Kasteel de Haar

Utrecht Province

The nation's biggest moated castle is a remarkable feast of Gothic spires, turrets and portcullis gates. It has a glorious chapel, and is surrounded by a large English landscaped garden with broad paths, statues and canal-like stretches of pond. The result is supposedly the way the place would have looked in the early 1500s, albeit equipped with all the creature comforts available in the late 19th century, when it was romantically restored from a set of dilapidated ruins.

The restoration project, by PJ Cuypers of Rijksmuseum fame, was so extensive that the church and the nearby hamlet of Haarzuilens became involved. The castle's owner, Baron Étienne van Zuylen, spared little expense and had the entire village moved so there'd be adequate space for the park and hunting grounds.

The French baroque garden near the entrance bears the stamp of Héléne de Rothschild, the baron's wife and heir of the renowned Rothschild banking family – it was her fortune that paid for the 19th-century restoration.

The castle is 13km west of Utrecht. On Saturdays and Sundays and daily in July and August, twice-hourly bus 9 runs directly from Utrecht Centraal. On other days take the hourly Den Haag–bound Sprinter train to Vleuten, 2.5km southeast of the castle, then get bus 111 (Wednesdays) or the hourly Kockengen-bound minibus 127 to 'Brink' in Haarzuilens, from where the castle is a 15-minute walk. By bicycle take the LF4 route. If driving there's a €5 parking charge.

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