(Editor’s note: Dispatches receives no remuneration for our series on Brabant is Open. However, VisitBrabant did pick up the costs of meals, hotel and transportation for this travel-industry tour.)
The Netherlands is one of the most destination-rich environments in Europe. But visitors who fly into Amsterdam never seem to escape the gravity of its non-stop party and libertine indulgences.
That’s a damned shame. Let’s just say it.
Visitors miss out on the remaining 40,000 square miles of Terra Incognito Netherlands, its sophisticated cities and authentic experiences where – unlike tourist-packed Amsterdam – people are actually thrilled you’re here.
How do we know? First, my wife and co-CEO Cheryl and I live here. Dispatches Media is headquartered in Eindhoven in the Brabant Province about 100 miles south of Amsterdam, close to the borders with Belgium and Germany.
Second, we just got back from the Brabant is Open events sponsored by VisitBrabant, the convention and visitors bureau, and it reminded us how little we know about our own corner of the Netherlands, which is on way too few travelers’ radars.
Starting Saturday, the Brabant is Open campaign is trying to change that by bringing a wide range of visitors – families from Germany and Belgium who won promotional trips here as well as a large group of tour operators, corporate travel planners, travel writers and influencers. Influencers … that would be us.
Invited by Brabant is Open officials, about 600 people descended on this under-the-radar province which has everything including:
• the world’s most advanced technology in Eindhoven
• one of the Netherlands’ most elegant cities in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, or Den Bosch to locals
• the best amusement park in the Netherlands in Efteling
• the most Michelin-stared restaurants in the Netherlands at 22
• innovative museums, including the North Brabant Museum in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, which just aced out Barbra Streisand, paying $3 million for Brabant native Vincent Van Gogh’s painting of a local water mill
• fascinating historic towns such as Heusden that instantly transport you back to the 17th century
• crazy friendly people in a sophisticated, tolerant region shaped over the century by a huge variety of influences from Vikings to Napoleon; from Jheronimous Bosch to Van Gogh.
There’s a caveat in all this: The reason Brabant isn’t as popular as it should be is because modesty is a thing here. Locals – unlike Mokummers (Amsterdammers) – have a hard time talking up the local charms.
That, and I think there’s a little voice inside their heads that says, “Do we really want to share this?” For the moment, the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”
We were on the road with a group of 30 travel professionals and digital journalists who got to play tourist. And let me tell you … it’s pretty cool being a tourist in this region, with its stress-free cities, great restaurants and museums. In the course of 24 hours, we ate, we drank, we schmoozed and went sight-seeing. We spent the night at the 4-star Pullman Hotel in Eindhoven, only a 10-minute drive from our house, which was weird.
And we kept hearing ourselves saying, “Wow.” As in, “Wow, we’ve never seen this section of Den Bosch” and “Wow, we had no idea this museum has multiple Van Goghs.”
We’ll tell you more about Brabant is Open in a series of posts about our “Fam Trip,” then return to some of the places we saw this weekend for more in-depth posts.
About Brabant is Open:
The campaign is the result of a partnership VisitBrabant, the region’s convention and visitors bureau, has created with a number of cities, organizations and businesses including:
• Safari Park Beekse Bergen and Efteling amusement park
• the cities of Bergen-op-Zoom, Breda, Den Bosch, Eindhoven, Helmond, Heusden and Tilburg
• the province of Brabant
• Brabant businesses including Fatboy home decor, Front-of-House music festivals, NBTC Holland Marketing, Omroep Brabant, De Persgroep media and TicketsPlus.
Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.