Each year, from March to May, the Dutch countryside becomes a sea of tulips, hyacinths and all manner of other flowers. Mere photos can only give a hint of the pure explosion of colour and scent all around. Amsterdam’s bulb belt stretches for thirty miles from Haarlem, the northernmost point of the Bollenstreek Route also known as the Bloemen Route (Flower Route) and running approximately 25 miles (40 kilometers) south to Leiden, this drive takes in the densest concentration of flower fields, with alternating strips of flowers shooting in thick ribbons of primary colors to the flat Dutch horizon – it’s a low land area close to the North Sea coast with a sandy soil and mild wet climate that makes it ideal for bulb cultivation.
From the moment the first tulip was planted in Dutch soil, in 1593, the Netherlands has been in extravagant bloom and the Dutch have been in thrall to flowers, inventing a whole horticultural industry and turning their lowland fields into a blanket of blooms. The flowers reach their climax, of course, in April and May, when Holland offers Europe’s quintessential spring drive.
The queen of this nonstop flower extravaganza is the tulip, bursting out in every candy color. Flower sellers set up stalls along the road and sell garlands to adorn your car. But it isn’t just the beds of blooms that make this drive eye-popping. What you’ll also pass along the route is the sturdy billion-dollar industry that those seemingly wispy flowers support: the auction houses that sell the flowers; the public gardens that showcase the flowers; the museums and private gardens that celebrate the horticultural tradition; a series of gabled, Vermeer-worthy villages that grew rich on the flower industry; and two elegant cities, Haarlem and Leiden, that offer as much history and canal-side beauty per square block as Amsterdam itself.
But like a rainbow, this colorful landscape is a short-lived phenomenon. When the flowers are gone, the land will be cultivated for a rather more mundane crop of vegetables. The Netherlands produce more than nine million bulbs a year.