We are thinking about a pre-Christmas break, a rejuvenating Spring get-away, a Summer city break, and there are the familiar cries of ‘Let’s go to Rotterdam.’ OK, OK, so I am pulling the leg of my dear reader. It’s a shame that we don’t have Rotterdam as our first thought – and I can’t see why.
The Netherlands is easy to get to from the UK and all other European countries. Rotterdam has great transport connections from airports, sea ports and by rail. It is overlooked by travellers who think that Holland only has one city and that’s called Amsterdam. That is indeed a fine and iconic town, but Rotterdam is a shining yet undiscovered gem.
But why exactly would one go to Rotterdam? Ask any previous visitor and they will all recommend a trip and likely all give different reasons. It seems to be one of those cities that charms and captivates with quirky good humour. The architecture is a big draw, not only for those who study the subject, but for us mortals who just admire striking, beautiful, historic or contemporary buildings. Rotterdam is compact with great bus and tram networks, so it’s simple to visit the 100 year-old Town Hall as well as the Stilt Houses and the new Markthal.
Thankfully most Dutch people speak English but many words are similar, such as ‘Market Hall’ and ‘Markthal’. And, yes, I truly am urging you to visit a market …but a very special example of that genre and one that will make an impression in every regard.
There has been a buzz around Rotterdam for quite a while and I can understand why. This brand-new Markthal is an architectural stunner that will raise a gasp even from folks who don’t know the difference between a flying buttress and a Corinthian cantilevered somethingorother. This is a market to rival any of the celebrated markets across Europe. This horseshoe-shaped building makes a statement at night as well as during the day.
The Markthal is easily found in the middle of the lively Laurens district right in the centre of Rotterdam and within walking distance of Blaak station. There is still an outdoors market and that mostly caters for non-food items – everything from big knickers to tablecloths. The new hall is a showcase for local produce as well as far-flung-fare. One can not only buy food to take home and enjoy but one can also eat at the numerous on-site restaurants. One doesn’t have to be a fanatical ‘foodie’ to enjoy the Markthal, but just have an appetite for colour and taste. It’s all here and much more than the expected cheese. Yes, there is plenty of it to buy, but also lots more that will hopefully change your expectations of Dutch food. It’s eclectic, international (remember, Holland also had colonies) and imaginative.
One can actually live at the Markthal. That might conjure pictures of poor vagrants sleeping under stalls but that couldn’t be further from the truth. There are 228 stylish apartments for sale or rent in the arch of the Markthal. Many have views across the market and some even have views down on the market via windows set in the floors! An apartment here would be the dream of any food writer, chef, gastronomist or glutton.
The Markthal is a showcase for fine Dutch foods, casual restaurants of every ethnic hue, outstanding design that pushes the envelope of the conventional. Perhaps that’s the reason that the Markthal will be a magnet for those interested in food and architecture, and those two words are seldom found in the same paragraph. And it’s also an ambassador: I don’t think that too strong a word. It will be an ambassador for the individuality of the Dutch. It will represent the fun and freedom of this small but vibrant country. It will shout that it’s been done well, differently and remarkably.
Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018