Going Dutch for a day

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 April, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 April, 2000, 12:00am

Ask people to name the leading tourist attractions of the Netherlands and they'll almost certainly say Amsterdam and The Hague. But Scheveningen is where the Dutch flock in summer, and even though most foreigners haven't heard of it, the tiny seaside town has almost 10 million visitors a year.

Getting to Scheveningen is easy. The inexpensive Dutch rail network is speedy and soon had me in The Hague. From the station to Scheveningen it's only a 15-minute tram ride.

Scheveningen is virtually impossible for a non-Dutch speaker to pronounce correctly. During World War II, resistance groups used it as a test for suspected Nazi infiltrators.

First impressions may disappoint. You'll be greeted by Holland Casino (one of only 10 legal casinos in the country), gruff apartment blocks, and rows of hotels.

But slip down to the beach and there's nearly always something going on. In June, it would be the International Sand Sculpture Festival.

The beach is dominated by the pier which pokes out into the North Sea. The restaurant at the end offers excellent cuisine.

On the seafront, you must visit the Kurhaus Hotel, which is more than a century old. With its domed roof and frescos of mermaids, you can't help feeling that you're back in Scheveningen's heyday, a time when the well-to-do came to breathe in the sea air. Kurhaus actually means 'cure house'.

Visitors gradually stopped coming in the 1920s and the town reverted to just another sleepy fishing port. But now it's in favour again, and the Dutch love it for the beach that never seems to end, the spread of restaurants, boutiques and interesting alleyways.

Scheveningen, apart from being the smart traveller's base for exploring The Hague (there are more hotels and they're cheaper), is only 45 minutes by train from Amsterdam, and there's a train every 10 minutes.