When the weather allows, Grote Markt square becomes a sea of tables and chairs on the pavements. Bosom friends Kees Stallen (73) and Joop van Bel (74) are enjoying a beer in front of one of the many cafés. Both were born and raised here. They have been active members of local clubs and associations all their lives. They were in the crowd when the pride of Breda, NAC football club, played against NEC Nijmegen in the legendary cup final of 1973. And they have a strong sense of humour too, mischievously referring to NAC’s stadium as ‘a huge bar with a football pitch in the middle’ to indicate that the people of Breda have their own way of turning a defeat into victory. ‘The people here, the ‘Bredenaars’, are anything but gloomy’ says Kees. Joop nods in agreement: ‘They are optimistic and grasp every opportunity to socialise and enjoy life.’ Kees gives us an example: ‘In the spring, people from far and wide come to the Breda Jazz Festival for the music. We love the atmosphere and the friendly crowds.’
During the Eighty Years' War, this city was alternately in Dutch and Spanish hands. But they also know how to deal with noble and popular guests here, because there is a centuries-long bond with the Nassaus. When Engelbert of Nassau married the daughter of lord Jan III van Polanen in the thirteenth century, the German House of Nassau added lands in Breda to its possessions. They built the Begijnhof (beguinage), the Grote Kerk (great church) and the castle. But they also left their mark in much later times, for example, when they established the Koninklijke Militaire Academie (Royal Military Academy) in the city. Breda owes its nickname - ‘The little Hague of the South’ - to the influence of the House of Orange. Queen Beatrix celebrated her first Queen's Day here in 1980, and Queen Máxima started her introductory tour of the Netherlands in Breda.
‘The most beautiful spot in Breda’. This is how a woman who has lived in Breda for 47 years describes Valkenberg, the park in the middle of the city. ‘It is a wonderful meeting place with a Mediterranean feel to it that you don’t see anywhere else in the Netherlands.’ And indeed, there are very few cities where gardens are given so much space in such a desirable area between the station and the city centre.
Another gem lies just a stone's throw away: the Begijnhof, which became the home of Breda's Beguine community in 1535. The beautiful buildings, the herb garden, Sint Catharinakapel (St Catharine's chapel) and the bleaching field (a lawn where linen used to be bleached because washing textiles for others was a source of income for the beguines) are uniquely impressive. Nowadays, the dwellings are rented out by a non-profit organisation charged with preserving their original character. The Begijnhof is a soothing and breathtaking oasis in the middle of the city.
If you are looking for hustle and bustle, you will find it in Ginnekenweg. A kilometres-long street bordered by a seemingly endless assortment of historic buildings (mainly dating back to the end of the nineteenth century) and all kinds of original shops. Like Van Kemenade & Hollaers bookstore, which is a testament to René Hollaers’ passionate love of books. By his own account, he spends all his time organising events: writers visit for book-signing sessions, bands perform in the bookstore, and several reading clubs are based here. According to a recent calculation, he reckons that he now lives 75 percent of his life in Breda. ‘Breda is a beautiful city’, says Hollaers, ‘but they should publicise its attractions more in my opinion. The people in Breda are sometimes a little too modest.’
Ginnekenweg runs all the way to the far south of Breda, ending in Ginnekenmarkt, which is the beating heart of the Ginneken district mainly thanks to two famous cafés; Boerke Verschuren (‘an authentic café and pub for all professions and classes’ since 1670) and Moeke (which has ‘lovingly served coffee, beer and personal attention since 1893'). And the historic town hall, the Raedhuys built in 1792, lies just around the corner. In Breda, conviviality and the past are never far away.
Breda owes its name as a green city not only to parks such as Valkenberg, but also to the beautiful walks you can take in the Mastbos (one of the oldest coniferous forests in our country) and along the banks of river de Mark in Markdal valley. The highlight is Kasteel Bouvigne, a 15th-century hunting lodge surrounded by water and beautiful gardens. Mark van Gils is at work here for Brabantse Delta, the local water board and owner of the estate since 1972. For more than 25 years(!), he has lovingly pruned the many boxwood hedges here after the summer to encourage them to sprout again before the winter. In recent years, the hedges had been infested by box tree moth, Van Gils reveals, until a visitor recommended spraying lava dust over them. ‘Fortunately, they look really healthy now,’ says Van Gils. And indeed, the symmetrical French garden, the spaciously laid-out English garden (both dating back to 1913) and the narrow German garden (created in the thirties) are a feast for the eyes.
Apart from being a pleasant and green city, Breda is also a hotbed of creativity. This is immediately obvious in the Haveneiland area. Business park STEK offers entrepreneurs space and freedom to build and work without the constriction of excessive regulations. All the buildings here are temporary and flexible and mostly made of residual materials. These entrepreneurs have something else in common: they focus on sustainability and innovation. The Houtje Touwtje Stro Gebouwtje built by 'sustainable handyman' Erik van den Berge has a roof that is entirely supported by bales of straw. There are more than twenty 'Stekkers', including small companies like Weeshout (furniture made from discarded wood), Licht Verknipt (barbershop and industrial home items) and jobbing builder Klusbedrijf Klus voor Kaatje. Brewery Frontaal, which used to be located at the STEK business Park but outgrew its building, has now moved to the other side of the road, to the area called De Faam.
STEK cooperates with other organisations in the Haveneiland area. At Electron, professional creative people deploy their talents in studios and workshops; Pier15 is an indoor skate park that has become a cultural institution and event organiser; KOP is an art foundation that organises exhibitions and projects with young artists and designers. When you add Belcrum Beach, a beach in the heart of the city, into the mix, you can understand the people of Breda's love affair with Haveneiland since its opening in 2014. It is a place that unites all the good things of Breda: easy-going conviviality and creativity in the open air. Breda celebrates life.
Eindhoven literally and figuratively owes its size and stature to Philips. In this century, the ‘city of doers’ is busy creating a new identity for itself. With great success: as the heart of the Brainport region, Eindhoven is synonymous with technology, design, innovation and knowledge. It is also home to countless hospitality hotspots.
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