Giethoorn is the name of a place just out of some fairy tale book. The place is so beautiful that it feels unreal. I read about this Dutch village for long and watched videos on YouTube, and those video clips all looked so unreal and artificial - like super edited – or how else could a place like this exist in a highly developed European country like the Netherlands?
There are no roads in the village. Instead, the whole area is crisscrossed by narrow canals, so no cars at all. This sounds so much like Venice of Italy, but this one is much greener and the waterways are not polluted. But later we found that Giethoorn is actually called the Venice of the Netherlands.
So during our stay in France just a few weeks ago, we drove all the way to the Netherlands - mainly to the water world of Giethoorn - which is 118 kilometres from the Dutch capital Amsterdam.
As there is no road for cars, we had to park our car in the parking lot at the outskirts of the village. It was so crowded even on a weekday, we had to wait almost an hour to get a parking spot. Anyway, after parking the car we walked for a few minutes and entered the fairy-tale land.
It was all so green and tranquil despite the crowd. I am not sure if all the tourists were from the Netherlands or from all over Europe, but many of them were staring at our small group with curiosity. All five of us had the masks on due to the Covid-19, but most other people we saw there were not wearing any mask. They still seemed so joyful and not anxious at all.
We walked through the narrow roads, and stopped in front of at least one hundred houses just to appreciate the beauty. We were amazed to see the owners of the houses just relaxing on the green lawn or in the drawing room, which all the thousands of tourists can see and stare at and they were okay with this. Seems they got habituated with this, and maximum of the local people were somehow involved in the tourism business.
Giethoorn started its journey in 1230. Surprisingly, it was founded for peat trade. Most of the canals were dug for carrying pits out of the peat hole. It remained just as peaceful until it was featured in the movie 'Fanfare' in 1958 by Dutch filmmaker Bert Haanstar. Then it became a world- renowned travel destination.
Now a village of 2500 inhabitants gets visited by 3,50,0000 Chinese and half a million tourists from the rest of the world. So the Dutch tourism authority has been trying to control the tourist influx in Giethoorn, lest it should spoil its image and environment.
There are over 150 wooden bridges in Giethoorn and thus you can cross the canals, though most places are restricted as they are private property. But no canal is private, and the peak attraction of Giethoorn is to hire a paddle boat and explore the whole village.
So we hired a boat that can accommodate six persons. It cost 15 euros for 40 minutes, which is cheap compared to other places in the country. In the lovely surreal afternoon we slowly navigated the village again by waterway. The traffic was much less on canals at that time, so we could peacefully enjoy the adventure.
After many turns on left and right we entered a giant lake which was a marvellous place for bird watching. Especially a large number of mute swans and great-crested grebes were there. The reed beds were fantastic, where we saw many terns and seagulls and one magnificent White Stork.
After 40 minutes of boating we entered the village again and appreciated the way they maintained the canals so nicely. And the lawns of almost every house were so well decorated that the whole village actually looked like a giant open air museum.
I visited Venice a couple of times, and I have to say that visiting Giethoorn was a totally different experience. You feel more connected with nature and water here.
We heard from the locals that in winter the canals get frozen and they do ski on them. Not many tourists visit the place then but the rest of the year this place is full of life.