Scenic rivers, great palaces and the starting point for the Tour de France: Why Utrecht is the perfect place for a Dutch biking holiday

On arriving in the Netherlands, two things soon become apparent.
One: the Dutch are very tall. Two: they are born on bicycles.
That must be why the man in the cycle shop keeps offering me wheels fit for a giant.
I end up hiring a child’s bike, which my husband and three children seem to find amusing.
There are more bicycles than people in Holland, so it’s fitting that the Grand Depart of this year’s Tour de France leaves from Utrecht next month.

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Freewheeling fun: Jo and her family took to the bustling Oudegracht canal for their biking adventure

It is the country’s fourth largest city, and is a mere half an hour south-east of Amsterdam.
With just 330,000 inhabitants, it is far more intimate than its celebrated neighbour and is a popular city break destination, packed with museums, restaurants and history.
It’s also a great base for cycling holidays, where days can be spent pedalling along the River Vecht admiring mansions and palaces built by rich Dutch merchants in the 17th century.
We’re here for a mixture of athletic cycling and sightseeing; our guide, Edwin, promises to deliver both.

Canals criss-cross the medieval centre, and when we pass under the city’s landmark 13th-century church’s Dom Tower, I get a thrill, imagining Chris Froome bumping along this very same cobbled path.
Minutes later, we’ve left the city centre and Edwin stops to point out the road where he expects the top cyclists will break away from the peloton on the second day.
We’ll never manage the whole route, a whopping 103 miles from Utrecht to Zeeland (which borders Belgium), but we keep going for more than an hour, swapping townscape for countryside as we cycle past Utrecht’s university (the biggest in Holland) and pedal into meadowland.
It’s bucolic and flat — lush fields full of sheep and cows famous for making Dutch cheese.
Legs power on until we reach Theehuis Rhijnauwen, a pancake house on the banks of a brook that used to be part of the River Rhine.

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Eight wheels in unison: The Kessel family in action on their cycling trip to Holland’s fourth largest city

We devour savoury and sweet pancakes while Edwin works out that we’ve cycled eight miles.
‘That means there’s eight miles back,’ gasps my ten-year old daughter, Hannah.
Her little legs struggle to keep up with the twins, Nathalie and Gabriel, 12, but she makes it, collapsing with relief when we return to our rented three-bedroom Twenties townhouse.
Tall and skinny, with narrow stairs and just a couple of rooms on each floor, it overlooks the canal and has a pretty roof terrace.
The landlord has left a large pack of Dutch stroopwafels (caramel waffles) on the table for us.
Tour de France anticipation is palpable. The Town Hall has a countdown clock and the nearby Brasserie Bresson has a special Grand Depart menu.

 

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