Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Floriade 2012: going for gold at the Netherlands’ flower Olympics

Floriade 2012: going for gold at the Netherlands’ flower Olympics
Once every 10 years, the Dutch select a swathe of open land, plant tulips and a host of other Blooms, construct a few stylish pavilions and invite countries from around the globe to set up stalls and show off their blossoming best. The occasion is Floriade, a sort of flower Olympics – or, to put it more correctly, the "World Horticultural Expo".

Floriade 2012 has attracted participants from as far afield as Thailand and Slovakia, Bolivia and Bhutan. It has already been listed by CNN in its top 10 world destinations for the year. And it is not only about flowers – trees, herbs, fruit and veg all get a good show-in, as do environmental topics, and all manner of doings in the world of plants.
This time round, Floriade is taking place north-west of the town of Venlo, in the province of Limburg, near the German border. And the figures are impressive: 1.8 million bulbs, 5,000 rose bushes, 190,000 perennials and 3,000 trees, all spread over some 160 acres.
Previously, much of the park was fallow farmland, interspersed by ancient woodland. The woods have been left intact – though in parts sown with wild flowers. "There's an old chapel dedicated to St John among the trees," my guide told me. "He is the patron saint of asparagus."
Between the woods lies parkland with plants and shrubs that will come into flower in waves and surges through the season. There are more formally landscaped features, too, and bravura architectural flourishes: a giant wooden egg shape housing displays of futuristic green technology; a white croquet-hoop high-rise for offices; and the Villa Flora, which boasts the largest indoor flower exhibition in Europe, including elephants made out of orchids from Thailand, zany flower art and sculptural arrangements from Japan.
As I walked around the park, just before the official opening, people in reflective jackets were digging at flower beds, working frantically at pavilions and laying out lawns. Literally. A mound of soil turned into a grassy hillock before my eyes. An orchestra rehearsed for the opening ceremony on the floating stage of a lakeside amphitheatre. Electricians were tinkering with the giant outdoor screen on which disgruntled dads and other non-plant-lovers will be able to watch the Olympics and the European Championships, while those with greener fingers have fun elsewhere.
Eighty feet above my head, cable cars moved quietly over a geometric rose garden, with views for passengers across the entire park. But for me the greatest delights were at ground level. With an electronic scanner, I walked around a scented garden, beeping at bar codes on plants that looked or smelled enticing, and clocking up how successful I would be as a bee, were I selecting flowers to gather pollen or honey.
Then it was into a pavilion built around a beehive to peer through glass at the live creatures or track their movements on a computer screen. Each bee was fitted with a tiny electronic chip: "13.55.58 Adele left the hive; 13.56.03 Vivian re-entered the hive". On the way out were some very chic beekeepers' hoods, designed by students at a local fashion academy.
Farther on, I found more traditional natural displays – a garden of ancient plant varieties native to Greece, a Celtic calendar of different trees corresponding to lunar months, a tropical glasshouse resplendent with orchids, an avenue of 120 unusual trees from around the world. And there are hi-tech installations, too, such as a giant world globe, where you walk over a glass floor with a bird's-eye view of bulb fields projected below.
Work by designers such as Japanese conceptual architect Toyo Ito (responsible for circular benches in the central fountain plaza) could be seen alongside gardens created by leading Dutch landscapers. Winners of a national competition for both professional and amateur garden designers have had their creations realised – with a last-minute addition. The design submitted by 12-year-old Tosca Kettler so delighted judges that they gave her a special prize, and her garden – complete with watering-can fountain, multicoloured parasols and a bright blue wall – stands together with (and to my mind rather eclipses) the rest.
The writer Gertrude Stein (she of "a rose is a rose is a rose" fame) once said that the reason she enjoyed going to museums was for the pleasure of looking out of their windows. And looking beyond Floriade, there is pleasure aplenty.
North Limburg, where the park is located, is renowned for its restaurants and fresh produce (especially asparagus and strawberries). The River Maas meanders through the region, past villages, monasteries, and "castles" (semi-fortified manor houses of the old nobility). And as Floriade is a good two hours' journey from Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, it makes sense, if that is your point of arrival, to make more than a day trip of it.
I lingered, cycling along the river to the village of Baarlo, with its four rather fetching castles, and visiting Arcen, which has a much grander manor house that comes surrounded by an old garden, including a renowned Rosarium that features everything from original 17th-century roses to the latest hybrids.
In Venlo itself, I took in the Limburgs Museum, which has just completed a new extension to house a
13th-century mikveh (Jewish ritual bath), discovered during excavations to build a nearby shopping centre.
Next door, I indulged myself in a private passion. I love museums based on eccentric personal collections, and the Museum van Bommel van Dam is up there with the quirkiest. Maarten and Reina van Bommel van Dam crammed their Amsterdam apartment with modern art, but in 1969 left around 1,000 works to the city of Venlo – provided that the local council built a museum with a bungalow attached for them to live in, and a connecting door so they could visit their collection after hours.
More indulgence followed, at the Valuas restaurant, where brothers Marcel and Eric Swaghoven have notched up a well-deserved Michelin star. The waiter apologised for a cherry garnish that came from distant Nijmegen (45 miles away), as he served a magnificent multi-course meal comprising almost entirely of local produce, and starring goose liver cooked in an elderberry jus, with traditional peperkoek (sweet biscuit) spices.
As I worked my way beyond the goose liver, through pigeon breast with salsify and chanterelles to dessert, I fancied that if such belt-busting feasts as this were to be a by-product of Floriade, it was perhaps just as well that it came round only once a decade.
  • Floriade 2012 (floriade.nl) runs until October 7, just outside Venlo. Open daily 10pm-7pm. Adult day tickets €25/£20.60. Further information from the VV Venlo Tourist Office (Nieuwstraat 40-42; 0031 77 354 3800;lustforlimburg.com).

Getting there

Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, served by British Airways (0844 493 0787;ba.com), easyJet (0905 821 0905; easyjet.com) and others is just over two hours from Venlo by train or car. Eindhoven airport, about 40 minutes away, is served by Ryanair (0871 246000; ryanair.com) and CityJet (0871 663 3777; cityjet.com).
Eurostar (08432 186186; eurostar.com) has services from London to Amsterdam from £99 return, with a journey time of 4 hrs 40mins.

Getting around

A shuttle bus runs regularly from Venlo railway station to the Floriade site. Sixt car hire (sixt.co.uk) has offices at Schiphol airport and in the region, and offers competitive deals. Or do it the Dutch way – many hotels have guest bicycles available, or hire from Lemmen Tweewielers, Wal 2, Arcen (473 2190; lemmentweewielers.nl).

When to go

A harsh end to winter means that Floriade is getting off to a muted start, but tulips, daffodils and other spring bulbs should be in bloom by the middle of the month. Roses should start appearing by the end of May, then come the lilies, gladioli, other summer bulbs and perennials.

Floriade by water

River Cruise Line (0844 544 6437; rivercruiseline.co.uk) includes Floriade on several of its cruises this year. Its five-day Dutch Bulbfields Cruise, for example, includes a day’s excursion to Floriade and Keukenhof Gardens, from £299 per person, departing on April 26.

The inside track

A number of farmers and restaurateurs has got together to ensure local produce starred on menus and to keep culinary traditions alive. Look for restaurants with a green-and-gold “Gilde” sign, or check the list atstreekrestaurants.nl.
A prime cycling spot is around the village of Baarlo and along the Maas river to the monastery town of Steyl.
In Venlo, check out Jodenstraat, a charming alley of cafés, boutiques and speciality shops.
Pack your swimming trunks. At Thermalbad Arcen (473 2424;thermaalbad.nl) on the outskirts of Arcen, healing hot springs bubble up from depths. You can take the waters or have a massage. Entrance €12.50/£10.30.
Museum van Bommel van Dam (Deken van Oppensingel 6, Venlo; 351 3457; lustforlimburg.com); Limburgs Museum (Keulsepoort 5, Venlo; 352 2112; lustforlimburg.com).
Do some shopping: a garden shop at Floriade stocks bulbs galore. Buy local produce, such as Livarano cured sausage, genever from De IJsvogel distillery, or Limburgse stroop (fruit molasses). Ria Joosten (Boerderijweg 4a, Neer; 475 495021, call first), has a deli selling regional specialities.
The garden at Castle Arcen (473 1822; kasteeltuinen.nl) – its rose garden in particular – is of world renown. There are more roses at De Rozenhof in the village of Lottum, and a magnificent 18th-century monastery garden at De Jochemhof in Steyl (750 2625; jochumhof.nl).

The best hotels

Hotel Arcense Herberg £
A cosy, family-run country inn in Arcen (0031 77 473 1676;arcenseherberg.nl; from €85/£70).
Hotel Valuas ££
This peaceful Venlo hotel offers quietly hip riverside rooms (354 1141;valuas-hr.nl; from €137.50/£114).
Château de Raay £££
An “art hotel” in Baarlo that lives up to its name, decorated throughout with works from the owners’ private collection, and situated in an old manor house (321 4000; sandton.eu/baarlo; from €189/£157).

The best restaurants

Sjef, Arcen ££
Imaginative modern cuisine, with a great view over the pretty town square. Around €34.50/£29 per head (Raadhuisplein 7; 473 4697;restaurantsjef.nl).
Valuas, Venlo £££
Michelin-star meals with a local twist and, not surprisingly, the best food in the region (St Urbanusweg 11; 354 1141; valuas-hr.nl).

What to avoid

Although there are plenty of indoor attractions, Floriade works best outdoors; avoid poor weather with hourly forecasts at buienradar.nl.
Avoid the rush. Arriving at around 10.30am means you'll miss the early surge at 10am opening, yet still have plenty of time to see it all.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Queen Beatrix opens Floriade 2012

Her Majesty, the Queen of the Netherlands, officially opened Floriade 2012 on the afternoon of the 4th April. By adding a tulip to a colourful Dutch bouquet she gave the starting signal for the World Horticultural Expo, which will last half a year and this year takes place in the region of Venlo in the province of Limburg.

The queen is patroness of the Floriade and at the opening, as the first visitor she walked in the brand new park. She was welcomed in Villa Flora by General Director Paul Beck. Villa Flora is the high tech glasshouse building, where during Floriade the flower exhibition Green Emotion can be admired. Accompanied by government minister Schultz van Haegen, secretary of state Bleker and Royal Commissioner Bovens, amongst others, the Queen toured the exhibition.

The Floriadepark is 66 hectare in extent and consists of five different theme areas, connected to each other by wooded areas. In total more than a hundred exhibits have been collected in the park. These may be gardens or pavilions of the participating horticultural sectors, companies and international participants.

35 countries are part of this sixth edition of the Floriade. During the tour in the Floriade park the queen visited amongst others the Japanese entry, the pavilion of the German federal state Nordrhein Westfalia and the exhibit from Azerbaijan. Representatives of the various countries were there to explain.

After this there were various speakers in the congress centre of the Floriade. Paul Beck, General Director of the Floriade mentioned the tough job, which is now almost finished. "From to-morrow, 5th of April, thousands of visitors will experience the day we have been thinking about for years already. The work at the drawing table is now really coming to life. A very special moment."

Secretary of State Bleker of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation, mentioned the importance of the Floriade for the Dutch agri- and horticultural sectors. "I hope that the young visitors will be inspired by the beautiful and innovative agricultural and horticultural products at the Floriade. My dream is that many of them will choose an education later in the top sector of agri- and horticulture. And that after that they will find an interesting job in this highly innovative sector." 

Musical star Chantal Janzen and Rowwen Heze singer Jack Poels, both from Limburg, together sang the Floriade song, which was also sang at the opening show that evening. In the presence of all guests the queen performed the official opening act at 4 pm and Floriade 2012 started.

The park will remain open to the public for a period of six months. With an expected number of 2 million visitors Floriade is one of the biggest events in the Netherlands. 
Floriade put Dutch agri- and horticulture on the map. Thanks to Floriade the Dutch agri- and horticulture have the opportunity to show the world what is available, according to Secretary of State Bleker of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation (EL&I) in Venlo for the opening. 
"The Dutch agri- and horticultural sector belong to the top of the world" said Bleker. "During the coming months we have the opportunity to show what is available. In the area of innovation, but also the way in which the sector can contribute for instance to the worldwide demand for sufficient and safe food."
The Floriade has also been made possible because of the assistance of the ministry of EL&I. The government pavillion has been developed by the ministries of EL&I and I&M.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Amsterdam's So Hot Right Now: New Foursquare Badge and Floriade 2012

Pay attention for a second. There are two things you need today. Like, right now. And they're both about the Netherlands.
First, today marks the beginning of the Floriade, a massive festival of—you guessed it—flowers. The Holland Floriade only comes around every 10 years, so this World Horticultural Festivalhasn't happened since 2002. It's not in Amsterdam actually, but near the German border in the Dutch town of Venlo. There you'll find themed mini-worlds (like the real World Expo), 100+ gardens, acrobatic shows, green architecture and technology exhibits, plus Europe's biggest indoor flower show.
There's no need to rush, so long as you hit the Floriade before it closes on October 7. The high summer will of course be the busiest time, but we'd imagine that September could be ideal. Here's the official site.
Second, the location-based social networking app Foursquare released a new world city badge today. Yep—it's for Amsterdam. It's called the "IAMsterdam" badge and, after following the list of spots and checking into five of them, you'll snag it. The unlock text reads:
A true Mokummer! Your bike is your best friend, and together you’ve crossed every canal from Herengracht to Prinsengracht! You can name all the works in the Rijksmuseum, not to mention each cafe in de Wallen. After all, A’dam is known for its...coffee.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Chief Executive Officer Harrie Noy of ARCADIS (NYSE EURONEXT: ARCAD), the international design, consulting, engineering and management services company, today sounded the opening bell at the NYSE Euronext stock exchange on location in Venlo, the Netherlands, at the occasion of the official opening (later today by Queen Beatrix) of the largest horticultural show on earth: Floriade. ARCADIS co-designed and realized the Floriade park.

The central theme for Floriade is Living nature. From the perspective that horticulture is a key factor in the creation of quality of life, the Floriade Park will consist of five thematic fields. The theme field Relax & Heal will focus on the importance of horticulture for a health life style. Horticulture as economic engine and provider of green energy is reflected in the Green Engine. A third thematic field, Education & Innovation shows the interaction between horticulture on the one hand and education and innovation on the other. The theme field Environment emphasizes the importance of a green (work) environment and gardens for our wellbeing. And finally in the World Show Stage horticulture is showcased as an inspiration for art, culture and entertainment.

Once the Floriade exposition is over, the Park will be transferred to an agricultural business park. ARCADIS has been involved in the development of Floriade 2012 since the spring of 2004. This involvement is based in part on its prior experience with these types of exhibitions. ARCADIS also contributed its expertise in land development to the project. Floriade 2012 has been fully realized on sustainable principles.

For more information please contact Joost Slooten at +31-20-2011083, or outside office hours at +31-6-27061880or via email joost.slooten@arcadis.com.

ARCADIS is an international company providing consultancy, design, engineering and management services in infrastructure, water, environment and buildings. We enhance mobility, sustainability and quality of life by creating balance in the built and natural environment. ARCADIS develops, designs, implements, maintains and operates projects for companies and governments. With 19,000 people and EUR 2.3 billion in revenues, the company has an extensive international network supported by strong local market positions. ARCADIS supports UN-HABITAT with knowledge and expertise to improve the quality of life in rapidly growing cities around the world.www.arcadis.com

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Floriade 2012: A horticultural extravaganza!

Floriade 2012: gearing up for a horticultural extravaganza

It's countdown time to Floriade, the Netherlands' biggest floral bonanza, which happens only once a decade.

There's an air of horticultural panic. Not only because of the imminent arrival of the Dutch monarch, but because the television channel CNN has just listed Floriade 2012 as among the Top Ten World Destinations for the year. Expectations are high.
Every 10 years, the Dutch select a swathe of open land somewhere in the country, plant out the bulbs, construct pavilions, and invite countries from around the globe to set up stall for the 'World Horticultural Expo'. Floriade 2012 is taking place near of the town of Venlo, in the southern province of Limburg. Around me are displays from as far afield as Bolivia and Korea, Bhutan and Japan. And then there's the park.
Until now, much of the Floriade park was fallow farmland, interspersed by ancient woodland. The woods have been left intact. The bits in between – those not taken up by pavilions, plazas or fountains – have been landscaped and planted out. The figures are impressive: 1.8 million bulbs, 5,000 rose bushes, 190,000 perennials, 3,000 trees, all spread over some 160 acres. The list goes on.
I hop onto a sleek electric cable car: from 80 feet above the ground, I watch workers scuttling about in reflective jackets, their bright yellows and oranges mirroring the banks of blooms that are just beginning to open. Most trees are not yet in leaf, and the geometric rose garden I can see below me won't really get going till the end of May, but I can see Floriade is going to be impressive.
Back down on the ground, I learn that Floriade is not only about flowers. Trees, herbs, and fruit and vegetables all get a good show. Local Limburg specialities of strawberries and asparagus have a section all to themselves, with an adjoining restaurant where you can tuck in to the fare.
There's a serious side too, with some pavilions devoted to green issues, future technology, and sustainability. I linger in a fascinating pavilion built around a beehive, where each of the creatures has been fitted with a tiny electronic chip to track their movements.
As with the London Olympics, the infrastructure, parks and gardens created for Floriade are recycled once it is over, for wider use. Past Floriade parks have become part of the national heritage – near where I live in Amsterdam, the enormous Amstel Park (the legacy of Floriade 1972) is, I think, one of the most beautiful in town.
In these tougher times, aims have been more pragmatic. Floriade 2012 will become a business park. As I walk about, I get the feeling that this has meant a shift in focus from park to pavilion. Permanent buildings on the site include a high-rise for offices and a large exhibition hall; there seems to be an awful lot of walkway and concrete – but then spring is not yet properly underway.
Once the trees are fully in leaf and those bulbs are blooming vigorously, when the roses emerge and the bushes of Mediterranean herbs are scenting the air, when the deft fingers of flower arrangers from around the world have put the finishing touches to their displays, Floriade 2012 is sure to wow the crowds.
  • Rodney Bolt's full report on Floriade 2012 appears in the Discover section of The Sunday Telegraph this weekend.
Floriade essentials
The event runs from April 5 to October 7, just outside the Dutch city of Venlo. Open daily 10am-7pm. Adult day tickets cost €25 (£21). Seewww.floriade.nl