Town ramparts, canals, a city gate, narrow lanes and historic buildings with the most beautiful facades; yes, we’re talking about fortified towns. They were built in the middle ages to protect the town against the plundering armies and wandering gangs of robbers. A line of fortified towns in North Brabant runs from west to east: the ‘Zuiderwaterlinie’ (Southern Water Defence Line), with one fortified town more attractive than the next. We list here 6 of the loveliest fortified towns for you.
Solid city walls, star-shaped dikes, forts, bunkers, cannons on the quay side, and even cannon balls in the walls; It is abundantly clear in Willemstad that you are inside a mighty fortified town. You can find out all about the town’s history by visiting the Mauritshuis visitor centre. A city walk here is highly recommended as a way of discovering the unusual monuments and experiencing the unusual layout of the streets. There are wonderful views across the water from the picturesque harbour. Fort Sabina is the largest and most intact of all the Brabant forts. Surprise yourself by the constantly changing exhibitions and events, or settle down in the bistro for a delicious drink.
Distinctly Dutch, this beautiful fortified town next to the Biesbosch National Park has been a part of North Brabant since Napoleonic times. As you stand in the historic market place next to the beautiful Geertruidskerk church, you’ll be amazed by the leaning walls and facades of the surrounding buildings. Imagine yourself going back in time with the cobblestones and beautiful lime trees that provide welcome shade to the lively street cafes. Discover the legends of this fortified town by taking a walk along the canal defences, the ramparts and the ravelins. Or relax at a street café in the market place or by the water. You can moor your own boat on the Timmersteekade, with its five historic working ships. It’s well worth the effort to stretch your legs, stroll around or whet your appetite.
This fortified town was completely restored from 1968 and it now feels as if you are walking through 17th century streets. Heusden’s restoration was rewarded with the prestigious ‘Europa Nostra’ prize. The Gouverneurshuis was once the rectory of the Dutch Reformed Church and later became the official residence of the Governor of Heusden. It’s now the place where the history of Heusden and the surrounding area comes to life, with its own permanent collection and changing exhibitions. The picturesque streets are full of studios, galleries and numerous unusual boutiques. Stop off at one of the lively street cafes or settle for a wonderful view of the fortifications with an ice cream from ’t IJshuys. Or take a boat trip along the River Maas with Wiljo River Cruises and round off the day with a culinary treat in one of the many restaurants. Stay overnight in one of the many quaint B&Bs, such as ‘In Den Verdwaalde Koogel’, have a day out in ‘s-Hertogenbosch the following day, or take a walk through the Loon and Drunen Dunes National Park. Pure enjoyment!
The small fortified town of Ravenstein is located close to the province of Gelderland on the River Maas. You will be taken back to a bygone age as you walk through the gatehouse towards the town centre. The picturesque houses, national monuments, two churches, defences and city walls are an invitation for a lovely walk. Be sure to visit the Stellingmolen windmill and the Leerlooijershuisje by the waterside; now a museum with an attractively laid out urban garden. Firmly entrenched in Ravenstein’s idyllic centre is the Stadsherberg de Keurvorst inn. Nothing can stop you from experiencing typical Brabant hospitality here. This local inn was a stopping-off place for traders, travellers and local residents as early as the 17th century. The building is as authentic as the town itself, and you can stay overnight here! Nothing better after a walk or cycle trip in the surrounding countryside.
Another gem in the Land of Cuijk can be found about a fifteen minute drive from Ravenstein; the fortified town of Grave. Despite having suffered many sieges, the centre of these defences on the River Maas is beautifully preserved. Narrow alleyways with historic facades and numerous photogenic views seem to make time disappear. You can discover all the monuments, such as the Arsenaal and the Bagijnenkerk church during a guided walk, and the Zuiderwaterlinie Visitor Centre is located in the town hall. Discover Grave and its natural surroundings with the attractive cycling and walking routes, such as the Raamvallei nature reserve, the River Maas or the Maasheggengebied hedgerows.
The fortified town of Woudrichem – or Woerkum as the locals call it – is not a part of the Zuiderwaterlinie, but since 1814 it has been part of the Nieuwe Hollandse Waterlinie. Woudrichem is strategically positioned on the confluence of the Rivers Maas and Waal, and at the intersection of three provinces. The fortified town is still fully intact and time seems to stand still here. The Gevangenenpoort (Prisoners’ Gate), de Martinustoren tower and the historic harbour are all historic highlights, and you can also climb the Martinustoren to get breathtaking views. Also recommended: take a walk along the town wall defences and fortifications. The fact that this is a photogenic town will not go unnoticed.
The Zuiderwaterlinie is oldest, longest and most used of all Dutch water defence lines, and stretches from Bergen op Zoom all the way to Grave. It is a unique chain of no fewer than 11 Brabant fortified towns and their surrounding areas, bonded together by typical Dutch stories of the fight against water. The Zuiderwaterlinie wandelpad is a walking route of no less than 290 kilometres, mapped out along the Brabant walking route network. If that’s too long for you, you can settle for one of the many route sections. Have fun walking!