“ Address: Kleine Kerkstraat 10 / 4101 CC / Culemborg „
Our Dutch friends Ineke and Marit spent almost a year planning their joint 50th birthday party. We were forewarned back in January and immediately booked flights to be able to join them. One condition of our going was that we would not stay with them this time - Marit can be a bit 'high strung' and predicted that she would be far too stressed to have company that weekend so it was agreed that they would find us somewhere to stay nearby. That way the hostesses could do what they needed to do and we could relax, out of their way, and let them get on with it. As we normally stay at their house and they've not had other guests who needed a hotel or B&B, they went online to search for accommodation in the lovely Gelderland town of Culemborg where they live. The place they chose for us was 'de Gasterij' - I think it means 'the guest house' .
Firstly, you can be forgiven for not knowing where Culemborg is as it's not a place that many people will have visited. It's in the centre of the Netherlands and is not too far from the better known towns of Utrecht and 's-Hertogenbosch (a.k.a. den Bosch) both of which can he easily reached by train. Even wikipedia struggles to find much to say about the place and it's rather sad that the entry for Culemborg neglects to mention what a lovely little town it is and focuses instead on a so-called 'race riot' which took place at the end of 2009 when Dutch-Moroccan and Dutch-Moluccan youths had a set-to in a field. This isn't Toxteth! Don't worry about your personal safety wandering the streets of Culemborg.
'De Gasterij' is a beautiful old, tall town house on Kleine Kerkstraat - literally 'small church street'. I have to assume the adjective refers to the size of the street and not to the church as the church is absolutely enormous. Fortunately - and generously - the church doesn't ring the bells early in the morning or every quarter hour through the night, unlike some other places where I've stayed. De Gasterij is right in the centre of the town, just around the corner from the beautiful, historic Town Hall and the main shopping street. Since Holland - like much of northern Europe - closes all the shops at about five o'clock on a Saturday afternoon, there's almost no noise from passers-by despite the central location.
If you have a car, it's worth knowing that there's no on-site parking at the B&B but there's plenty of space in the pay and display car park near to the Barbara Polyclinic which is just a couple of hundred yards away.
The house is a tall, narrow, high-ceilinged red-brick building with enormous windows. The front of the house overlooks the red-brick church opposite. There are apparently two churches, both of them for St Barbara and one is protestant and the other catholic. I can imagine that gets confusing but I think 'ours' was the protestant church. Marit dropped us off at the B&B and we were welcomed very warmly by Marja Klaverstijn, the owner of the B&B. She took us up the scary steep staircase to the first floor where we had a bedroom, a sitting room and a bathroom. The toilet was on the ground floor, under the stairs and the breakfast room was on the back of the house, overlooking the garden. The garden is absolutely gorgeous and is likely to set up some serious garden-envy. The garden extends the whole width of both this house and the one next door, the owner having bought the neighbours garden many years before and clearly she's spent decades working on it. It looks like something straight out of a swanky life-style magazine. We visited at the end of September when it was a little too cool for sitting out, but if we'd been there in summer, I think she'd have needed to drag us out as we'd not have wanted to leave.
We loved almost everything about this house except the staircase which we both found pretty intimidating. Our company's office near Amsterdam has stairs so steep that I'm always nervous taking hot drinks up or down them, but the ones at the Gasterij were even steeper. Going up is manageable but there's no way you could walk down the stairs with your feet facing forward on the stair treads as they overlap to such a degree that you'd need the bound feet of an elderly Chinese lady to fit. For the first day my husband was going down them backwards like a ladder and I eventually graduated to going down sideways like I was a crab. If you want an authentic, historic Dutch building then you have to expect this kind of things but I do think it's important to be aware of it if you aren't too mobile or are a bit wobbly on your feet. If you need big stairs or a lift, you'd better book a chain hotel.
As far as we could tell, de Gasterij can accommodate just one couple at a time which makes for a lovely, very personal experience. We felt - as the name suggests - more like guests than people paying for a room. We had almost all of the first floor to spread out in and were encouraged to make use of the sitting room on the front of the house as well as the bedroom on the back.
Our room had two single beds which was a bit of a shame as I'd have much preferred a double bed but I can live with that for a couple of nights. The room had a very large window looking out over the garden and a small table with a lamp between the two beds, an arm chair in one corner and a chest of drawers. Rather than a wardrobe which would have taken a lot of space, there were hooks and coat hangers on the wall which were perfect for what we needed, especially bearing in mind we'd gone by EasyJet with hand luggage only. If this had been all the space we had, it would have been a bit snug but the joy of de Gasterij is that we also got a sitting room, equally as big as the bedroom, if not bigger, where we could sit and watch television, use the free wi-fi, and make cups of tea or coffee whenever we wanted to. A small bottle of wine was provided for our first night which was a very kind touch and there was also a plate of chocolates and biscuits which didn't survive for long after my husband found them. The coffee maker was a bit of a mystery but after some practice we got the hang of it. The room also had a big bookshelf full of books and magazines which were mostly in Dutch and a stack of board games we could have used. The room had a small writing desk, two comfy chairs and a television.
On both evenings we used the sitting room for a few hours before going to bed. We knew our friends were exhausted with their party preparations and with the aftermath of the party and were happy to have some time on our own. Each morning after breakfast we had another hour or so checking emails, reading books and waiting to be picked up. It was really nice to not have to do all of this in our bedroom.
On the first morning we asked if we could borrow and iron and board to press our clothes for the party and Marja insisted on doing them for us - probably much better than we'd have done them ourselves.
The shower room had a good powerful shower, a towel rail with plenty of towels and a sink. There was a small wall mounted bar fire which magically was on whenever we went for showers. I think Marja had nipped upstairs and switched it on for us after breakfast. We did live in fear of needing to go down the stairs in the night to get to the loo but the route was lit with electric night lights so we could see where we were going.
~Breakfast like a king~
Breakfast at de Gasterij is out of this world and I still can't believe how much we ate. On the first morning we were presented with a toasted English muffin with a fried egg on top, followed by pancakes with creamy yoghurt and lots of berries, freshly squeezed juice, and pots of tea and coffee. A plate of cheese and cold meats was also there along with a big basket of assorted bread rolls. I could hardly move by the time I'd eaten the muffin and the pancakes. On the second morning we got more amazing delights and Marja must have been up really early cooking for us. There was an egg baked in a flaky pastry nest as well as a baked peach cobbler and another bowl of yoghurt and fruit. We also had a glass filled with fruit salad. I would need to grow a second stomach to do justice to the culinary magic of a de Gasterij breakfast. It was no wonder we had to go and sit down for an hour or so afterwards. Marja told us that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and I wouldn't want to argue with that.
The room rate for two people for bed and breakfast is 70 euros per night. At current exchange rates that's less than £60. If this isn't the best bargain in central Holland, I would be astonished.
Bookings can be made by email or by telephone.
Kleine Kerkstraat 10
4101 CC Culemborg