My family’s cottage in Ontario, like many others, is peaceful and secluded, offering plenty of space both inside and out. Hearing the call of a loon on our otherwise hushed lake is one of the quintessential Canadian cottage experiences, and we welcome the privacy of our quiet acre after the week’s city hustle. But sometimes, sitting on the dock enveloped in silence, I entertain a wholly different cottage experience in my mind.
What plays out in my imagination is similar to Brigit Nieuwburg’s cottage life. From her home in Amsterdam, Brigit and her family drive a mere 45 minutes to their country caravan packed with kitschy collections to spend the weekend with hundreds of other families at Bakkum, the oldest campsite in the Netherlands.
“When the sun shines, we are at Bakkum,” Brigit tells me from Amsterdam. From April until October, Brigit, her husband Martijn and seven-year-old daughter Zwaan head to what they like to call their “cabana” on weekends and holidays. Bakkum has a colourful 100-year history that spans royal ownership, occupation by the German Wehrmacht and a resurgence in the ‘60s when “bleekneusjes,” poor “pale nose” kids from Amsterdam, camped there to recuperate with fresh air and good food.
Today, the 60-hectare campsite—one of Europe’s largest—caters to all. “It’s a very nice mixture of hippie, old-fashioned Dutch, and outdoor styles,” Brigit explains. “The people who stay at the campsite are nicely mixed as well. There are yuppies who only visit during weekends, but also average people who live on the campsite throughout the season. They move during summertime to Bakkum, and move back to their houses in the city when fall starts.”
Brigit’s family shares the caravan with her dear friend Hanne’s family. “The caravan is in a very old-fashioned vintage style,” says Brigit. “Very kitsch, with vintage oil paintings, patchwork spreads of many colours, old porcelain cups and plates, etc. Everything we like but don’t want to have in our city houses, we buy for the cabana, and all our friends collect stuff for us!”
If classic, old-timer caravans aren’t your thing, you can take your pick of beach cabin, camping bungalow, dune lodge, tent house or camping pitch. Which brings me to the unique surroundings around Bakkum. Located in the North Holland Dune Reserve, Bakkum offers a long belt of sand dunes leading to the beach, mixed with forests and heather moor. “In the surroundings we have wild horses and wild Scottish highlanders, which is very special for us city people,” Brigit says. “And of course owls, buzzards, squirrels, foxes and rabbits.”
Like most people in Amsterdam, Brigit lives in a small house with just a tiny rooftop garden. In the city her daughter doesn’t have much opportunity to play outside freely, but at Bakkum, Zwaan can play, climb and discover all by herself. Because of its proximity to the city, having a caravan in Bakkum is very popular among Amsterdammers.
Similar to cottages everywhere, Brigit’s “cabana” is a hub for family and friends. Her mother, father and twin sister have a beach house in Bakkum just meters from her caravan. “When the weather is good, a lot of friends come and visit,” she says. “We barbeque a lot, drink lots of wine and just have a great outdoor time together.”
Brigit bought her caravan four years ago and rents it to people with limited budgets when she takes holidays elsewhere during the summer, so they can enjoy Bakkum as well. From fall until spring, all the caravans and tents have to be removed from the campsite “so nature can recover.” With no running water in the caravan, Brigit goes to one of the sanitary buildings to use the shower and the bathroom and do the dishes.
“Although the campsite is one of the biggest in Europe, it never feels crowded,” Brigit told me “It’s really quiet and relaxed. On the campsite, you’re not allowed to build fences, garden or such things. It’s a big but natural place.”
There are many organized activities on offer at Bakkum—from theatre groups and Circus week to football tournaments and mosaic workshops, but Brigit and her family generally prefer to do their own thing. In the morning, they’ll pick up some warm croissants from the campsite’s grocery store and have a late breakfast with the paper, mugs of coffee, and a game with friends. When the weather is good, the family might head to the beach for a swim or take a bike ride through the reserve. There’s a tennis court and great playground for the kids, but Brigit admits that “it’s all about eating, drinking and relaxing.”