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Nov 24

A Country Christmas Fair : Kasteel de Haar, Haarzuilens.

 

 

Today has been a simply magnificent day for R and I ~ we’ve just been to a Christmas market in Utrecht. And it was BRILLIANT!! I cannot stress how wonderful the experience had been especially for me, for not only was this my first time at a Christmas market, but it was held on the magnificent grounds of Kasteel de Haar. What can I say … I was blown away; so was R. And to think that we would never have found out about this entire shing-bang if it had not been for a case of correct-address-wrong-recepient.
It all began with the mail.

About a month ago a postcard arrived, but it was not addressed to either of us. It bore the name of the previous owner of our house (we’ve only owned our house for about 7 months now). I was about to toss it into the Not-Our-Mail pile when I flipped it over and it bore the prettiest picture of a castle lit up at night. Now I am a castle freak and it immediately caught my attention. On the top was emblazoned the words ‘A Country Christmas Fair 2011’ ~ the rest was in Dutch. I had no idea what it was all about but I deduced it had to be something to do with:

a) Christmas
b) Lights
c) A huge castle

 

 

And the formula worked for me. When R got home that evening I announced we had been mailed a wrong invitationand I was going to accept. Now, R is not a big fan of Christmas and all things associated with it …. actually he doesn’t like Christmas, period …. so I gave him an out. I said he may or may not wish to join me on my adventure, but I was going either way.

He came along in the end ~ but he insists it was only for the castle and nothing else.

 

So off we went to Utrecht, which takes about 40 mins by train from Amsterdam Central. From Utrecht we had to hop on a connecting train to Vleuten station. It was all seamless and hassle free. At Vleuten, for the purpose of facilitating transport to the fair, a shuttle bus was there to take us directly to the castle grounds. The cost was € 2.50 round trip. There were only 4 of us in this coach and I got a bit worried that no one would be at the fair because it was so poorly advertised and I would never have known about it if not for the postcard. Plus it was a Thursday. About 10 minutes later all my anxieties were laid to rest as we approached the gates and there were cars everywhere, the parking lot was full. Relief!

There was a real buzz in the air. People were exiting the gates with arms full of shopping and faces gleaming with pleasure. There was a festive feel to the atmosphere and it got me all excited. At we got the the entrance of the grounds it hit us that this castle was a whole lot bigger than we anticipated. We could just see the tops of the towers over the treeline. At this point I was already busy snapping away while R did the honours of procurring admission tickets for us. Everywhere you looked there were flowers and Christmas trees and fairy lights … I simply could not resist.

For the purpose of the fair admission was held at € 16.50 per person. A little steep upon first glance but once through you will see that it is not so bad. On a normal day admission onto the grounds plus a guided tour of the place is only € 9.50 per person. The castle can only be seen on a guided tour basis as the original family who restored the castle still use it as a private residence once a year. For the price we paid we get access to the grounds and all the stalls only. To get into the castle is a further € 5, but if you have your Museumkaart the tour is free. Along with your ticket you will also be given a booklet containing a list of all the vendors on the premesis and a centrefold map of the area.

 

Arriving at the gates

 

Busy snapping away as R goes to get us tickets

 

 Once past the gates I quite literally walked around with my mouth hanging open for the first 5 minutes. IT WAS SO PRETTY!! Loved it. The organisers did a good job with putting amplifiers around next to the tents, out of which classic Christmas songs came floating. Tents of vendors selling their wares lined the avenue of trees. You could find things from kitchen appliances to flower arrangements, home decor to winter clothing, hand crafted chocolate and even custom built saunas from Norway. I could not focus for more than 5 seconds coz I wanted to see everything at once. Had to tell myself to calm down ~ it was only 3 p.m and the fair only closes at 10 p.m ~ I had hours to kill. After only a couple hundred yards we were greeted by a magnificent view of the actual castle without trees in our way.  *Snap snap snap snap*

 

 

 

These views pretty much said it all …. we were impressed. Looks as old as the hills; images of midieval kings strutting about with armour on a steed  started floating about in my head. Maidens, princesses, royal fetes! Believeable, yes. But is it true? No.

 

Interestingly enough, we soon came to find out (after a bit of research online) that pretty much everything on this property, is a direct result of a huge restoration project headed by Dutch architect P.J.H Cuypers and funded by the Rothschild family in 1892 (Cuypers was also responsible for the design of the Amsterdam Central Station and the Rijksmuseum). Before that the castle had pretty much been rubble and left in ruin since the mid-1600’s, when the last surviving owner died childless and was not able to pass on the property to an heir. Everything is “new”, even the gardens. Originally, a midieval village surrounded the castle but during the restoration it was determined that the village did not quite “fit in” and was in the way of the newly proposed park, so a new village was erected on the outskirts of the park and in 1892 all the residents were moved and the original village was demolished. 7,ooo fully grown trees were transported to the property to make the park a reality. Canals were dug, gardens created, and bridges built ~ it was a restoration project on an epic scale.

Today the property now belongs to the Kasteel de Haar foundation but the family still reside here once a year in the months of September. All visits to the castle has to be done on a guided tour. Obviously the tours are in Dutch but arrangements can be made in advance for an English one to be conducted.

 

 

 

 So that’s a bit of background history on the property. Now back to the market experience. It was a perfect day to be out ~ it was cold but the sun was out and the sky was blue. Music was filling the air and the smells of Christmas were wafting around me : burning logs on a fire, cinnamon, vanilla and baked goods.

There were vendors from all over Europe. The French were promoting Bourguignon cheese, the Scandinavians were selling hot tubs and outdoor sauna units (very snazzy), the Danes were selling baking supplies at exorbitant prices … € 7.50 for a case of 12 cupcake cups!! The Germans were selling sausages, of course. Another vendor was selling hand-crafted glass Christmas ornaments on behalf of the artist who resides in Greece. Very pretty and one of a kind pieces they were.

 

 

There were all manner of craftsmen present, showing off their expertise and skill. There was a couple who weaved cane into the most beautiful rustic Christmas trees, and they were doing them on the spot too. Some simply brought in home decor stuff by the truckload and decorated their tents as if it were an actual store front ~ some even had chandalliers up! And to think this fair would only last 4 days. Some brought in very impressive and modern looking glass fire places. I nudged R, hoping he’d get the hint that I think it would look gorgeous in our bedroom.

Its no secret that food is my one true love and it gets me excited everytime, so when we came across food vendors I had to check them out and have a sample (or two). We tried wild boar spam, “stag stew” (it’s just venison stew in a can), blueberry and cinnamon jam and milk chocolate nougatine from a master chocolatier. There was a soup kitchen selling the classic Dutch pea and sausage soup ~ Erwtensoep ~ with crusty bread, one place only sold nougat and there were SLABS of it in all kinds of flavours. Artisan breads and spiced mulled wine were all up for grabs. Its a nice feeling when you have a hot cup of mulled wine in your partially frozen hands, inhaling the heady aromas. OH! And the classic Poffertjes … yummy!! R bought a double portion for himself . He offered me one ~ I ended up eating half his share. 😀 They were yummy okay! You can’t just stop at one!

 

 

La Place was the main food contributor and one of the sponsors for the event. They set up a great big dining hall towards the back of the fair grounds next to the skating rink. It’s indoors so you get a chance to warm up and eat your food out of the cold. If you are familiar to the La Place system (or if you come from Singapore or Malaysia, it’s Marché) then you will know that you pretty much help yourself to whatever your heart desires and pay as you exit the food section on your way to the dining hall. Fairy lights and Christmas trees in here as well … fabulous! For dinner I had a salad medley of grilled mushrooms, brussel sprouts in garlic butter, penne and basil with romaine lettuce. For dessert I had a sort of an almondine tart with glazed apples and cherries on the top. No pictures unfortunately coz they kept the lighting in there pretty dim. If cold salads are not your thing on a cold day then fret not, for you can opt for thick comforting soups with bread, or steak and chips. Grilled salmon was on the menu too. So lots to choose from.Outside, towards the entrance La Place had set up a hotdog and snack food stand too, so food is always at hand.  

 

Once darkness fell the entire place took on an almost magical atmosphere. Trees and animal light fixtures came to life. Brazziers burned bright and warm in front of tents to the sound of cracking logs. Candles, candles everywhere. The castle took on a new look too … all majestic in the warm glow of amber lighting.  (Insert image of self waving from top of tower here). Carollers wandered around the fair ground dressed in period costumes not unlike those worn on the set of the 1994 production of Little Women, starring Wynona Ryder.

 

 Ice skating shows were held periodically according to a schedule. Before any performance there will be an announcement over the P.A system. When the rink is empty people can simply rent skates and knock themselves out on the ice. Other activities include a Venetian mask workshop, magic shows, wine tasting and property buying. Yes, the real estate agency took up a booth as well. The jewellery and precious stones section was confined to the chappel.

 

 

Then we chanced upon this lady who was selling what I can only describe as THE MOST ADORABLE little confections. They were all tiny little cakes, each cradled in a paper doily and piled onto paper plates. They looks to delicate and fragile I dared not breathe too close to them. Reasonably priced between € 0.80 – € 2 a pop, i thought that was very cheap considering all the effort she had to put into decorating them. They were practically works of art! I did not know how anyone would want to eat them. So I snapped some pictures and we moved on.

 

 

 Ten minutes later I could no longer resist … I had to have one! So we doubled back and I asked the lady in all ernesty that I would love a sample of her wonderful creation. My eyes were greedily scanning the table looking for the best one to choose when she must have read my thoughts and intentions and quickly informed me that they were in fact not cakes. I’m sorry??  NOT CAKES BUT CLAY MODELS FOR DECORATING THE HOME WITH!!! What the jeffers?!?!? Who puts clay decorations on doilies and paper plates anyway?! And who decorates the home with fake mini cakes for guests to choke on?! I was embarrassed but more annoyed than anything else. As we walked away from her stall we could hear the lady and her assistant having a good laugh behind us.  *grumble grumble* If I was a fair ground judge I’d give her the ‘Biggest Tease’ award. Look out for her and her goddam fake cakes in the Park Paviljoen, one of 6 tented pavillions erected around the park.

 

 

After about three and a half hours of walking and seeing pretty much everything there was to see (we skipped the castle tour and opted to return on another day), we decided it was time to go home. It was absolutely freezing by this time, yet still more people poured through the gates every minute. We made our way towards the main gates, and I took more pictures of the castle on the way out. I could not get over how beautiful it all was. The shuttle bus picks up passangers every 30 mins, and the last bus back to Vleuten station is at 9:30 p.m.

With stomaches full, a head full of memories and an SD card full of photos I was satisfied that I had spent my day well. Since my visit and by doing some research I have come to know that Kasteel de Haar is a venue that is just buzzing with activities all year round. According to the castle’s official website 6 public events are held annually featuring different themes :

  • France
  • Fantasy (Elf and Pixie day)
  • Italy
  • Home and Garden
  • Christmas
  • The Kasteel de Haar Summerfeest

I am a fan of elves and pixies, and my guess is that next year I will be at Kasteel de Haar again, but this time armed with wings, pointy ears and a garland crowning my head. HOORAY for the Netherlands!! So even if you missed out on the Christmas Fair, fear not … there are plenty more fun festivals to attend in Spring and Summer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Permanent link to this article: http://foodflurries.com/travel-2/a-country-christmas-fair-kasteel-de-haar-utrecht

2 comments

2 pings

  1. Claire

    What the jefff???!!!!!!!!!

  2. Claire

    you really really need to go for the Pixie fair!! must must must!!

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