What do you think, do virtual reality and saunas go together? Does mountain biking in the Netherlands sound like a good idea? And which destinations would you choose in Brabant? Let us know in the comments!

We were kindly invited by Visit Brabant on this trip. All opinions are my own!