Would you like to know where Dutch master painter Vincent van Gogh got his inspiration from? Then put on your hiking boots and visit the Van Gogh National Park in Noord-Brabant! Because this is the area where he grew up and spent many hours in nature. He loved using the moody winter colours in his world famous paintings like for example "De Aardappeleters" ("The Potato Eaters").
Where to walk in Vincent van Gogh's footprints
We've started our hike before sunrise at Oude Buisse Heide. This nature reserve was donated in 1945 by poet, writer and politician Henriette Roland Holst to Natuurmonumenten. Here you can wander through old forests and past meadows, fens and farms. Nowadays it is part of the Van Gogh National Park which extends from Zundert in the west of Brabant to Helmond in the east. The National Park covers about 120.000 ha (which is about a quarter of Brabant) with a unique stream landscape with small canals (for the former peat shipping) and rivers and fens.
Together with her husband Richard Ronald Holst (who was a visual artist) Henriette stayed here in the summer months to gain inspiration. In their summerhouse and atelier they where able to retire in peace so creativity could flow. Henriette wrote most of her poems here and therefore Natuurmonumenten decided to plot a walking route which is called Henriettes Wandeling (5 kilometers). Along the route you will come across signs like this one with some of her most famous poems.
Nice to know: if you want to immerse yourself too in this peaceful piece of nature you can now rent the former summerhouse and atelier to experience it to the fullest. More about this later in this blog post!
Within only a short 20 minutes walk from the summerhouse (Angorahoeve) you will find yourself in this open space in the heather. This is the best place to watch a beautiful sunrise over the countryside. Unfortunately we were not that lucky because it was a moody winter day, but in hindsight this was precisely the typical atmosphere from which van Gogh drew inspiration for his earlier works. The dark colours, harsh winter landscapes and the farmers who worked the land were used extensively in his paintings. It was only from the moment he moved to France that he became acquainted with other landscapes, richer colours and brighter light.
During our walk forester Frans Kapteijns from Natuurmonumenten told us a lot about the origin of this area and its much-needed preservation. Fun fact: these tonderzwammen (tinder fungus in English) can live up to 40 years old, and provide shelter to hundreds of insects like beetles and small flies. Frans organizes excursions and as well 'forest bathing' walks (well known in Japan as Shrinrin-Yoku). These walks help to relax and clear your mind with the help of the tranquility of nature.
The area around Oude Buisse Heide has seven hiking trails, each with its own theme, and varying from 2,2 to 13,6 kilometres. It's a pleasant area to walk all year round. During winter the colours of nature may not be as vibrant as during the rest of the year, but if you look closely you can find many deep, warm colours and textures.
In addition to flora there is of course also fauna to be found in this area, such as birds, lizards and if you're lucky you might spot a deer. Next to the Angorahoeve you can find this sturdy and pretty little horse grazing in the meadow.
Forester Frans Kapteijns stands next to a stone with the following inscription:
"Ik heb een altijd durend heimwee naar hei en masthout" - Vincent van Gogh
("I have an everlasting nostalgia for heather and mast wood")
In the afternoon we went for a second hike in Natuurgebied Pannenhoef which is protected by Brabants Landschap. This estate was known for its peat extraction and trade. Between 1250 and 1750 peat was excavated up to 5 meters deep and transported via the 'Turfvaart' (peat shipping in English) which was a narrow canal to Breda. From there it was traded as fuel for households and industries such as breweries.
After the extraction of the peat, the area turned into a monotonous and heavily fertilised farmland in the 19th century. In 1970 Brabants Landschap bought this area and made sure that nature returned. More than 50 years later, this ensures that we can enjoy walking in this lush and beautiful area today. There are 5 different walking routes, ranging from a short route for the less abled to routes between 2 and 6 kilometres.
The goal is restoring nature by enlarging areas, (re)designing them optimally and connecting them. The Drents Heideschaap (heather sheep from Drenthe) is the oldest breed of sheep in West-Europe and responsible for grazing the areas. This is the most ecological (and above all cutest) way of landscape management.
Landscape management also includes felling trees to ensure a good balance between species and for optimizing biodiversity.
Enjoy a lunch in the Brabant landscape
The ideal stop during your hike at Natuurgebied Pannenhoef is for sure the Menmerhoeve. The farm was already there in van Gogh's time, albeit in a smaller form, so he may have also passed here during his many walks. Nowadays the farm contains a restaurant where their own produce, and products from local farmers are used. Here I truly enjoyed this delicious vegetarian lunch.
How to experience the area of Vincent van Gogh's childhood
On Wednesday the 30th of March in the year 1853 Vincent van Gogh was born on the opposite side of the square shown below. Unfortunately his birth house was demolished in 1903, but during his childhood the white Town Hall of Zundert was already there, so he must have seen it every day while growing up here.
Next to the spot where he lived with his parents, 3 sisters and 2 brothers the Vincent van GoghHuis was founded in 2008. This living art center tells the story of one of history's most famous artists. As the oldest son of a preacher he spent his childhood and much of his teenage years in Zundert. Together with his family they went out into nature a lot, but he also liked to go out on his own to collect insects and to try to identify plants. This environment has laid the foundation for his fascination with nature.
In the Vincent van GoghHuis you learn about the life and work of the grandmaster himself, but there are also exhibitions which focus on artists who were inspired by his work.
From 1849 until 1871 Vincents father preached in this little church just a stone's throw away from where they lived. The interior of the church has hardly been changed to this day and is therefore a silent witness of his youth.
Next to the side entrance you will find this gravestone with the name of Vincent van Gogh written on it, but his final resting place is in Auvers-sur-Oise, 30 kilometers north of Paris... It turns out that Vincent was not the firstborn in the family, but he had a younger brother with the exact same name. This other and older Vincent was stillborn, and during those days people didn't really talk about those private and sad events. Instead it was normal to replace a stillborn child with the arrival of a new baby as soon as possible. And the Vincent who we all know was born on the exact same day with the exact same name, only 1 year later than his older brother...
Vincent shared a room and a cot with his 4 years younger brother Theo, with whom he later built up a strong bond. In addition to drawing and painting, Vincent also wrote many letters, more than 2.000 to be precise. Many of these letters have survived and the vast majority of these are addressed to his brother Theo. Because of this extensive correspondence we now have a good idea of his life, experiences and thoughts. The close bond between Vincent and Theo is immortalized in this statue in front of their father's church.
Stay the night in the middle of nature
If you want to experience the silence of nature to the fullest (and want to try to catch the sunrise like we did) then I would definitely recommend staying at Angorahoeve, which is the above mentioned former summerhouse of Henriette and Richard Roland Holst in Achtmaal. Divided over 3 bedrooms there is room for 6 people in this charming thatched roof house with beautiful shutters. In the evening you can curl up on the couch with a book or a good conversation while the fire crackles. Better winter evenings than this are hard to find!
From the backyard of the Angorahoeve a short stroll takes you to the former Atelier of the Roland Holst family. In 1918, Margaret Staal-Kropholler (the Netherlands' first female architect) designed this atelier in the style of the Amsterdam School. Divided over 2 bedrooms there is room for 4 people in this wonderful piece of architecture. I loved staying the night here, but because we checked in late at night, and checked out before sunrise I wasn't able to take pictures of the interior during daylight. But you can take it from me that it is a truly unique location to spend the night!
↓ Save this post on Pinterest ↓