The beach at Bergen, among the most beautiful stretches of white, whispering, coastal sands in Europe, let alone Holland, is the raison d’être of Bergen aan Zee, which was founded in only 1906 by an enterprising mayor’s wife, Marie van Reenen-Völter. Sea air had been discovered by the 19th century aristocracy to be good for bones and
temperament and the dunes and beach between Bergen and the sea, all owned by the Van Reenens, wasn’t yielding any revenues. Famed Haarlem landscape architect L. A. Springer was invited to design a road from De Franschman to the beach, which was duly constructed by local paver Min and his crew, and Marie van Reenen-Völter’s retreat-on-sea for the wealthy was a fact.
How things have changed. Sure, Bergen beach is still a hotspot for the rich and famous, but a day at the seaside is now for everyone, as you will find out if you try to find a parking space on warm, sunny days in July and August. (So rent a bike; the ride takes you through some gorgeous and unique dunescape and you don’t have to pay to park!)
Bergen Beach has everything you might expect from a popular beach resort: chips, ice creams, gulls, sand castles, starfish, windsurfing… (and it’s a secret little get-away: don’t let on.)
Let’s get started: Bergen Beach from South to North. For all intents and purposes, Bergen Beach starts at pole number 35 250, which serves to indicate that you are 35.25 km from Huisduinen, close to Den Helder. Looking south you see Egmond aan Zee and in the distance the chimneys of Tata Steel at IJmuiden. Turn around to look north and you will see the first stop on our beach walk. Lots of cats.
Botenclub Bergen aan Zee
I spoke to a really nice guy here, who answers to the name of René the Shore Skipper. Unfortunately, this sailing and fishing club hasn’t much to offer casual visitors of Bergen or tourists. It’s a members-only affair that doesn’t do rentals or teaching, nor fishing trips. Anyone is free to become a member, though (€ 200 p/a), and members can throw parties at the club, peruse its facilities and enjoy the beach life from the club’s bar and terrace.
This boat club is very important to Bergen, however, as it’s one of the founders of Bergen’s famous Jazz & Sail festival. This year for the 40th time, the club will host the event’s sailing regatta and organise Sunday afternoon’s beach party with live music and more in a huge tent erected especially to round off the weekend’s fun and games.
Go With the Flo
It seems that some bright branding spark has convinced the management that capital letters are so 20th century and that blooming beach stands out better in visual communications than, say, De Jongens. Having said that, blooming beach certainly does something to stand out, for they were awarded top spot in Vogue’s 2019 Finest Beach Pavilions of the Netherlands charts and believe me, with a consumer economy currently booming in Holland, competition is blooming – no pun intended.
The ideal spot for parties and dinner dates, blooming beach exudes affluence and sophistication. At € 4.75 for a house white, prices aren’t too bad for the seaside and, mercifully, their lack of marketing creativity and imagination (“The place to beach!”) is more than made up for by the chef (lamb pastrami with hazelnuts and cauliflower, for instance). All the herbs and vegetables served here are grown in their own blooming Hof Garden in Bergen. It’s a delight.
(Debit and credit cards only, by the blooming way!)
Next up is ‘Beach Pavilion South’, which is the oldest ‘strandtent’ of Bergen aan Zee. It’s a family-run establishment that in 2018 celebrated its 50th year in business. The daughter of the founder told me that the key to success has been to keep things simple and true to tradition.
If you went to the beach a lot as a kid in the seventies, like I did, then you’ll know what beach tradition is all about: ice lollies, chips, broodjes kroket, beach balls, kites and buckets and spades. And if that’s what you like, you won’t be disappointed.
Things have changed since the seventies, however. Not least because a mighty April storm in 1980 washed the pavilion into the sea in its entirety. Rebuilt and rebuilt again after a lesser storm in 1994, the old cafeteria atmosphere has given way to a more modern, trendier ambiance. Its ditto menu, while still featuring the Dutch beach staples for kids, now also includes more refined dishes and lots of gorgeous fish.
At Strandpaviljoen Zuid, they want everyone to feel welcome, whether you wear a ball gown or shabby jeans. They have a saying in Holland, you see, that goes ‘Just act normal, that’s already crazy enough,’ and I’d say it sums up perfectly the atmosphere and staff attitude.
(Open all year, the pricing here is average.)
A beach ball’s throw away across the main beach accessway at BaZ stands Evi, a small, unpretentious, cosy place with a sleepy Mediterranean feel. This is definitely chill! You’ll find secluded, quiet spots for a romantic date on Evi’s terrace, but if you prefer sand between your toes, go for one of the deckchairs beneath parasols on the beach out front.
Evi offers an extensive variety of bar bites to accompany your drinks, which is very nice indeed, especially for the tapas-minded beach goer. In addition to the usual fizz, tea and coffee suspects, there’s also a good selection of wines, beers and spirits. A modest dinner menu keeps life in the kitchen simple without economising on taste. I recommend fish & chips washed down with a Corona, all very affordable.
Evi hosts a barbecue on Friday evenings in season (weather permitting).
All along the dune line between the pavilions, you will see rows of small cabins. These are put there at the start of each season so people have somewhere to store their beach stuff. Ideal if you spend a lot of time at the beach and don’t want to lug everything from home and back each time: tables, chairs, wind breakers, kids’ toys, barbeques, kitchen essentials, beachwear – whatever, really. There’s no electricity or sanitation, and you’re not allowed to sleep in them, but the couple I spoke to are very happy that whenever they go to the beach, everything they need is already there waiting for them.
Beach cabins can be rented for a whole season (€ 650 – 750), and there are daily and weekly deals, too (€ 20 and € 120 respectively).
Surf School Bergen aan Zee
The southern part of pavilion De Jongens is the domain of surfies young and old. It’s been the place to go for rentals and lessons since 2006, and there’s lots going on every day in season. They offer daily ‘surf camps’ for €50.00 and, particularly attractive for parents wanting to lie in on Sunday morning: an action-packed surfing lesson for kids from 10:30 till midday for €12.50 – no booking in advance, just turn up.
Made in and for the Insta Age, De Jongens has successfully attracted a lot of attention in recent years, not to mention a loyal and hip-and-with-it crowd. It’s a very comfortable, easygoing place to relax with drinks, bump into friends and enjoy the sun.
The secret to success? As ever, keep it simple. Good coffee, honest wines, great salads, sun beds, wind screens and an eye for design thrown in the bargain – indoors it’s like walking into a lifestyle magazine! – De Jongens has stripped the idea of going to a beach bar/restaurant down to the bare essentials (you have to go to the counter to order and collect your drinks) and mixed them together to create a hangout that’s really got the cool factor and doesn’t break the bank: At €2.50 for a cola, De Jongens shares the cheapest pavilion spot with Bada Bing further north.
Inspired obviously by the American novelist with an adventurous lifestyle and love of the beach, Hemingway’s Beach Restaurant places the emphasis squarely and unequivocally on ‘restaurant’.
The interior has recently been overhauled by the internationally acclaimed designer Piet Boon, who has married natural materials and pastoral colours to create a stylish ambiance that will make you forget you’re at the beach. As will chef Jeroen Klepper, who means business. His menu is reminiscent a Michelin Star restaurant’s. All the courses, of course, and they feature all sorts. From the ever-popular oyster in various guises to redfish with shaved fennel, salted lemon, bottarga and beurre blanc to a donut with cardamome anglais and mango to boot. And don’t worry, he’s thought of the kids!
Finally, if you’re into art – and even if you’re not – be sure to look out for the work exhibited here by Bergen artists Job Versteeg and Jerome Bech (as well as numerous others).
Open all year round.
The bright orange shed north of Hemingway’s leaves little doubt as to its purpose. (Wo)manned daily by a minimum of four lifeguards from 09:00 till 18:00 – later on hot, busy days – the Lifeguard Station is the centre of operations when it comes to your safety.
Apart from someone always being on watch at the station itself, the lifeguards patrol the beach on foot or in a large 4×4 fully equipped for emergencies. You’ll also see them regularly patrolling the sea itself on a jet ski or their speedboat.
The waters off the coast at Bergen aan Zee, with the minimal swell and only small breakers, may look pretty gentle and calm, but don’t be deceived. Each year, quite a number of people, even strong swimmers, get into trouble here due to rip currents, which occur between sandbanks. As waves break over the banks, they bring lots of water to the beach. The water then wants to make its way back out to sea, and because it can’t go through the banks, it all rushes into the channels between the banks. The current in these places is so strong that swimmers don’t stand a chance against them and get swept out to sea.
You can see the currents only indirectly. Looking at the sea from the beach, you’ll see the white surf of the waves breaking on the sandbanks just below the surface. Between these, where you see no surf, are the channels through which the water rushes out to sea again. As a rule of thumb, therefore, always play and swim in an area between the breakers and the beach. The lifeguards constantly monitor the situation, and when the currents are dangerous, they’ll raise a flag to warn bathers. Yellow means: Danger, beware. Red means: No swimming, do not enter the water!
If you do get caught out by a rip current, DO NOT PANIC and DO NOT SWIM AGAINST IT! The beach looks so close, but you won’t make it and will become tired very quickly. Instead, let the water take you out to sea and try to swim to one side, parallel to the beach. You’ll now be out of the strong current and should be able to return to the beach without help.
The volunteer lifeguards are all working on or have completed an extensive internal training programme. Some of them joined at just eight years old! They can read the sea and know the risks and dangers better than you do. Please follow any advice or instructions they may give you, and above all be nice to them. They’re a wonderful, very approachable bunch of professionals and if you do get into trouble, they’re the ones that are going to save your ass!
Life here is just as relaxed and laid back as Bada Bing’s owner, Fritz, who greets everyone with an enthusiastic smile and is always up for a friendly chat.
At the start of the 2019 season, Fritz erected a brand new timber shack on sturdy poles so that he can stay open all year. No frills, just the bare necessities, and yet its simple, square, modern design offers a very swanky atmosphere in which to lounge about with friends and family. Fritz keeps his menu simple, too, offering people a beach experience old-style: coffees, ice creams, snacks like chips with mayo and a kroket, and, of course, ice-cold drinks, all to be ordered at the counter inside and taken out to one of the tables or seating areas, or down to whichever spot you’ve chosen as your base to bask in the sun, build sand castles and generally have your beach fun.
Over the years, Bada Bing has earned quite a reputation for itself as the beach-haunt-to-be for Bergen’s trendy youth. Not least because Fritz hosts a big annual party, Bingstyle, with DJs pumping beats until late into the night.
Bright, white, a big old olive tree in the middle of its sunny terrace and Happinez-factor Zen – if you want to see and be seen, it’s always busy at Noord. Staff here work very hard indeed to keep everybody… peppy.
The food is very good to say the least, with the chef offering up some delicious, colourful dishes that have been carefully combined and exquisitely prepared. Breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner, the menu is extensive whatever your purpose. There’s an impressive wine and bubbly list and they have a surprising array of beers. It all comes at a price, however: If cola be our uncomplicated measure once again, then at €3.00, you’ve arrived at BaZ’s most expensive pavilion.
Still, it’s holiday time, so what the hell! Noord offers a unique experience and a very attractive spot to enjoy the sun.
Loods aan Zee
No food or drinks here, Loods aan Zee is the shed belonging to the Stille Strand, or Quiet Beach club. Members can store their beach stuff here, use the limited bathroom facilities, make coffee or tea and, most importantly,
enjoy a stretch of beach that is members only and therefore quiet. Day membership is available for all at €20.00 should you wish to try it out.
Small but fantastically relaxed and cosy, you’ll definitely enjoy the welcoming attention the boys and girls at Noorderlicht shower upon their guests. Translating to ‘Northern Lights’, Noorderlicht has moved south a few hundred metres in 2019 to allow for easier access, but it is still the most northerly pavilion in BaZ and the final stop on our journey from south to north.
Noorderlicht isn’t the cheapest place around, it has to be said, but the atmosphere is great and the food very carefully thought through, with sustainability and lifecycle top of chef’s mind. Inspired by the Israeli kitchen, here and only here you’re spoilt for choice if it’s vegetarian or vegan fare you’re after: meat and fish take the back seat. Bites, dishes, smoothies and juices, it’s all terribly tasty, happily healthy and organic where possible.
The Nudist Beach and Beyond
North of Noorderlicht, the beach stretches out as far as they eye can see. You can admire Job-the-fisherman’s beautiful fishing catamaran moored just off shore or high and dry at low tide. (Admire with eyes only and keep off! It’s a working but delicate museum piece!) The nudist beach starts here, too, so if you’re that way inclined or simply want to try for once the liberating thrill of skinny dipping and sunbathing in the king’s new clothes, this is where you should go.
Beyond, the beach becomes much quieter, the domain of those who like to beach away from the busyness and walkers like me. And you can walk on and on. Next stop is Schoorl beach about 45 minutes to an hour away, then Camperduin, the famous Hondsbossche Zeewering, Petten… You can walk all the way to Den Helder.
So, all I can say to you now is kick off those shoes, get some sand between your toes and check out Bergen Beach for yourself! You’re going to love it!
Photography: Robin Glendenning, blooming beach