The Dutch island with white sand beaches that locals want to keep to themselves

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As he serves me one among six courses of locally sourced dishes, Willem Andries Cupido tells me a story of when his grandfather’s grandfather spotted a barrel in the sea and thought there might be whisky inside. It’s the start of a tale that has been passed down through generations.

I’m sitting in the dining room at De Postoari, a B&B that Cupido runs with his wife, Willemijn Steentjes. It is in the village of Hoorn, on the Dutch island of Terschelling, one of three West Frisian islands in the far north of the Netherlands.
With a population of 5,000, Terschelling rakes in half a million visitors each year, and nine out of 10 arrivals are Dutch.

The island’s ability to help you disconnect from everyday life – more on this later – ensures it has many returning tourists, as does the homeliness of its community.

The island is around 30km long (Photo: Getty)

Cupido’s storytelling is an example of its residents’ congenial attitude. He continues: “But when he opened the barrel, he was disappointed to find it contained berries.”

The relative threw the barrels into the sand dunes. Then, the next year, when he was cycling around the area, he spotted cranberries growing in the same spot.

“He had brought them to the island,” Cupido says.

If the legend is true, his action lives on. It’s hard to find a menu free of cranberries; they are used on pancakes and cheesecakes, in wine, or as part of Cupido’s decadent dessert, along with chocolate and sea buckthorn.

Shipwrecks are another theme on the island. Almost everyone here has a story to share. During a mudflats walk of the Unesco-listed Wadden Sea area, Cupido tells me of one that led to many My Little Pony toys being swept up on the island.

Within minutes of meeting Michel Aaldering, director of Terschelling tourism organisation VVV Terschelling, he slips in a shipwreck saga. In 2006, he tells me, shipping containers of trainers fell off a ship during a storm and were picked up by residents.

Terschelling’s history of shipwrecks is further detailed in the Wrakkenmuseum (Shipwreck Museum), which has a collection of artefacts from around 150 incidents, as far back as 1650.

Do these left-field stories help to lure arrivals from the mainland? Over breakfast, I ask Dutch holidaymaker Andre, who visits once or twice a year, why he returns.

B&B De Postoari & Kookstudio Flang in de Pan Credit:Berbe Rinders Terschelling Hoorn Netherlands Image via Postoari
De Postoari also has a restaurant serving a menu made from locally sourced ingredients (Photo: Berbe Rinders)

“It’s like a second home,” he tells me as he pulls out a map of where he plans to hike. He has a Dutch friend who visits every year with his daughter.

Aaldering puts the island’s popularity down to uitwaaien. There is no English definition, but, he says, when you visit Terschelling, “you leave your trouble’s behind”.

Part of its appeal is nature. At around 30km long, and nearly 4km wide, half of Terschelling is a nature reserve. It’s also an island made for cyclists. With 70km of bike paths to zip along, hardly any tourists bring a car.

One moment you’re pedalling through the dunes on your bike (there’s a long stretch of sandy beach), the next you’ve entered a forest, or you’re passing by a village such as Midsland. Here I stop at Pura Vida, a mainly vegetarian and plant-based spot featuring Indonesian-influenced dishes such as Uluwatu, a bowl of tempeh, spelt goreng and banana (€16/£13.40).

Terschelling credit Hans Jellema Netherlands Image via Isabel@sherpassstories.com
The island’s dark skies can offer clear views of the night sky (Photo: Hans Jellema Netherlands)

I do miss out on one of Terschelling’s highlights, at De Boschplaat nature reserve. This 40sq km area in the east of the island is also a Dark Sky Park. Just two days earlier, islanders had caught the Northern Lights. For me, it’s cloudy and I can’t see a single star.

But that doesn’t dampen my light. I’m met by two forest rangers, Remi Hougee and Feline Zwann, in the sand dunes. We stand and listen to the surrounding wildlife, such as the spoonbill (a long-legged wading bird with a distinctive flat beak) and the natterjack toad.

“They’re a rare species, but there are loads on the island,” says Hougee. “It’s against the law to disturb them or their habitat.”

Afterwards, we jump in their jeep and head across the beach at low tide towards Drenkelingenhuisje, the Drowning house – a wooden shelter on high stilts on the sandy plain – which was built around 1865, for shipwreck survivors.
“Inside, there would have been wood and food,” says Zwann.

Terschelling Credit Erik-Hageman Netherlands Image via Isabel@sherpassstories.com
Half of Terschelling is a nature reserve (Photo: Erik-Hageman)

A signpost directs arrivals towards the nearest village. Among the graffiti inside the shelter, I spot a package. Scribbled on it is a name, a date and the message: “Please leave as a birthday surprise for the recipient.”

I can’t imagine the chances of it being left untouched elsewhere, but, in Terschelling, I would bet a My Little Pony that the addressee gets their hands on it.

“We don’t lock our bikes here,” says Vincent Kooijman, owner of De Jut Fabriek, a not-for-profit organisation that recycles plastic waste it into items such as lamps, plant pots and coasters.

Inside the workshop space at De Jut Fabriek, he explains how his hobby became a career. “I was working as a welder on ships and, in my spare time, making small lamps from ship trash.” In the past year, his team has salvaged five tonnes of beach rubbish.

After making a soap dish from the waste, I stroll on the sandy beach and enjoy lunch at beachside restaurant West aan Zee. While zipping past the dunes on my bike, I spot a quiet lake. Parking up, I sit on its edge, contemplating a swim.
Instead, I sit looking out at the water. I feel calmer than I have in a long time – it must be “uitwaaien”.

Suzanne Bearne travelled to Amsterdam via Omio, the online travel booking platform, and was a guest of TerschellingPartners, a tourism marketing organisation.

Getting there
Eurostar from London to Amsterdam starts from £39 one way, eurostar.com/uk-en. Take the train from Amsterdam Centraal to Almere, change at Almere and travel to Leeuwarden. Change there and head to Harlingen where the boats depart, ns.nl. Ferries from Harlingen start from €15 (£13) for the slow (2.5-hour) ferry, or from €21 for the fast ferry (50 minutes),
rederij-doeksen.nl.

Staying there
De Postoari, Hoorn has doubles from €145, postoari.nl

Further information
terschelling.site

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