Tucked away in the country's far northeastern corner, this overtly agricultural province is a treasure trove of pleasant surprises. At its heart lies capital, Groningen, a handsome 14th-century Hanseatic city that has lost none of its charm over the centuries and turns heads today with its prestigious university, contemporary food scene, edgy nightlife and innovative pulse.

To the south, right by the country's border with Germany, stands one of the Netherlands' best-preserved fortifications. North of Groningen is Menkemaborg, an authentic manor house, beyond which flat countryside spills out towards the Wadden Sea. The mudflats in end-of-the-earth Hoogeland provide mountains of exciting thrills and spills for wadlopers (mudflat hikers) in welly boots who flock here to pick their way across at low tide.