Beer & Bike: Van Gogh – Zundert to Breda

At least in my own mind, there are two categories of Dutch and Flemish Art. One contains all of the great Masters like Rubens, Rembrandt, Van Eyck, Vermeer, Van Dyck, and Hals. And the other contains one single iconic name only… Van Gogh. Van Gogh, of course, lived in the latter half of the 1800’s, some 200 plus years after the height of the glory days of Rubens and Rembrandt. Naturally, art and the art world had completely evolved. Van Gogh never achieved the fame that Rubens did during his lifetime, and he never earned the prestige of working as a court painter to a King like Van Dyck. His seemed a much more tragic road thru life as he moved from place to place discovering and honing his now-beloved painting style. While I suppose much of Van Gogh’s fame today is linked to the cities of Amsterdam, Paris, and Arles in Provence, France, if you really want to discover Van Gogh, the best place to do this is in the region of his birthplace, the Southern Netherlands. Here you will not only come in contact with Van Gogh’s heritage but also find many of the landscapes and scenes which inspired the earlier years of his painting. The best way to explore this world is by following the several established Van Gogh bike routes (Download Link).

This bike ride will concentrate on the Zundert to Breda route. I do not follow the published route to the letter since it is also my privileged responsibility to include beer highlights, and this route has several of them. Breda has embraced the craft beer culture and there is an excellent mix of classic pubs and new shiny craft beer halls.

This route essentially covers the time period of Van Gogh’s life up until he was 28 and spending a few months in the village of Etten-Leur, where his father was preaching in the city’s main church, Catharinakerk, with “no income and no prospects”1. He had just returned from stints in London and the Borinage in Belgium as he pursued a similar ministerial path as his father. When you reach the Markt of Etten-Leur on this bike ride, imagine the tortured soul trying to decide his future:

I want to paint what Dickens has done with his words.

Vincent Van Gogh
www.sothebys.com

Over 50 of Van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo mention author Charles Dickens in them2. If you have followed my blog recently, you know how excited I was to learn this fact. But at this point in time of Van Gogh’s life, he hadn’t even produced his counterpart to Pickwick Papers (Dickens’ first book). This was just the beginning. One that should have resulted in fame and fortune like Dickens. But alas…

It is already well known that Van Gogh sold only one painting during his lifetime. His tragic life ended in 1890 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. To further emphasize how little the world regarded Van Gogh at the time of his death, two classic travel books, A Wanderer in Holland by E.V. Lucas (1905) and Through the Gates of the Netherlands by Mary E. Waller (1909), published years after his death, fail to make one mention of Van Gogh, while Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Hals, of course, are well-represented. During those publishing years, Van Gogh’s fame was still yet in it’s infancy. Meanwhile, within a few years of Dickens’ death, dozens of travel books were written devoted only to Dickens and the locations in his novels. It is mind-boggling today to consider that entire travel books could have been written about the highlights of the Netherlands two decades after Van Gogh’s death which do not contain any hint of his existence; while today Van Gogh is arguably the most famous Dutchman in history, Rembrandt included. I am no historian, so please take everything I write here with the assumed light-hearted poetic license that is intended.

Bike Ride Details

Starting/Ending PointBier Paradijs, Hoogstraten Belgium
Distance65.7km
My Moving Time3h 20m

It’s Not Just a Beer, It’s a Journey

Bier Paradijs / Brouwerij Sterkens / Scheldebrouwerij

For me, the best place to park the car for this ride is actually on the Belgium side of the border at a veritable beer paradise, a series of buildings housing two breweries and one of the best beer shops in Belgium, Bier Paradijs. There is nothing better than driving home from an amazing Beer & Bike ride with a trunk full of special beers. I think it is ok to park in the Bier Paradijs parking lot, but I still did the courtesy of asking them inside.

Brouwerij Sterkens and Bier Paradijs
A nice canal view on the way to Zundert

Van Gogh Birthplace (Zundert)

Van Gogh was born here in 1853.

Vincent Van Gogh Huis (birthplace)

Abdij Maria Toevlucht

From the town of Zundert, the ride heads west towards the Abdij Maria Toevlucht where the Zundert Trappist beer is made. You can read more about my travels to the abbey in my Two Dutch Trappists post.

Path towards the Abdij Maria Toevlucht

After the abbey the route heads north past farmland and thru a lush heide.

Natuurgebeid Pannenhoef

Along the way, you pass a small hut which contains an old fashioned wood-fired bread oven and here during the summer, you may be able to try some of the fresh baked goods.

Pannenhoef Zwarte Schuur

Brouwerij Broederliefde

Leaving the heide behind and entering the village of Etten-Leur, I stopped by a brewery marked on my map. One of the risks I take in these Beer & Bike rides is marking breweries which have no cafe, pub, or shop. It is not always clear from Google Maps or the brewery websites. I would say 95% of the time, if it is not clear, then they don’t have any capability to interact with the brewery or products. However, I have been surprised on rare occasions. But most of the time, the brewery is usually either in a residence or in an industrial park. It may be possible to make an appointment, but that is not for me. I want to spontaneously be able to stop and buy a bottle and/or have a quick tasting. One I will mention on this route (where there were a handful of false alarms), is Brouwerij Broederliefde mainly because I later found a bottle of their beer and it is used in the Featured Photo for this post.

Brouwerij Broederliefde

On my way to the city center, I passed by a Gall & Gall shop which is a chain of stores selling beer (and other assorted alcohol specialties) and there I found the bottle of BBL beer which I used for the beer photo. Also for sale are the city beers. Since I was on my bike, carrying a 75cl bottle was not really an option, unfortunately.

The Etten-Leur city beers

Four Sons of Aymon Sighting

Across the street from the Gall & Gall, a school had this emblem on it.

The Four Sons of Aymon

Van Gogh Church (Catharinakerk)

This church on the Markt is where Van Gogh’s father Theodorus served as a preacher from 1875-1882. Behind the church is a statue of Van Gogh as well as a mural.

Catharinakerk, a.k.a. Van Gogh’s Church
Van Gogh Mural

Vincent’s Bistro

Also on the Markt, the bistro was not open during my visit.

From Etten-Leur, the ride heads east to Breda along a busy, unscenic stretch of road coming out into an old industrial area which are the kinds of places that are ripe for large craft beer installations and taprooms.

Brack Beer Construction

This enormous taproom contains the beers of two breweries, Brouwerij Bliksem and Brouwerij Ramses. This is a great setting for craft beer.

Brack Beer Construction
Gouden Adelaar by Brouwerij Ramses

Just a short ride later, another great craft beer taproom.

Frontaal Brewing Company

Brouwerij Frontaal
Juice Punch by Frontaal Brewing Co.

Cafe de Beyerd

The Cafe de Beyerd is a historic cafe in Breda. While the name is similar to the Beiaard in Ros Beiaard, the magical horse’s name in The Four Sons of Aymon story, there seems to be no relationship there although the original emblem of the pub is three horseshoes (3 Hoefijzers). This is a great pub popular with locals and cyclists. It is also a microbrewery with several varieties to choose from. I indulged in the Speciaal Tripel.

Cafe de Beyerd
Brouwerij de Beyerd Speciaalbier
(in Dutch)

Breda City Center

Breda city center has a beautiful church and bustling, lively squares, just as you would expect from a Dutch city. I have visited briefly on three occasions but always passing thru on my bike.

Breda

Bier Reclamemuseum

If you are going to do this ride and want to visit this very unique pub/museum, you will need to do it on a Sunday, the only day of the week it is open. But this place is a splendour of beer memorabilia.

Bier Reclamemuseum

The ride heads back to Bier Paradijs crossing paths with the official Van Gogh route.

Signs indicate the Van Gough route using Knooppunten

De Zevenster “Bij de Paters”

After coming back into Belgium, there is an abbey Kapucijnenklooster Meersel-Dreef. Next to it is this restaurant. I didn’t stop, but it should be noted for beer pilgrims that the restaurant has its own house beer, Drevenier, brewed by the Antwerp City Brewery.

Kapucijnenklooster Meersel-Dreef

Final Words

The journey of Van Gogh’s life from his birth in Zundert until his time in Etten-Leur was 28 years. During this time, Van Gogh had gone from being unwillingly sent off to boarding school to failing at apprenticeships with art dealers to attempting to become a preacher, the latter a story for another Beer & Bike ride. Etten-Leur was “a pivotal moment in his life: he had abandoned his efforts to become a preacher and was embarking on an equally quixotic attempt to become a painter.”1 To follow in the footsteps of Van Gogh on these bike rides, it was important for me not to think of Van Gogh in the bubble of the fame that he has today, nor to trivialize his struggles in life. Looking around the Markt in Etten-Leur, the commercial effect of associating with the great artist is evident. But when Van Gogh was 28, this Markt would not have been so welcoming. During this time, Van Gogh fell in love with his widowed cousin. Probably in a bout of poor judgment, Van Gogh proposed to her and was promptly rejected. While the pretty yellow paint of Vincent’s Bistro is charming and obviously paying homage to The Yellow House in Arles, France, to simply look at it as an example of European charm without taking a moment to contemplate Van Gogh’s heartache and desperation at that point in his life completely misses the point of travel.

Feature Beer: BBL’s The Triple’s

References

  1. The Yellow House by Martin Gayford (2006)
  2. https://www.sothebys.com/en/articles/how-vincent-van-gogh-was-inspired-by-the-works-of-charles-dickens
M.G.G.P.

One thought on “Beer & Bike: Van Gogh – Zundert to Breda

  1. Thanks for this interesting post on Van Gogh – I had no idea he was such a big Dickens fan. Thanks also for the Dutch beer tips. I found it so hard to get away from Heineken dominance in the Netherlands, as opposed to Belgium, where I was spoilt for choice.

    Like

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