While many Americans wait until summer to go on vacation, there is one destination that is a must-see in spring: the Netherlands. In temperate climates, April showers are said to bring May flowers, but in the Netherlands, spring rains bring field after field of blooming beauties that culminate in a spectacular array of colors and smells across the revived landscape.
Despite its small size, the Netherlands exports two-thirds of the world's flowers, flower bulbs, and fresh cut plants, thanks to its mild climate and incredibly fertile soil. Interestingly enough, the flower that is most associated with the Netherlands, the tulip, isn't a species indigenous to the country. Originally brought over from the mountainous regions of central Asia by Turkish traders, tulips became so popular and coveted that, in the 1600s, tulip mania took over the country until a single bulb that produced a flower with a rare or striking pattern could cost more than an entire row of houses--equivalent to hundreds of thousands of Euros today. The frenzied tulip market eventually crashed, due in no small part to vendors selling vast quantities of bulbs they didn't actually possess to buyers who didn't really have the money to pay for them, but the unassuming tulip, nonetheless, acclimated extremely well to the soil and climate of the region.
Today, visitors from around the world travel to the Netherlands each spring to watch the countryside come alive with color. There are many places to visit if you're in the mood for a fabulous botanical expedition. With approximately 2000 hectares of flowering fields, the Noordoostpolder, in the province of Flevoland, is the largest cultivated area of the country, but the areas that receive the most visitors every year are the fields in South Holland and the West-Frisian polders. When the flowers are in full bloom for a couple weeks each spring, thousands of visitors follow the tulip trail across the country, and fortunately, there are many ways to take the trip on your terms. You can pedal across specially designated bicycle routes or easily travel by rental car; either way, the blossoming fields are sure to take your breath away and leave you with a cache of stunning photos in your camera.
Undeniably, the best place to go during a spring trip to the Netherlands is the Keukenhof, the largest and most important flower park in the world. This spring, there are more than seven million bulbs and 800 varieties of tulips blooming in the park. In addition to enjoying the 32 hectares of flowers in the Keukenhof, you can take in flower shows, inspirational gardens, unique artwork, and a myriad of other flower-related events. Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh inspired the park's theme this year, so you need to stop by the spectacular flower bulb mosaic arranged as a 'self-portrait' of the famously tormented artist. You can buy tickets online through May 17, 2015, and remember to buy a parking ticket for your rental car online when you buy tickets for the park.
If you're itching to get away, the Netherlands reminds us that we don't need to wait until summer to have an unforgettable vacation. And although there are a few can't-miss destinations for expert botanists and amateur flower fanciers alike, the whole country is so in bloom right now that, no matter where the spring breeze takes you, you're sure to tiptoe through the tulips.