This summer has been characterised by experiences close to home. We will show what that means for Brabant in a series of two-day adventures. In part 1 you saw how I set off on foot with my backpack from ‘s-Hertogenbosch to Oisterwijk. For my second trip I am going to be guided by iconic Brabant figures; the entrepreneurial Philips brothers and the grand master Vincent van Gogh. It will be a journey through the heritage of Eindhoven and Nuenen, with plenty of variety between the city and countryside. Coming with me?
To be honest, I am not an art expert and I prefer to experience culture first-hand and not surrounded by four walls. But the good news is – and possibly because of that – Brabant is the right place to do it. For whoever goes on a journey of discovery in this province will sooner or later tread in the footsteps of the Brabant icons who left their mark on the Eindhoven region that we recognise to this very day. One thing quickly became clear to me; this adventure close to home taught me not only about the province’s heritage, it gave me a particularly varied view of this part of Brabant. An area full of art and culture, with plenty to discover in the open air.
I set off early under the clear blue sky in the heart of Eindhoven, bike in my hand, map in my pocket. I was going to begin with the Van Gogh cycle route; a network that criss-crosses North Brabant for more than 435 km, past all the 46 Van Gogh monuments that can be found in the province. Signposts show you the way, as do information columns with audio. If that’s not enough there is also a Van Gogh route in the Routes in Brabant App, which tells a lot more of Van Gogh’s life along the way with photos and fragments.
I was restricting myself today to a trip from Eindhoven to Nuenen, and that turned out to be a good choice. Nuenen is where Van Gogh lived and worked between 1883 and 1885 and where he produced no less than a quarter of all his work. My journey to Nuenen took me 13 kilometres through the countryside that inspired Van Gogh and which, despite my own lack of painting talent, proved to be an excellent source of inspiration for producing beautiful photographs. With my camera around my neck, I got off my bicycle every couple of hundred metres to snap shots of meadows filled with rape seed, historic watermills and farmhouses in fields full of cornflowers and poppies.
On arriving in Nuenen it was time to park the bike, because in this village, known as ‘Van Gogh Village’, history is there for the taking. The best place to start is the Van Gogh Village Museum: the museum dedicated to Van Gogh that draws tourists and art lovers to Nuenen from all around the world. You can journey through Van Gogh’s life using an audio tour, from his first remarkably good sketches at the age of 9, to his complicated love life and the ultimate breakthrough to become a world-famous artist, something he was never able to witness himself. The museum will be extended considerably in the coming years and is the perfect place to start your introduction to Van Gogh.
Your journey of discovery really begins from Van Gogh Village Museum, because Van Gogh’s history is fully evident in the streets of Nuenen. My guide Aleks took me for a walk in the artist’s footsteps. If you decide to explore on your own, you can easily follow marked-out routes past the monuments which take you to information columns with a spoken commentary. This will lead you to places such as the last remaining weaver’s house in Nuenen – where nowadays you can stay overnight – and past the iconic Van Gogh Church where Vincent’s father was a preacher. The walking route will also show you Nuenen’s attractive centre, including a life-size sculpture of Van Gogh’s famous work ‘The Potato Eaters’. On your way back to Van Gogh Village Museum there’s an interesting stop on the other side of the street.
In Nune Ville, Jacqueline Bekkers will show you round her historical house which was the family home of Margot Begemann, Vincent van Gogh’s sweetheart. It was the wish of the Van Gogh family that this house should share Vincent’s story with the general public. The history book was only complete for me when the guided tour finished at the neighbours. The current preacher of Nuenen now lives in Van Gogh’s parental home with her family. Their son Benjamin is happy to let visitors have a peep into the studio and bedroom of Vincent van Gogh, who himself was the son of the preacher at that time.
After covering many kilometres through the countryside, I worked my way back from Nuenen to Eindhoven, but not before stopping for a delicious picnic. Nowhere is better than in the shade of a weeping willow with a view of the famous Opwetten Watermill. The mill was immortalised on canvas by Van Gogh on numerous occasions and nowadays it’s a wonderful location to take a break on your cycle trip.
Art is what my experience was all about this time, and that’s not just restricted to Van Gogh. I checked in to the Hotel The Match, located in the Kleine Berg; my favourite street in Eindhoven. This part of downtown Eindhoven, often known as Eindhoven’s ‘Quartier Vivant’, is famous for its many galleries and great addresses for shopping, eating and drinking. Hotel The Match with its quirky lobby takes the ‘check in, stay out’ concept to the extreme: a comfortable overnight stay, and off out into the city on foot and without any fuss.
Adventures make you hungry, so I decided to explore what was on offer in the Kleine Berg with a local and a good friend. The absolute winner this evening: Streetfood by HAN: the low budget relative of the famous Umami restaurant. They serve gems made in heaven at a bargain price, so you can enjoy a table full of delicious bao buns, wonton, curries and poke bowls. If you want to include a desert, you’ll find that next door at Dutch Homemade. If you prefer to round off the meal with a drink (or three), move on to Bobby’s Bar. It’s a household name in Eindhoven when it comes to cocktails!
The sun had faded the next morning when I collected my bike. Thankfully, my enthusiasm hadn’t. The sun-drenched fields of flowers and the monuments in Nuenen made way for a journey of discovery past the industrial heritage and street art in Eindhoven. There’s no shortage of either of them in a city so full of surprises. The place is teeming with murals which are sometimes impossible to overlook, but which are often hidden in the craziest of places. So I downloaded the Street Art Cities app, then I could plot out a route along the loveliest street art between the city centre and the former Philips factory complex of Strijp-S. This turned out to be a treasure hunt which treated me to unbelievably beautiful and colourful artworks, while leading me to unknown places in between.
Strijp-S is where Brabant parades its artistic side, together with a few rough edges and a significant dose of innovation. The electronics giant Philips turned out its last products here in the Nineties, now it’s a creative bastion where the visitor won’t get bored. Whether you come for street art, an unusual present, an unique event or lunch in an industrial (in other words Insta-worthy) setting: Strijp-S will provide you with an experience. If like me, you have to choose, be sure to walk into the Veemgebouw building, where you’ll find an indoor market hall full of traders with unusual backgrounds, who are ready to help you choose their wonderful produce. Stroll across the grounds and you’ll come to the courtyard where you shouldn’t miss out on an ice cream from candy pink Intelligentia.
I rounded off my visit with an artwork that immediately became my favourite: the hand portraits under the viaduct. The arms of the locals decorate dozens of pillars, reflecting in the artwork the diversity of this district. It was the perfect finishing point to this truly varied journey through the Eindhoven region.
Isn’t backpacking something you only do in faraway lands? No, absolutely not! Put on your backpack and discover how lovely and surprising North Brabant can be. Naline, Stop and Stare travel magazine, has been out on the road and shared her experiences with us. Curious? Then read on right now.