Gouda is a city and municipality in the province of South Holland. It’s an historic town which was granted city status in 1272 by Floris V, Count of Holland. Most tourists will know Gouda cheese but might not even realise that there really is a town of the same name, which has more to offer the world than its delicious namesake.
In the Middle Ages a settlement was founded by the Van der Goude family, who built a castle on the banks of the Gouwe River. This low-lying area was originally marsh but has been drained. By 1225, a canal was linked to the river and its estuary was made into a harbour.
Gouda is a strikingly beautiful town with easily walked streets. The Old City Hall at the Markt square was finished in 1450 and is one of the oldest Gothic city halls in the Netherlands. The Waag (weigh house) was built in 1667 and is found just opposite. It is an imposing structure with a marble frieze (the original of which can be seen inside the building) depicting the process of weighing cheese and noting the weight for taxes. It is now a national monument and houses a cheese museum and souvenir shop.
The Gouda Cheese Market is held every Thursday morning from 2 April to 27 August. One can enjoy the traditional scene of farmers haggling over the price of cheese with the traders. There is much hand-slapping before the deal is finally sealed with a handshake, just as it has always been. These days have a festive air with many of those farmers, wagon drivers and cheese shifters wearing tradition costume. Yes, there are plenty of clogs.
Grote or St. Jans Kerk (Great or Saint John Church) is the longest church in the Netherlands. It’s dedicated to John the Baptist, the patron saint of this town, and was built between the 15th and 16th centuries. But it’s more famous for its stained glass windows which were made between 1530 and 1603. The windows were made and installed primarily by the brothers Dirk and Wouter Crabeth. I am no glass specialist but these windows are the finest and most numerous in one building that I have hitherto found in my travels. As far back as the 17th century they were considered a tourist attraction. In 1939, at the start of World War II, the stained glass was removed for safe keeping; the windows were restored when peace once again reigned. This must surely be one of the most impressive town churches in Europe. The simple white walls are a perfect foil for the bright illumination of the coloured glass.
A stroopwafel or syrup waffle is a classic Dutch confection and a speciality of Gouda, its town of origin. These are addictive sweet waffle biscuits which are deftly cut through to produce 2 discs which are spread with a caramel sauce. They are made on waffle irons with shallow indentations to produce a fine lattice. A firm dough rather than a batter is made from flour, butter, brown sugar, yeast, milk, and eggs. The sweet filling is made from boiling together molasses, brown sugar, butter, and cinnamon.
The stroopwafel was first made around the late 18th century by a baker using breadcrumbs and syrup. In the 19th century, there were around 100 waffle makers in Gouda, which was, at that time, the only city in which they were made. After 1870 they were also produced in markets in other cities. In the 20th century factories started making the popular biscuits, and several still exist, helping to stock supermarkets around Holland and beyond.
One cannot live by stroopwafel alone although many would probably have tried. For those looking for Gouda’s savoury dishes then visit the park near the Mallegat Luis at the Schielands High Seawall. Here you will find the small but perfectly formed Museumhavencafé in ‘tIJsselmeer House. This building was once the waiting room for skippers of vessels going through the locks. These days it’s a café which serves such delights as cheese fondue along with local beer and spirits. If you are lucky you might be serenaded by an accordion player.
Holland is a small country with an exceptional transport network connecting its cities and towns to each other as well as European rail hubs. It’s now possible to reach Gouda easily from London by train with just a couple of changes. Voyages SNCF might be the first place to look for travel advice for any history-, cheese- and cookie-loving tripper. They will help plan rail transport to Gouda as well as other destinations in The Netherlands and the rest of Europe.
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Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018