The Netherlands: Dordrecht
After Amsterdam, we took a train ride out of town for a weekend at Villa Augustus. The Villa is a 5 minute bus ride from the central train station, and as the bus pulled away and we stood on the sidewalk, Nik said, “Whoa! Look at that cool brick building.” And I replied, “I know…that’s where we are staying!”
The hotel/market/restaurant/event space/garden is housed in an 1882 water tower and pump house that was built to provide municipal water for the town of Dordrecht. The facility was functional into the mid 20th century, but sat vacant for a while before the current owners reinvented it as a design hotel. The main building alone is magical with 37 beautifully appointed and unique rooms, but it is also surrounded on all four sides by gardens and greenhouses. These supply most of the fresh produce and herbs for the restaurant and market housed in the adjacent and more modern (1940s) pump house.
The hotel, market, restaurant, event space, and garden each draw their own crowd. Visitors wander the gardens without stepping foot into the restaurant. People sleep in the old basin of the water tower without ever buying produce from the market. Guests walk straight to the Lemon house for a wedding without even realizing there is an Italian garden out back. I wanted to do it all. Before we even dropped off our bags, Nik was pointing to the broccoli plants and pear trees. After we dropped them, we criss-crossed the vegetable garden before finding a terrace seat at the restaurant for lunch. After lunch, we continued to explore the grounds before heading up to our room. After relaxing a bit, we went to the market to buy a pint of hotel-made rhubarb sorbet which we shared on a bench sitting next to the greenhouse where the rhubarb was grown. Then we climbed the exterior stair tower to the top before strolling through the rear gardens. Then we went back to the restaurant for dinner, but this time we chose a seat inside and watched the chefs do their magic as families and couples dined all around us. Afterwards, we retired to our room for a little while before walking out again into the garden for sunset. This place is everything I have ever dreamed a hotel would be. It is a destination for everyone, young or old, moneyed or not, couples or families, singles or sisters. It is unpretentious and affordable. The staff is kind and does not get in the way of you enjoying your day. The place also teaches anyone who wants to learn about edible gardens. It was a dream come true, and I hope to find more places like this. Or perhaps I’ll create a place like this of my own one day.
On our second day in Dordrecht, we walked into town to explore the historic center. On the way we found typical apartment buildings filled with families slowly beginning their Sunday. Once in town, we found most of the commercial area shuttered for the day which created a calm and somewhat abandoned feeling to the streets. We didn’t mind because it meant that we had fewer obstacles to maneuver around and could see the buildings better!
After our walk, we enjoyed Villa Augustus some more by strolling through the gardens, relaxing in our room, having dinner at the restaurant, sharing another pint of rhubarb sorbet, and watching the sunset from the stairs.
It was a truly amazing weekend, and if you ever find yourself in The Netherlands, spend at least 2 nights here. You will thank me.