Every country in Europe offers visitors something special. The Netherlands, often referred to as Holland, features elaborate canal systems, century-old windmills, tall narrow houses, oceans of tulips, notable museums, delicious restaurants, exceptional hotels and an overwhelming number of bicycles.

The Dutch are also known for their ability to increase the land mass of their country. Today approximately 17% of the land is reclaimed from the sea or lakes. Amsterdam, the capital city, is a combination of old-world elegance and modern technology in action. One of the best ways to experience the city is with an I Amsterdam City Card. This card allows carriers free admittance to multiple museums, dining discounts, and free public transportation.

Historical Lodging

On my visit to Amsterdam last April, I was greeted with warm weather, friendly people, sensational landscapes and a thorough lesson in history. Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam, a luxurious historic hotel, is a magnificent place to stay while exploring the country. Located within walking distance to many major landmarks it affords easy access to public transportation, and is less than a 30-minute walk from the central train station. The hotel boasts opulent accommodations, gourmet cuisine at Bridges Dining, and a first-class spa complete with a Turkish steam bath and a heated indoor swimming pool.

Delicious Dining

The Duchess Amsterdam resides in the historic KAS Bank in W Hotel Amsterdam. Executive Chef Jeffrey Graf prepares Nouveau-Nicoise cuisine procuring flavors from the south of France and Italy. The dark wood, ever-changing works of art, and high ceilings create an exquisite environment. The cocktails and menu items add to the ambiance as supplementary works of culinary art. My husband Steve and I dined on a salad made of tender lobster and sweet king crab with smooth creamy avocado and ripe plum tomatoes. A light and savory scallop with mushrooms made a delectable second course, and the marinated peppercorn beef strip loin was succulent and tasty. Asparagus, at its peak in the spring, was grilled and gently charred, then drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar.

In honor of the King’s birthday which fell during the week we arrived in Amsterdam, the entire city was bedecked in orange. The chocolate explosion, a favorite at the Duchess, traditionally consists of a frozen milk chocolate shell filled with chocolate macarons and candies. In preparation for the celebration, the dessert was transformed and made with white chocolate dyed orange, then filled with orange macarons and other confections. Frozen tableside, the dessert is picked up by the server and then smashed on the plate revealing the treats inside like a piñata.

Heartbreaking History

Numerous art museums pepper the city. We chose to visit the Anne Frank House for an education on the hardships endured by the Jews during World War II. Anne’s diaries and photos depicting her life before, during and after the time she spent in hiding during the war, fill the house. Walking through the biographical museum, the book The Diary of Anne Frank came to life. I was moved to tears listening to excerpts read aloud from her book. It was touching to hear how she and her family felt during their time in hiding. My heart broke as I listened to the demolition of Anne’s hopes and dreams while she lived in the concentration camp before her untimely death.

Savvy Homeowners

One of my favorite days in Amsterdam was spent wandering the city and looking at the tall homes and crisscrossing canals. During the original construction of the city, people built their houses tall and narrow because the property taxes were based on the square footage of the ground floor. This was a very smart way to reduce taxes.

Easy Access

Transportation throughout the city is very convenient. Trams, trains, buses, the metro, boats and bicycles are available to move you anywhere throughout the city. Amsterdam has one of the biggest bicycle cultures in the world. Riders seem intent on having the right of way, so beware when walking around.

Wondrous Windmills

The village of Kinderdijk rests in the southern corner of South Holland. This area, formed by the Rhine Delta waters, is managed by a network of three pumping stations and nineteen 18th-century windmills. Dikes and reservoirs control flooding in the low-lying lands, or “polders” which are tracts of land reclaimed from the sea. The village is a series of waterways, bike trails and footpaths. Walking along the path and touring the inside of a windmill, I felt as though I had stepped back in time. The genius of past windmill engineers was impressive. Today’s civil engineers can learn from the technology and work to save cities suffering from recurring floods and hurricanes.

Tons of Tulips

Keukenhof Gardens, one of the country’s most visited gardens, spans over 79 acres. Pathways meander through colorfully designed tulip beds with splashes of daffodils, bluebells and hyacinths. Ponds and brooks attract wildlife and birds, and greenhouses store award-winning flower arrangements often containing the most delicate floral varietals. The best time to visit the Netherlands for tulip viewing is from late March to the middle of May.

The Netherlands is full of interesting sites, tasty treats, educational museums and friendly people. Plan a trip to Europe and include a stop in this unique and vibrant country.