In this article I take you on a journey to the 7 places that I would recommend you visit during a long weekend or (mid) week in Central Drenthe (Dutch: Midden Drenthe) and surroundings in The Netherlands. Take a break from the grind at home. We always like to go to Drenthe to relax and walk. The most beautiful province in The Netherlands as far as I’m concerned! In this article I write about 7 places in the Westerbork area, which also falls under the so-called Heart of Drenthe.
We visit Drenthe several times a year anyway. Usually we stay in the northeast of the province, in the vicinity of National Park Drentsche Aa. Earlier I wrote the article Drenthe: what to do and see in the beautiful and peaceful National Park Drentsche Aa.
But every now and then we “cheat”; then we will stay in another part of Drenthe. To discover new places in this beautiful province. Like last February, when we decided to go to Central Drenthe. I am also enthusiastic about this part of Drenthe, hence this article.
The 7 most beautiful places in Central Drenthe
Below is a brief description for each location. In random order. For locations see mobile map at the bottom of this article.
1: De Tweelingen – Boswachterij Schoonloo (Twins route)
Wow, I seriously think this is one of the most beautiful pieces of forest I have ever seen in The Netherlands. It was wonderfully quiet everywhere. And that despite the fact that there were quite a number of cars at the parking lot and we were there on a Sunday afternoon. The silence was interrupted only by the gentle wind and chirping birds high in the treetops. Perfect!
After less than a 5-minute walk you arrive at the – in my opinion – most beautiful part. Lots of trees and moss. A fairy or a deer could walk through it, just like that. I thought it was magical.
The Twins walk is about 4.7 km (2.9 mi, follow the yellow posts). So funny, this piece of forest officially appears to be part of our favorite National Park Drentsche Aa! There are many fens at the Twins route, small swampy ponds in the middle of the forest. In June, the fringes are white with the peat fluff. In August it all turns beautiful purple here with the flowering heather. At one of the fens, halfway along the route (see map at the bottom of this article) is a picnic table, great spot! Leash dogs.
Part of the Twins route is the passage of a large grazing area of about 500 hectares. A herd of Galloway cows is used here to prevent the area from growing too dense. This creates an attractive landscape with a lot of variation. The Galloway is a friendly type of cow, but leave them alone and keep enough distance, especially when there are calves with them. We have seen at least thirty of these black cows during the 2nd half of the Twins walking route. And many yellow Brimstone butterflies!
2: Wolvenspoor (The Wolf track)
Although I had put this trail on my to-do-list once before, Hiking Madman, a local photographer from Emmen, reminded me to finally walk this route this year. Wolvenspoor (Wolf track) is a beautiful, varied route in the so-called Heart of Drenthe. The route is about 5 km (3.1 mi), partly consisting of a wooden path on stilts. Forest, heather, brooks and fens alternate. The path is easy to follow due to the signs and rocks with a white wolf paw print on them.
Because of its name and the fact that the Wolvenspoor route can be walked in about an hour, it attracts a relatively large number of families with children. It can therefore be quite busy on weekends and holidays, especially in the afternoon. There are not many parking spaces. In February the first part of the track was very wet and soggy. So that your socks and shoes get soaking wet, so bring your waterproof boots! Leash dogs. We saw a few storks here.
The Wolvenspoor can easily be combined with the Twins route (see above).
3: National Park Dwingelderveld
A century ago, almost all of Drenthe was one large heathland. This is still clearly visible in National Park Dwingelderveld, established in 1991. Here you will find extensive heather fields, which turn purple by the end of August. But not only that; there are also various types of trees, beautiful moss, juniper bushes, drifting sand, fens and old burial mounds.
All three snake species that live in The Netherlands (adder, smooth snake and grass snake) live in NP Dwingelderveld. When we cycled around here, we did not see any snakes, but we did hear a few woodpeckers. There are also raptors, even the crane is here (unfortunately not seen) and I saw a number of Brimstone butterflies. There are several walking routes and cycling junctions.
At the Spier junction (near Van der Valk hotel-restaurant, more about that later) you can buy coffee, tea, soft drinks, ice cream and cake and go to the toilet for free, even in COVID times! It was a bit busier here with people, as there is also a parking lot and various routes start from here. But at most places we visited in Central Drenthe, it was wonderfully quiet.
Tip: do not wear white sneakers when you go for a walk in NP Dwingelderveld! (seen a lot, mud)
4: The Blue Lake (Het Blauwe Meer)
The Blue Lake in Hoogersmilde is located in the Leggelderveld nature reserve, east of the Drents-Friese Wold National Park. This beautiful spot reminded me of ‘t Nije Hemelriek in Gasselte. The Blue Lake is a fairly deep sand hole created by sand extraction. The combination of depth and minerals provides the blue-green color. When we were there it looked more emerald than blue, but it is certainly beautiful!
The most beautiful places are the two coves on your left when you enter the site. In February there were still some thin layers of ice on the water, so you saw less reflection. This winter morning the sun was just above the trees behind the coves. When you come here on a windless, sunny summer day, you really have a gem. Go early or late in the day, because there will undoubtedly be more of the crowd than when we were there in February.
Walk around clockwise or counterclockwise. It is a nice walk, not long, it will take you probably 20-60 minutes, depending on the number of pictures you take, etc. We saw a few experienced swimmers in wetsuit swimming around. In some places you will find a swing or swing rope. In the summer you will of course bring your swimwear and towel, possibly water slippers.
Normally you pay EUR 3 entrance as an adult and EUR 1.50 for children (debet card only). There was no cash register open now, so we could enter for free. The road to the parking lot is quite bad with a lot of mud and deep holes. Some people therefore choose, whether or not forced because of crowds in the summer, to park their car by the road or come by bicycle. There is a kiosk and toilets. Leash your dog.
5: Mantingerzand (Mantingerveld)
At the village Mantinge in Central Drenthe, just south of Westerbork, you can find one of the most beautiful drift sand areas of The Netherlands called the Mantingerzand. This area dates back to the Middle Ages. You can take a nice walk at Mantingerzand, especially when the heather is in full bloom. You will also pass through a piece of old forest. At the end of the day, around sunset, I thought it was the most beautiful. There were hardly any other people. Make sure you leave the area after sunset, otherwise you run the risk of a fine.
The overall area is called Mantingerveld. This consists of: Mantingerzand, Hullenzand, Lentsche Veen and Martensplek. In the early nineties, Natuurmonumenten started a campaign. They wanted to connect a number of small fragmented areas of forest, heath and peatland into one large nature reserve of about 2965 acres. More than 2 million euros was collected. This, among other things, to buy up intermediate pieces of agricultural land and to turn it back into heather, to the way it was originally.
From Mantingerzand car park P1 on Mantingerdijk you can take the red walking route of 4.5 km (2.9 mi) or the white route, which is 12 km (7.5 mi). Both the white and the red routes also go along the part called Balingerzand. You can also use the Juniper route (Jeneverbesroute) of 9 km (5.6 mi, via online map). Beautiful routes all year round, especially at the end of August when the heather is in bloom.
From the parking lot at Stienkamp there is a 1.5 km (0.9 mi) path for disabled people. But to be honest, I didn’t really find it suitable for wheelchairs (not paved, muddy, tree roots, heavy wooden fence). From DVillage house Nieuw Balinge you can take a yellow walking route of 4 km (2.5 mi). LANSZ organizes a nature walk for singles at Mantingerzand every Saturday and Sunday.
Terhorsterzand is located somewhere between Spier and Beilen. What makes this area unique is the enormous variety. Heights, lows, woods, heathland, fens, moors… You will even find drifting sand, surrounded by juniper bushes. It is a small reserve – compared to what used to be in the wild in Drenthe. But it offers many special plants and animals one last place of their own.
These type of areas are becoming rare in The Netherlands. Nevertheless, it has been opened up to the public, so that we can all enjoy this unique piece of nature – under the watchful eye of Staatsbosbeheer. You may come across a running sand beetle. There are also many special birds at the Terhorsterzand and the nearby Makkumerplas. Consider, for example, the Wheatear, the Green Woodpecker, the Yellowhammer and the Long-eared Owl.
Recreational lake Terhorsterzand is not deep (max. 1m or 3.3 ft) and has a sandy beach of about 20 meters wide (66 ft). So bring your swimsuit and towel!
7: Camp Westerbork
A visit to Camp Westerbork should not be missed when in Central Drenthe. Nothing nice or beautiful about it, but it is important. A place you should definitely see. It is said that the camp was built here in Drenthe, because Queen Wilhelmina did not want it too close to her palace. Her daughter Queen Beatrix opened Camp Westerbork Memorial Center in 1983. Nowadays Camp Westerbork attracts more than 170,000 visitors every year.
Camp Westerbork was built in the late 1930s as a refugee camp for Jews. They had fled Germany and Austriabecause of the emerging anti-Semitism. During Wold War II, Camp Westerbork became a transit camp. Upon arrival in Westerbork, Jews, Sinti, Roma gypsies and resistance fighters often had to write a postcard to their loved ones to give the impression that they were doing well.
Hearing that Camp Westerbork gained the reputation of “the Gate to Hell” I know enough. More than 100,000 victims met a terrible fate when they were put on train wagons to concentration camps like Auschwitz-Birkenau and Sobibor.
At the end of World War II, SS men, NSB members, Nazi collaborators and similar suspicious persons were locked up in Camp Westerbork. After that, Camp Westerbork was used as a relief camp for thousands of Moluccan families. They had fled the Dutch East Indies after serving the KNIL during World War II. In the 1960s and 1970s, 14 large radio telescopes were placed on the site.
Former Camp Westerbork has set itself the goal of keeping alive memories of those who were imprisoned there. In 2017, UNESCOregistered a film with unique images of Camp Westerbork made during World War II. The outdoor area of the memorial center is free to enter and is open daily from 10am to 5pm. You do need an entrance ticket for the indoor museum. Take into account a relatively long walk from the parking lot (several routes possible).
Suggest a day plan for a long weekend
You can of course make it as relaxed or active on a day in Central Drenthe as you want. There is enough to see to fill at least a week or two. Personally, I like to keep things in balance through a combination of activity and relaxation. We did the following during a long weekend.
- 1st day: hiking Mantingerzand route red 4.5 km (2.8 mi, or route white 12 km 7.5 mi)
- 2nd day: cycling Westerbork – Dwingelderveld National Park approx. 35 km (22 mi)
- 3th day: Blue Lake 2 km (1.2 mi), Wolves track 4.5 km (2.8 mi), Twins Route 4.7 km (2.9 mi)
We have already visited Camp Westerbork from Nationaal Park Drentsche Aa several times. If you would also like to visit Camp Westerbork, you would have to go longer than 3 days / 2 nights. Or you should combine one of the above activities in one day with Camp Westerbork. Or skip something completely. The choice is yours. Or just come back another time, plenty to do!
Bicycle route Westerbork – NP Dwingelderveld
On the 2nd day we rented bicycles (see below: Bicycle rental Westerbork) and we cycled from Westerbork to NP Dwingelderveld (southwest) and back. In total this route is about 35 km by bicycle (22 mi).
- From the bicycle rental in Westerbork go to bicycle junction 90, then 91 and then cycle towards 26> optional walk Scharreveld with Scottish Highlanders (route 6.5 km, 4 mi)
- 26, 49, 48 via Beilen, 37 via Terhorsterzand, further via the Makkumerplas to junction 30
- Then you cross the A28 via a bend and bridge and continue cycling at the northeastern edge of NP Dwingelderveld towards junction 46
- (Optional extra with electric bicycle around NP Dwingelderveld: 46, 96, 95, 98, 83, 43, 44)
- We cycled straight from 46 to 44, made a pit stop at 45 (Spier) > optional walk NP Dwingelderveld (e.g. the Kibbelhoek walk 6 km / 3.7 mi, or to Lookout point de Schapenkop 1.3 km / 0.8 mi), De Boslounge take-away with coffee, tea, cake (later lunch at v/d Valk) and public toilet
- From there we went east again towards junction 47 (Wijster), along Landgoed De Vossenberg, 40, 25, 27
- From 27 we continued to follow the Hoogeveenseweg straight back towards 91, 90 (Westerbork)
- (Optional extra with electric bicycle detour via junctions 64, 62 – Mantinge> optional walk Mantingerzand – and back to 64, 60, 99, 91, 90; or at 62 further to 18, and then via 66, 83, 61, 60, 69 (Meppen), 63, 85 and ending back at 90 in Westerbork)
My favourite? I found the most beautiful part of this cycle route between junctions 37 and 30. On a warm day you could go for a swim at Recreation lake Terhorsterzand . You cannot see it from the cycle path. Terhorsterzand is also a great place to have lunch or a picnic. Extra beautiful when the heather will bloom again!
More Central Drenthe & surroundings
Drenthe is a paradise for hiking, cycling and nature lovers. So there are certainly more things to see and experience in Central Drenthe than mentioned above. Enough reasons to return to this beautiful region. For example, for the next time are already on my list in terms of hiking spots:
- Scharreveld near Westerbork (route 6.5 km or 4 mi, cycled along but not hiked yet)
- Elperwesterveld in Elp (route 4 km, 2.5 mi)
- Groote Zand in Hooghalen (route 4.5 km, 2.8 mi)
- Sleenerzand in Zweeloo (multiple routes 2.4 – 5.2 km or 1.4 – 3.2 mi)
- Ellertshaar forest lake and the Loomeer in Schoonloo
- Westerbork-Zwiggelte walking route (15 km, 9.3 mi)
- Forestry Gees and Landgoed De Klencke (multiple routes 2.5 – 6 km or 1.6 – 3.7 mi)
- Lheebroekerzand in Dwingeloo (route 10 or 15 km, 6.2 or 9.3 mi)
Are you going to Drenthe with children? The climbing and scrambling route the ‘Houtenpad van Theodoor’ near Orvelte is fun.
Central Drenthe accommodation
If you want to discover Central Drenthe during a long weekend or (mid) week, I would advise you to stay at B&B The Five Suites in Elp. Beautiful farmhouse that has been transformed into – the name says it all – five beautiful suites, each with its own character and styling. The Deluxe Suite with whirlpool is really the winner. Kingsize bed, dining area, whirlpool bath, Nespresso coffee machine, minibar and a beautiful view! There is also a tearoom, sauna and art gallery.
In the Central Drenthe region we stayed with The Barnyard in Balinge before, near Mantingerzand. Good location and looks really great, but I wouldn’t recommend staying here. We did not find the owner a pleasant person, which unfortunately gave that weekend there a negative edge.
If you like to stay in a hotel with all facilities including a restaurant, then you are in the right place at Van der Valk in Spier. That is right next to NP Dwingelderveld. You can also easily get there by public transport. Or if you want to sleep somewhere else, but just fancy a nice lunch or dinner, then Van der Valk is of course always good for you! Reservation recommended. For the time being, due to the Corona measures we will have to deal with home delivery service Thuisbezorgd (also fine for me).
Are you with a whole family and looking for a nice accommodation in Central Drenthe? Then I would recommend taking a look at Farm ‘De Borgh’ in Westerbork. This is a more than 100 year old farmhouse that has been transformed into a holiday home of 100m2 with 3 bedrooms and excellent reviews.
For camping enthusiasts I would recommend Camping The Bronze Bucket in Meppen. My boyfriend enjoyed spending his childhood vacations there for 10 years. Recently we went to have a look together again, very nice! They have camping pitches, wooden bungalows and a pool (open as of mid-May).
How to get to Central Drenthe
The easiest way to get to Central Drenthe is by car, and then preferably bring your own bicycles. But public transport, (in combination with) a rental bike and/or walking is certainly possible too.
Train station Beilen
The most central train station for the Central Drenthe area is Beilen. Take the train to Beilen and continue from there by bicycle, bus or on foot. You can also take your bycle on the train if you pay extra. Don’t let the ugly Campina factory building next to the Beilen railway station turn you off. From Beilen station, for example, a bus goes to Meppel, which also stops at National Park Dwingelderveld in Spier. Check 9292.nl or Google Maps for specific door-to-door information.
Bicycle rental Westerbork
We rented two bicycles Tweewielercentrum A. Eising in Westerbork. For a normal bicycle you pay EUR 8 per day and for an electric bicycle EUR 25 per day (not 24 hours!). There are also weekly rates. Super friendly service and great bikes! With an electric bicycle you can probably make more kilometers in one day and therefore see more than with a regular bicycle, but of course it is not an absolute must.
Wine Weekend Away Drenthe
Make a nice Wine Weekend Away out of it by by visiting a vineyard on the way there or back from/to Central Drenthe. Purchase a few local bottles of wine on the spot. From April 28, 2021, the terraces are open again, so sitting on the spot and tasting is allowed again. A nice start to your weekend, right? Or as a souvenir; just take a piece of Drenthe home with you! Please inquire in advance about the opening hours, vineyard shops are not rarely closed on Sundays.
Currently in Southwest Drenthe there are three vineyards that you can visit. There will probably be a few more in the future. And there are also a number of great vineyards in Groningen, Friesland and Overijssel, which you could visit along the way. As De Reestlandhoeve in Balkbrug, on the border of Drenthe and Overijssel provinces, where a violinist regularly plays in between the vines.
Read more about visiting vineyards in The Netherlands:
- Dutch vineyards you should put on your bucketlist this summer (incl. map with >100 vineyards)
- Visiting vineyards in The Netherlands is the perfect Dutch staycation 2021 (interview vinologist)
Want to read more articles about wine tasting around the world? Then please go to the Wine Blog Archives.
Map Central Drenthe
This map includes places and spots mentioned in this article (and more). This one is ‘smartphone friendly’; you can easily use it via the Google Maps app. Click the icon at the top left to open the menu and see the categories. To adapt the map to your own preferences and interests, (de)select a category. Via Google Drive you can copy the map to your own My Google Maps account.
I hope you found this an interesting and useful article. Feel free to leave a comment below, also if you have additional tips or a question. I wish you a lot of fun during your visit to Central Drenthe. Feel free to share this article on social media.
Read more articles about The Netherlands in the Netherlands Blog Archives.
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Last Updated on 05/09/2021 by Elisa Flitter Fever