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Horsterwold and Hulkenstein Forest - Winner 2013

Winner in the Accessible Tourism category

In the Zeewolde municipality, next to the the Zuyder Zee there are two unique woodlands: the Horsterwold and Hulkestein Forest, a huge wooded area (almost 12,000 acres).

Zeewolde is a unique destination on the bottom of what used to be the sea, known for clean air, clean water and clean soil. The woodlands offer a rich variety of terrain and vegetation. The large deciduous forest alternates with open fields and lakes.

Right in the middle of the Horsterwold lays the Silent Valley: a large natural woodland with open fields and surfaces of water where Konik horses graze. The area is home to many birds, represented by the golden oriole in the woods and the great reed warbler in the reeds along the shores of the lake.

In the forest, there are simple huts where you can spend a night. As the area is so huge, it is also possible to roam around for hours, without meeting anyone else. Yet, it is open to anyone: there are miles of good cycling, hiking and bridle paths. The lakes offer ample opportunities for recreational and sports activities. 

Visitors may design their own route and enjoy the incredible variety of activities, vegetation and scenery. Alternatively, they may divert from the paths and discover the great secrets that this young, ever developing piece of nature has in store, far away from traffic and tourists.


The woodlands of the Horsterwold are accessible for everyone. In and around Zeewolde there are plenty places to stop for a cup of coffee while charging your electrically powered bike, which can be rented in the village and are very suitable for older people.

Plenty of safe bicycle roads are also accessible for walkers and wheelchairs due to the even surface of the pathways. The Horsterberg for example, a man-made hill that offers a great view of the Silent Core and Valley, has recently been made accessible for wheelchairs.

Children can experience a special route along a prehistorical rift. There, the youngest learn how to use their senses and to experience nature playfully.  

Sightseeing tips

  • Roam around in the Silent Core and the Silent Valley.
  • Experience the past in a copy of a prehistoric farm.
  • Experience route De Zevensprong.

More information:

Veenhuizen - Winner 2011

Winner in the Tourism and Regeneration of Physical Sites category

Veenhuizen is a small Dutch village, situated in the north of the country in the province of Drenthe.

Over the past two decades dramatic changes have taken place in the community. The village, which served as a colony for the re-education of homeless people and children, has radically changed over time to become an outstanding tourist destination, famous for its history and unique heritage.

The town is also surrounded by forests, valleys and offers splendid culture and architecture. Fochteloerveen is perfect for bike rides and is also worth visiting for its rich plant life.

The connection between Veenhuizen and the surrounding countryside is very strong, dating back to the 19th century when the colonies worked the land and cultivated the wilderness.

Regeneration and revival

Following the end of its prison era, many buildings in Veenhuizen were abandoned and the local economy (which depended on the prison) collapsed, causing unemployment rates to rise.

It was decided to regenerate the local economy by promoting the history of the site and the unique character of the former prison colony.

Veenhuizen is today an unusual rural tourist destination, with a variety of cultural and natural attractions. The old buildings have been given a new purpose while preserving their unique architectural styles.

A good example of this is Maallust, a former grain mill and storage space. This has now been converted into a brewery and a cheese farm. The former drugstore along with the kitchen and the hospital is now a hotel and health centre. The sleeping quarters of the cotton factory have been converted into guest lodges for visitors.

Several art galleries and museums have also opened which showcase the unique history of the village.

Veenhuizen currently welcomes approximately 160,000 visitors each year.

Sightseeing tips:

  • Visit the Prison Museum to learn about prison life in Veenhuizen.
  • Go walking in the surrounding forests – Roden, Norg or Drent-Friese Wold – beautiful secluded spots with some rare wildlife.
  • Visit the Glass Museum and learn about the glass-making techniques and Dutch glass artists.

More information:

WaterReijk Weerribben Wieden - Giethoorn and the wetlands - Winner 2010

Winner in the Aquatic Tourism category

WaterReijk Weerribben Wieden is situated in the north-eastern part of The Netherlands, in the province of Overijssel. It has the most extensive area of wetland in Northern Europe and a rich rural history which is rooted in peat extraction and reed farming. In the WaterReijk Weerribben Wieden, scenic landscapes with stretches of water, reeds and woods are interlaced with historic towns and villages.

The area WaterReijk Weerribben Wieden is big enough to escape daily lives and worries, whilst being small enough to feel at home immediately. There are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the landscape and the rich culture and take part in more active leisure activities.

What makes Waterreijk Weerribben Wieden - Giethoorn & the wetlands special?

It is the natural beauty of the area that contributes to the very special character of the district.

Similarly, all the activities offered in the area have a personalised touch, to create a deeper connection between each visitor and nature.

Furthermore, since innovation and sustainability are the key drivers of tourism development in the area, all the activities embrace nature and progress and aim at finding a balance between the two.

Don't miss

  • entrepreneurs growing reed
  • the town of Giethoorn, often referred to as ‘Green Venice’ thanks to its canals, with its high bridges and thatched farmhouses.

More information:

Park Gravenrode - Winner 2009

Winner in the Tourism and Protected Areas category

With rolling hills and rising landscapes, the region is quite a contrast to the rest of Holland and its beauty is just beginning to be discovered.

Whenever a park includes the largest indoor ski village in the world, it is bound to attract curious visitors. The skiing conditions at Snowworld rival those of pistes throughout Europe, but without all the fuss. The ski village includes state-of-the-art accommodation and activities for the entire family.

For nature lovers, there are the ultra-modern and astounding Mondo Verde gardens. The gardens rest on the Limburg region's hillsides, providing unmatched majestic views. Not far from the gardens is the Gaiapark Kerkrade Zoo, one of the most forward-thinking zoos in Holland.

Two beautifully restored natural settings include the Stijthagerbeekdal and the Anstellerbeekdal. These thriving landscapes were once two of the most polluted areas left over from the mining industry.

What makes Park Gravenrode special?

When local Dutch authorities came together with a plan to revive the region, they knew it was going to be a lot of work. Years of neglect and pollution had left the area in ruins, but their perseverance has made this park truly extraordinary.

In the mid-eighties, the deteriorated Erenstein Castle was completely renovated into a magnificent restaurant. A farmhouse nearby was turned into a classic hotel. Then the park's natural environment was adressed. After tireless efforts, the park now is as lush, colourful and vibrant as ever.

Park Gravenode is a model example on how man has the ability to turn back the hands of time for a region to when it was splendid and pure.

What makes Park Gravenrode sustainable?

Before efforts were made to restore the park, the region was a mining area, and historical farm houses, castles and building were left to crumble.

Locals, not wanting to return to this, are well aware of their past, and are thoughful about the measures taken to keep Park Gravenrode moving in the right direction. 

State-of-the-art entertainment like Snowworld pushes the boundaries of what's modern, while refurbished local buildings ties the region together with its once positive past.

What to look for in...

  • spring: Blooming flowers blanketing the hillsides
  • summer: Skiers racing down slopes in the indoor village
  • autumn: Colourful leaves falling quietly to the ground
  • winter: Guests sipping hot coffee at the Erenstein Castle

Sightseeing tips:

  • Wake up in what was an ancient farmhouse.
  • Have a snowball fight in the indoor ski village.
  • Watch blissful animals for hours at the zoo.
  • Begin a long bike ride at sunrise.

More information: