bos natuur Amelisweerd foto Elmer Smaling (3) (EM)
Fluorescent green leaves in the trees. Image credit: Tamara Awwad

Sometimes it can be pretty busy in Amelisweerd, but on this Monday afternoon, the forest is for the most part deserted. It was cloudy during the day, but the sky has now opened up and its green leaves sparkle in the afternoon sun. Lying on the ground we spy the first unripe chestnut, and a little further on, ducklings are taking to the water in the Kromme Rijn river. It is almost dark around the Peppernotenberg, that is how dense the forest is at this time of year. Then, at De Veldkeuken restaurant, it widens out into a stately trapezium garden (the name refers to the pattern of the paths) populated by grand trees. Unfortunately, De Veldkeuken is closed on Mondays, so no coffee for me. I keep walking along the towpath which runs along the Kromme Rijn in the direction of Theehuis Rhijnauwen.

Losing the way

amelisweerd

Over twenty years ago, Amelisweerd was the first place that I experienced of Utrecht in my life. In my 5VWO senior year of secondary school, when I arrived at the Stayokay in the forest for a week’s work from the east of the country, I had no idea of the significance of this – basically tiny – patch of forest on the outskirts of Utrecht. I had no idea of the years of struggle against the construction and subsequent widening of the A27 motorway, a six-lane motorway that cuts straight through the nature reserve. And I also had no idea why so many Utrecht citizens attach so much value to the country estate.

A decade after that week of work, I moved to Utrecht and found out why. Of course, there are parks in Utrecht, and just a few kilometres behind Amelisweerd is the Utrechtse Heuvelrug, a much more expansive area of forest where it is also a pleasure to spend time. But Amelisweerd belongs to us, the people of Utrecht. Ten minutes by bike from the city centre, you can picture yourself in a real forest. The landscape changes with every bend in the path. And every season too: the views over the water in spring when the verges are still bare, the bocage landscape in summer, the fifty shades of brown in autumn and it always seems to snow in winter. During corona, I visited Amelisweerd so often that I can now create a timelapse of the same vista through the seasons. And I can still lose my way there, so many shortcuts, paths and twists and turns in the forest.

Pancakes with bacon, apple, cheese and syrup

bos natuur Amelisweerd foto Elmer Smaling (4) (EM)

At the teahouse, the hush of the forest usually gives way to the hustle and bustle of prams, cyclists, cars and squealing children. This pancake restaurant, with a splendid meadow that runs at an angle towards the Kromme Rijn, is the perfect mooring spot for kayakers and paddle boarders. Luckily, it is Monday and the crowds are not too bad: there is no queue at the entrance and there is even a table almost on the water’s edge. One pancake with bacon, apple, cheese and syrup later, we walk along the towpath back to our bikes. In the glare of the golden hour, there’s only one thing you can see: this forest should never make way for a wider motorway.

bos natuur Amelisweerd foto Elmer Smaling (5) (EM)

Back & forth

From Utrecht Central Station, take bus 41 to Wijk bij Duurstede. The bus stops at several places along Amelisweerd, but the best place to get off is at the Oud-Amelisweerd stop and then walk towards the Koningslaan. You can walk straight into the forest behind Restaurant de Veldkeuken. If the weather is really lovely, hire a public transport bike from Utrecht Central Station for a nice bike ride via Burgemeester Reigerstraat (shopping!), Wilhelminapark (ice cream!), the Rietveld-Schröderhuis (culture!) and then rent a canoe from De Rijnstroom to paddle down the Kromme Rijn to Theehuis Rhijnauwen (a tea house/cafeteria).

Flora and fauna

There is plenty of water and plenty of forest in Amelisweerd. Beeches and oaks that are hundreds of years old grow here. In autumn, you can find lots of wild mushrooms and you can see and hear lots of herons, geese, woodpeckers, coots and ducks. Deer, buzzards, kingfishers, squirrels and bats also live here, although I have not managed to spot them yet.

Sights to see and things to do

The favourite things to do for many visitors are canoeing, kayaking and paddle boarding, and swimming in the Kromme Rijn river is also very popular. Apart from that, the area is great for cycling and, of course, walking. Sloops or other motorised vessels are rare and we would like to keep it that way in Utrecht. If you are interested in culture, Landhuis Oud-Amelisweerd is the place to be. Special ancient wallpapers can be admired in the country manor and exhibitions are held there on a regular basis. The remains of a fortress, which used to form part of the Dutch Water Line, can also be seen.

Food and drinks

There is no need to bring a picnic basket, as there are three great places to enjoy a drink or a bite to eat: next to the De Veldkeuken country manor, on the outdoor terrace of the Stayokay in Amelisweerd Castle and at the teahouse. If you prefer something more luxurious, go to restaurant Vroeg, near the Oud-Amelisweerd car park.

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