Gooi and Vecht
Despite its proximity to Amsterdam, the Gooi and Vecht Region attracts relatively few foreign visitors. It is, however, one of the more popular areas for Dutch holidaymakers and day trippers because of its combination of easy access, historical places and natural beauty.
A conversation with the average Dutchman about the area will probably bring up adjectives like "arrogant" and "snobby". This is because the area is very wealthy, and since the Dutch media industry is concentrated in Hilversum, it also is the residence of many celebrities. The area even has its own speech, characterized by the typical Gooi "r", which is not rolled as it is in standard Dutch pronunciation. This is not a historical dialect, but a modern trait introduced by rich newcomers in the 19th century. Many Dutch people don't like this speech pattern as it is supposed to show arrogance to the general populace, but it is influential among upper-class citizens and commonly used by celebrities on Dutch television. Another term that shows a negative association with the region is Gooi parking (Goois parkeren), which is the casual parking of high-priced SUVs outside permitted parking places. Furthermore, the saucy private lives of some celebrities have given rise to the term Gooi mattress (Gooise matras).
The region combines two very different landscapes: to the west, the river Vecht meanders slowly from Utrecht to the IJsselmeer, and is bordered by iconic Dutch meadows, canals and lakes, sprinkled with pretty historic towns and estates. It is very popular for water sports. To the east, the Gooi area is slightly hilly with sandy soils. Its highest point is the 36m high Tafelberg near Huizen. It is much more urbanized, but there are also lots of pleasant forests and heathlands to be explored walking or cycling.
The name of the Gooi region goes back to the Carolingian administrative term gouw (shire). In that time, the only town in the region was Naarden. In the later Middle Ages, the area first belonged to the bishops of Utrecht, but the counts of Holland fought a series of battles in the 13th century to take control of the area. After the conquest, count Floris V of Holland built the famous Muiderslot castle in Muiden, but he was killed shortly after by rival nobles in 1296. He became a national hero, whose name has been associated with the region ever since. The region has remained part of Holland, even when it is peripheral to the rest of the province of North Holland.
The area around the river Vecht was of crucial importance to the defence of Amsterdam and the County of Holland. Therefore you will find numerous traces of fortifications there, dating from the 17th up to the 20th century. Most of these were once part of the Hollandse Waterlinie, an area that could be inundated to prevent attackers from entering Holland from the east. In practice, however, it was hardly ever used - and proved to be of little use the few times that Holland was invaded.
From the 17th century onwards the area became very popular with rich merchants from Amsterdam, who bought and built many summer residences here. With the introduction of radio (and later television), broadcasting organizations set up shop in these luxury villas in and around Hilversum. It became a magnet for the rich and famous, most of whom currently live in Laren and Blaricum, two of the wealthiest municipalities of the country.
The A1 motorway is running from Amsterdam to Hilversum and from there to Amersfoort, bringing you close to all major desinations. From Utrecht, you can take the A27. From Almere, both the A6 and A27 connect to the A1. Be aware that the A1 is one of the busiest motorways in the Netherlands, with a notorious bottleneck in the area around Hilversum.
By public transport
Hilversum has direct Intercity connections to Amsterdam, Amersfoort and Utrecht, and even an international connection to Berlin. Sprinter trains run to Weesp and railway station Naarden-Bussum. See the website of NS for information on schedules and tickets.
Other places in the area can be reached by bus from the railway stations. See the website of 9292 for information on schedules and tickets. However, if you intend to explore a little bit more of the area, it is probably better to have a car or bike at your disposal.
The river Vecht lends itself very well to boating, and the Gooimeer offers easy access to the IJsselmeer. There are marinas in Muiden, Naarden and Huizen, as well as inland marinas in and around Loosdrecht.
By public transport
The Gooi and Vecht Region is easily explored by public transport, with regular train and bus connections to all major destinations (see above).
The area around Hilversum is densely populated, so traffic is busy and relatively slow. Especially the A1 and A27 motorways are known for their traffic jams during rush hours.
Parking fees differ from place to place , but can be quite steep in some locations.
The region is small enough to be explored by bike, and it is actually the favourite way to get around for most Dutch holiday-makers. It is even close enough to Amsterdam to be reached by bike from there. However, be aware that the Dutch weather is variable, and especially strong winds can make biking in the countryside a lot more unpleasant than in the city.
Bike rental shops can be found in all major tourist destinations. Unfortunately, renting a bike at train stations has become impossible for people who don't hold a Dutch bank account.
The network of Fietsknooppunten (biking nodes) will allow you to cycle through the whole country following well-signposted routes, usually through attractive countryside. At each node, you will find maps to guide you to your next destination, but you can also plan ahead on the website of Fietseropuit (Dutch only).
Two national long-distance trails (Lange Afstands Wandelpad or LAW) are crossing the Gooi and Vecht Region.
Estates and castles
The area is famous for its 17th-century merchant estates with their beautiful landscape parks, that are located on the edge of the Gooi region, near 's-Graveland. Along the river Vecht, there are also a number of estates left, but the centerpiece of attention there is the majestic 13th-century Muiderslot castle in Muiden, probably the most iconic castle of the Netherlands.
Hilversum is home to one of the most famous early 20th-century buildings of the Netherlands, the 1924 town hall designed by Willem Marinus Dudok. However, Hilversum and surroundings have more to offer, and modern architecture aficionados will find much to explore and admire.
The Vecht river was part of the Hollandse Waterlinie defence line, and numerous remains of fortifications dating from the 17th century up to the Second World War can be found in the region, especially around Weesp en Muiden. The highlight is the town of Naarden, one of the best preserved examples of 17th century military architecture in Europe, and really a must-see when you are in the area. The late 19th-century fortress island of Pampus off the coast near Muiden is definitely worth a visit as well.
The area has a few museums that are worth a visit:
There are so many walking opportunities in the area that it would be impossible to make a full listing here. The best areas for walking are found around the estates in 's-Graveland, the forests and heathlands around Huizen, Bussum en Hilversum, and the Ankeveense Plassen.
There are various websites in Dutch offering walking routes, like wandelnet.nl and route.nl, but none of these are comprehensive, unfortunately, and descriptions are seldom available in English. Usually, the best is to drive or cycle to one of the parking lots at the various natural and recreational areas, and follow the available signposted routes from there.
The Gooi and Vecht region offers plenty of biking opportunities. Bike rentals in the vicinity of railway stations can be found in Weesp, Hilversum and Bussum. Routes can be planned in advance using the Fietsknooppunten (biking nodes) system.
The two major areas for water sports in the region are the Gooimeer lake, the stretch of water separating North Holland from Flevoland, and the Loosdrechtse Plassen lakes in the municipality of Wijdemeren. Both offer plenty of opportunities for sailing, with marinas in Muiden, Naarden, Huizen (Gooimeer) and Oud-Loosdrecht, Kortenhoef and Nederhorst den Berg (Loosdrechtse Plassen). The Gooimeer has some nice beaches, and is also suited for windsurfing. Be aware that the lakes can be fairly crowded in Summer.
The Gooi area has plenty of high-end restaurants. According to the Iens.nl Restaurant Guide, Bussum has three of the best restaurants of the area. Hilversum, as the media city, and Laren and Blaricum as towns for the rich and famous, also offer plenty of quality restaurants. If you're on a budget, you're in for challenge — but there are some budget restaurants in Hilversum for a quick snack.
For nightlife, Hilversum is the place to go. The prices of the bars are quite comparable, as they differentiate by catering for different kinds of audiences. There is something for everyone, including hip bars for the rich and famous, bars for blue-collar workers, youth, 50+, all grouped together at the Groest. Bussum has a small gathering of bars at the Generaal de la Reylaan, near the Naarden-Bussum train station.