Travel: A unique Dutch winter challenge

Some of the latecomers arrive back in Leeuwarden after dark.
Some of the latecomers arrive back in Leeuwarden after dark.
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With a cold snap currently sweeping across Europe, more than 15,000 Dutch ice-skaters and more than two million winter sports fans have been waiting patiently since 1997 for a proper big freeze in the hope that 2017 will be the year in which the Elfstedentocht is permitted to go ahead.

Being totally dependent on the weather, the Elfstedentocht or the Eleven Cities Tour, is easily the biggest most challenging ice-skating event in the world. Remarably it has officially only been staged 15 times since its inception in 1909 as the ice on the polders waterways linking 11 of the Netherlands' most northerly towns and cities is deemed safe to use.

Thousands of ice-skaters take part in a 200 kilometre event which is unique to the Netherlands

Thousands of ice-skaters take part in a 200 kilometre event which is unique to the Netherlands

The Eleven Cities Tour is a 200 kilometre ice-skating event starting from the Frisian province's capital Leeuwarden and passing through the towns of Sneek, IJlst, Sloten, Stavoren, Hindeloopen, Workum, Bolsward, Harlingen, Franeker and Dokkum before returning back to Leeuwarden and the finish line at the Bullemolen windmill.

While the most recent race was staged during the winter of 1997 when more than 2,000 media reporters from all over the world turned up to watch the action, the record time for the event was set 12 years earlier when Dutch professional speed skater Evert van Benthem competed the 200km course in a staggering 6 hours and 47 minutes.

However in 1986, a rather special competitor took part, for on that entry list was a skater simply listed as W. A. van Buren – today he is far better known as King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands!

With icy temperatures seemingly affecting the whole of Europe, the Dutch organisers have been eagerly studying the weather charts in the hope that this unique race can go ahead on the dykes and polders in the north of Holland.

The world's top ice speed skaters can compete in the Elfstedentocht.

The world's top ice speed skaters can compete in the Elfstedentocht.

If the race is on, then most of the spectators – and virtually all the competitors – will be able to enjoy a true Frisian drink called Beerenburg which will be available at every bar and pub in the province. Containing 30% alcohol, Beerenburg is a secret gin-based drink, a mix of herbs being added to the traditional Dutch jenever… and it should warm up even the coldest of spectators!

The best way to find out about the event's prospects and latest ice updates is to join Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/Elfstedentocht2014/ – and be among the first to know if the action and festivities will be taking place… after all, the Elfstedentocht is a truly unique sporting event.

Even if the event doesn't go ahead, then there's still plenty to do in and around the Hague. For example, start your year in Chinatown during the Chinese New Year, discover or rediscover modern art during the Mondrian year or watch the international firework shows in Scheveningen.

Here are 12 reasons to visit The Hague especially in 2017; a reason for each month!

The Hague is set to welcome visitors throughout 2017 with a series of exhibitions.

The Hague is set to welcome visitors throughout 2017 with a series of exhibitions.

January: Chinese New Year in Chinatown

By now, the turn of the year in the western world is behind us, but the Chinese New Year is still coming up: the Year of the Rooster starts on the 28th of January. Celebrate it in the centre of The Hague in one of the smallest Chinatowns in the world. Just to name a few activities, there will be a dragon dance and a firework show, Chinese and Dutch artists will perform, and you can go shopping in the Asian market in the city hall.

February: Marks the start of the Mondrian year

The Hague highlights Mondrian in 2017! 2017 marks exactly 100 years since the establishment of De Stijl, the art movement to which Mondrian belonged. The Municipal Museum of The Hague will give the starting signal: ‘Piet Mondrian & Bart van der Leck – Inventing a new Art’ will be open to the public on the 11th of February.

Another two exhibitions will open in June in which all the 300 paintings of Mondrian (the largest collection in the world) will be shown together for the first time. You can also find De Stijl in other parts of The Hague, including a special Mondrian menu and take-along crockery in the Amrath Kurhaus, the Mondrian sea-festival and Mondrian socks, which will be available at the Tourist Information Office (VVV) The Hague starting at the end of January.

March: Food festivals in the Mauritshuis

Eat precisely the same food as the food shown in the centuries-old paintings that hang in front of you: This is possible in The Hague! From March 9 until June 25, the Mauritshuis will show the ‘Slow Food. Still lifes from the Golden Age’ exhibition and in March and April, it will organise a number of mini-food festivals in which the titbits in the works of art take a central place.

April: Europe’s largest open air market

Spring has come around again; the perfect time to discover Europe’s largest open air market! Rummage through the more than 500 stalls in the Hague Market and discover multi-cultural The Hague. Walk through the food area where Dutch cauliflower is on display alongside fresh coriander, baklava, Sharon fruit, fresh fish and asparagus beans. Be delighted by the extensive flower market and feast your eyes on the clothing and shoe area. The market is open throughout the year on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

May: The opening of the beach season with the largest beach event in the Netherlands

The largest beach event in the Netherlands will take place the coming spring in The Hague! The two-day Bonfire Beach Fest occurs between the harbour and Zwarte Pad in Scheveningen at the end of April or the beginning of May. The festival’s theme is ‘fire’. During the Bonfire Beach Fest, several cultural, musical, culinary and sport activities will be organised at three locations. That promises to be an amazing show!

June: Eating at the brand-new Jamie Oliver restaurant

Looking for a cool new place to eat? Jamie Oliver will open his first restaurant in The Hague in the spring of 2017. Jamie's Italian, the restaurant concept of the well-known British TV chef, will be established in the centre of The Hague at the Grote Marktstraat. Jamie's Italian started as a collaboration between Jamie Oliver and his mentor Gennaro Contaldo. The first restaurant opened its doors in Oxford in 2008.

July: Sleeping in luxury in the open sea

For those of you, who always wanted to sleep in the open sea, do this in style in one of the brand-new suites of the Tower Island (Toreneiland) on the Scheveningen Pier. The Pier Suites radiate luxury: each of the five rooms is more than 30 m2, including an outdoor area with a panoramic view to the north, a Jacuzzi in the middle of the room, and a king-size bed. Five suites were opened in 2016 and a number of new suites will be added in the summer of 2017.

August: Firework festival in Scheveningen

During the Scheveningen firework festival, you can enjoy international firework shows off the coast of The Hague for two weekends in August. Each evening, you can admire two shows from the beach and the boulevard.

September Just Peace Festival

During the Just Peace Festival, The Hague as the international city of peace and justice celebrates the United Nations International Day of Peace (September 21) for five days. The festival consists of more than 40 activities based on the theme of Peace & Justice, varying from museum & stage art to sport, music and debate.

October: Europe’s largest urban rooftop farm

Nowhere in Europe will you find an urban farm as large as UrbanFarmers in The Hague. Fresh vegetables, fruit and fish grown in this urban farm, which is located in a former office building, is supplied daily to the city. Have a look in the kitchen during one of the three types of tours through the farm and at the same time, taste the result!

November: Crossing Border Festival

Crossing Border is Europe’s most important festival in the area of music and culture. From November 2 until November 5, more than 100 artists will perform in the centre of The Hague: from authors and poets to musicians and filmmakers.

December Royal Christmas Fair at the Lange Voorhout

You no longer have to leave the country for a typical Christmas market! The Royal Christmas Fair is one of the largest Christmas markets in the Netherlands. At the Lange Voorhout in the centre of The Hague, you can stroll for two weeks in December along nearly hundred of Christmas stalls, feast on wintry titbits, enjoy free performances and buy original Christmas gifts.