Belgium and the Netherlands have extraordinary artistic traditions which have withstood and evolved through some of the most turbulent periods in European history. This 13-day tour explores the art and architecture that flourished in these dynamic environments, taking you on a journey from the Late Gothic splendour of Brussels and Bruges to the creation of recognisably modern art and life in 17th-century Amsterdam and its surrounds. The tour takes you to the region’s exceptional galleries, smaller centres such as Ghent and Delft, and through exquisitely preserved medieval and Renaissance cityscapes.
The refurbished Rijksmuseum and Mauritshuis, housing the world’s finest collections of Dutch Golden Age painting, including many of Vermeer’s and Rembrandt’s masterpieces
Beautifully preserved cities, including stays in the centre of Bruges and Delft
Extraordinary works in less well-visited galleries, such as the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, overlooked by most travellers
Modern masterpieces by Van Gogh and Magritte, and stunning Art Nouveau architecture by Victor Horta
Days 1–3: Explore Brussels, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Magritte Museum and Victor Horta House Museum, and Leuven.
Days 4–6: See Van Eyck’s Mystic Lamb in the Ghent altarpiece, enjoy the art of Bruges and get to know Antwerp, once Europe’s largest port and today a flourishing city with many excellent museums.
Days 7–9: Survey the life and times of Vermeer in Delft, visit The Hague and the Royal Collection in the Mauritshuis, and admire Leiden, a town whose history spans the Atlantic.
Days 10–13: Enjoy Amsterdam’s superb museums and UNESCO World Heritage-listed canals, and visit Haarlem.
The tour begins and ends at our hotel in Brussels and ends at our hotel in Amsterdam. Emirates and Etihad Airways both offer suitable connections into Brussels and out of Amsterdam from most Australian cities. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the symbols B, L and D.
Friday 28 May: Arrive
The tour begins this afternoon, when we gather in the hotel lounge where tour leader Dr Sophie Oosterwijk will meet you. After time to introduce ourselves, we visit the Royal Library of Belgium, whose collection of manuscripts on display provides a fascinating insight into the love of detail, dynamic compositions and wonderful use of rich colours that is typical of late medieval and early Renaissance art from this region. We continue on foot to the World-Heritage listed Grand Place, the historic centre of Brussels, which is lined by the palaces of the city’s medieval guilds. Dinner in a local restaurant, evening at leisure. Overnight Brussels. (D)
Saturday 29 May: Brussels Museum of Fine Arts
Flanders and Brabant were the economic heart of northern Europe in the Middle Ages and the centre of an artistic revolution in the 15th-17th centuries, which we will explore in detail over the next few days. After a talk in the hotel this morning, we visit Belgium’s Royal Museums of Fine Arts to explore its magnificent collection of Old Masters, including works by Rogier van der Weyden, Hieronymous Bosch, Pieter Bruegel and Peter-Paul Rubens. We then enjoy a welcome lunch in a local restaurant. In the afternoon, we return the Museum of Fine Arts to explore its other excellent collections – the modern art museum, with works by David, Ingres and Matisse, and the Magritte Museum, which holds the most comprehensive collection of this modern master’s work. Evening at leisure. Overnight Brussels. (B, L)
Sunday 30 May: Victor Horta and Louvain
Victor Horta was one of the leading lights of art nouveau architecture, which used modern building materials to create a new way of living for the growing middle classes of Europe. This morning we have a private guided visit of the house and studio of this master. The building is both innovative and delightfully playful in its use of materials, its carefully coordinated decorative motifs and its division of spaces to facilitate a modern lifestyle. We then travel by coach to Louvain, a historic university town outside of Brussels, to explore its history, including a visit to its beautiful gothic cathedral and treasury. Returning to Brussels, the evening is at leisure. Overnight Brussels. (B)
Monday 31 May: Ghent
Ghent was one of the largest cities in medieval Europe and home to one of the most revolutionary artworks of the 1400s: the Altarpiece of Hubert and Jan van Eyck, housed in the Cathedral of St Bavo, commonly known as the Ghent Altarpiece. Research undertaken during its recent renovation has revealed even more about this extraordinary piece of art – one of the first surviving works employing the luminous new techniques of oil painting devised by Jan van Eyck – and its presentation in the cathedral is excellent. After visiting the masterpiece, we tour the city and break for lunch. In the early afternoon we continue to Bruges with its perfectly preserved Flemish-Gothic architecture. Dinner in a local restaurant. Overnight Bruges. (B, D)
Tuesday 1 June: Bruges
Bruges was a magnet for European merchants of the Middle Ages as it was the largest port north of the Alps and at the convergence of overland, river and ocean trade routes. Towards the end of the 14th century it became part of Burgundy, a rising power in Europe whose dukes played France and England off each other to increase their own territorial possessions. It was also under the Dukes of Burgundy that Bruges became the centre of an artistic revolution as artists such as Jan van Eyck, Gerard David and Hans Memling worked in the town for the burghers and nobles who wanted themselves immortalised in the new style. After a talk in the hotel, we explore the historic cityscape of Bruges, including the Church of Our Lady, to visit the tomb of the last of the Burgundians – Mary the Rich – and the only statue by Michelangelo to go north of the Alps in the artist’s own lifetime. We then visit the Hans Memling Museum, where some of the artist’s finest work is displayed. In the afternoon, after a break for lunch, we visit the excellent Groeninge Museum, which has some of Van Eyck’s finest works – the portrait of his wife, Margherita van Eyck, and the Madonna of Cardinal van der Paele – along with works by Bosch and Gerard David. The later-afternoon and evening are at leisure to enjoy Bruges. Overnight Bruges. (B)
Wednesday 2 June: Antwerp
Today we travel to Antwerp, which became Europe’s largest port and richest city in the 16th-century, after Bruges fell out of favour (and the entrance to its port silted up in a storm!). The vibrance of the city is reflected in the guildhalls of Grote Markt, whose architecture influenced a young Gaudí, and also in the canvases by Rubens, which are currently displayed in the magnificent cathedral. Our tour of the city also includes a guided visit of Rubens’ house and studio and concludes with the House Museum of Mayer van den Bergh. This intimate museum has a number of masterpieces, such as Bruegel’s Mad Meg, which were collected by Van den Bergh in the late 19th century, when Gothic and Northern Renaissance art was out of favour. In the mid-afternoon, we continue on to Delft, our base for the next three nights. Dinner in a local restaurant. Overnight Delft. (B, D)
Thursday 3 June: Delft and Boijmans van Beuningen
Delft was one among many prospering towns of the Netherlands in 17th century, and is today best known among English speakers as the hometown of Vermeer. For the Dutch, however, it is much more significant because it was here that William “the Silent” of Orange set up his headquarters to lead the war against the Spanish that ultimately led to the independence of the Netherlands. This morning we explore Delft, including visits to the Nieuwe Kerk, where most of the House of Orange are buried, and the new Vermeer Centre. After a break for a leisurely lunch, we travel the short distance to visit the Depot of the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam. The new Depot, due to open in 2021, allows public access to the collection, whose fine collection runs from paintings by Bosch and Pieter Brueghel the Elder to Magritte, Dali and contemporary design, as well as to restoration workshops and panoramic views across Rotterdam to its port. Return to Delft, evening at leisure. (B)
Friday 4 June: The Hague
Today we visit The Hague, a city whose fascinating history is inseparable from the House of Orange and as the modern seat of the International Court of Justice. The great prize of our visit today, however, is the extraordinary collection in the Mauritshuis, whose impressive collection includes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and View of Delft, Carol Fabricius’ The Gold Finch, and many excellent portraits by Rembrandt and others. After a guided visit of the gallery, we break for lunch and then visit the Panorama Mesdag – an extraordinary 120m long painting depicting the Belgian coastline at Schveningen curving around the walls of a specially built gallery. In the later afternoon, we return to Delft, stopping to visit Hofwijck, the 17th-century estate of the poet, composer and secretary of state, Constantijn Huygens. Constantijn Huygens was one of the leading lights of Dutch culture – and his son, Christiaan, became one of the Scientific Revolution’s prime movers – and he had his gardens designed according to the principles of classical architecture. Return to Deflt, evening at leisure. Overnight Delft. (B)
Saturday 5 June: Leiden and Amsterdam
This morning we depart Delft for Amsterdam, stopping to visit Duivenvoorde Castle – a golden age castle, with beautiful gardens and a private art collection – and Leiden, a beautiful university town with a rich history as a centre of printing and textiles, and as the place from where numerous settlers left for the New Amsterdam and Massachusetts colonies. In Leiden, we explore the history and architecture of the town, including its alms-houses and Church of St Peter. In the afternoon, we continue to nearby Amsterdam. After checking into our hotel, we stroll along Amsterdam’s World Heritage-listed canal belt. These rings of canals are feats of hydraulic engineering – a series of timed locks and sluices keep water flowing almost uphill – and were a new model of rational town planning for a burgeoning city. The merchants, artists and religious minorities who flocked here made it one of Europe’s most cosmopolitan cities and its canals are lined with the townhouses of the wealthy burghers of the Golden Age. Dinner at a local restaurant. Overnight Amsterdam. (B, D)
Sunday 6 June: Rembrandt and The Rijksmuseum
The Dutch Republic emerged from the religious conflict that reshaped Europe and ushered in its own distinctively modern forms of art. We explore the art and culture of the Dutch Golden Age today, starting at the Rijksmuseum, the most extensive collection of Dutch painting, including Rembrandt’s TheNightwatch, and Vermeer’s The Milkmaid. After our guided visit, there is time for independent exploration of the galleries and lunch. In the mid-afternoon, we visit Rembrandt’s House to explore the life, times and style of the master and to see how art was made and sold to wealthy upper and middle-class patrons. Evening at leisure. Overnight Amsterdam. (B)
Monday 7 June: Van Gogh
“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced” – Vincent van Gogh.
Van Gogh is one of the modern world’s most prolific artists, although recognition of his work and its impact on modern art only came after his untimely death. This morning we visit one of the most significant collections of the master’s work at the Van Gogh Museum. This stunning collection of masterpieces – including Sunflowers, Almond Blossom and nine self-portraits – spans the artists whole life, from his early works and influences through to his final paintings. The afternoon is free, and you may wish to visit some of Amsterdam’s other museums, such as the Stedelijk or the Royal Palace, or simply relax. Overnight Amsterdam (B)
Tuesday 8 June: Haarlem
Haarlem is one of the gems the Netherlands, with quiet streets, boutiques and cafes. The city too is brimming with history – it was brutally sacked by Spanish troops in the 16th century and its rebuilding became a symbol of Dutch independence. This morning we explore the history of Haarlem on a walking tour, including visits to its historic alms-houses and the Cathedral of St Bavo. We then visit the superb museum devoted to Frans Hals, one of the most endearing portraitists of the Golden Age and one of many great painters of the Haarlem school. We return to Amsterdam in the mid-afternoon. This evening we enjoy a farewell meal in one of Amsterdam’s fine restaurants. Overnight Amsterdam. (B, D)
Wednesday 9 June: Departure
The tour ends this morning, after breakfast. Please consult your individual travel documents for your ongoing journey. (B)
Dr Sophie Oosterwijk
An art historian who specialises in Dutch art, with a PhD in Art History from the University of Leicester.
Sophie Oosterwijk is a Dutch art historian who has lived and worked in the UK for over 20 years. She specialises in Medieval, Flemish and Dutch art and has led and designed tours to Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Spain and the United Kingdom since 1994.
Sophie holds an MA and PhD in English literature from Leiden University, an MA in Medieval Studies from the University of York, and a PhD in Art History from the University of Leicester. She has taught at the universities of Leicester, Manchester and St Andrews, and is a regular guest lecturer in Continuing Education for the University of Cambridge.
Being a Dutch native Sophie is fluent in Dutch (as well as in English, French and German), and knows the Netherlands and Belgium intimately. She is particularly interested in painting and sculpture, including tomb monuments, from the medieval period to the Baroque and beyond, and in the social and cultural context, and has taught and lectured widely on these subjects, also on ADFAS tours.
She is a lively and entertaining guide who offers a wealth of knowledge as well as good company.
We asked Sophie, what motivates her to continue leading tours?
“I love showing people around my favourite places in Europe and offering insights into the local history, society, life and – above all – art treasures within their own special settings”, says Sophie. “Nothing beats seeing art in its own context: an altarpiece in a church or cathedral, or a famous painting surrounded by other works of the period.”
“Travellers always praise my enthusiasm, depth of knowledge, ease of communication and being always open to questions. It is so gratifying when people tell me afterwards how I have not just informed, but also inspired them – and just great to see them back sometimes on other tours!”
Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Where appropriate, taxis or public transport are also used for short distance travel on some tours
All accommodation in hotels or apartments as stated in the itinerary
Breakfasts, lunches and dinners specifically stated as included in the itinerary
Drinks at welcome and farewell meals. Other meals may not have drinks included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
Tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required and when stated as included
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
What is not included in the tour price?
Our tours do not include the following:
Return international/domestic air travel unless those flights take place during the tour
Special taxes and airport levies that can only be paid in cash at the destination. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Travel insurance. We require all participants to have comprehensive travel insurance. A typical policy for one of our tours will cost from $160 upwards, depending on your age, pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the overall length of your trip
Lunches and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity
You will be asked to sign an acknowledgement of these conditions when you book a place on a tour.
A deposit of $500 per person is required to confirm your booking on a tour. Final payment of the tour fee, insurance and any additional travel will be due 60 days before departure.
If you decide to cancel your booking the following charges apply:
More than 60 days before departure: $500*
60-45 days before tour start: 25% of total amount due
44-15 days before tour start: 75% of total amount due
14 days or less before departure: 100% of total amount due
*This amount may be credited to another Academy Travel tour within 12 months of the original tour you booked.
Unused Portions of the tour
We regret that refunds will not be given for any unused portions of the tour, such as meals, entry fees, accommodation, flights or transfers.
Academy Travel requires all participants to obtain comprehensive travel insurance. We offer a comprehensive policy with a reputable insurer if required.
Passport and Visa
A valid passport is required for all international travel. If you do not hold an Australian passport you may require a re-entry permit. Some countries require a visa to be issued before you depart Australia. We will advise you of all passport and visa requirements, but it is your responsibility to ensure that you meet passport and visa requirements before you depart.
Will the tour price change?
If the number of participants in a tour is significantly less than budgeted, or if there is a significant change in exchange rates Academy Travel reserves the right to amend the advertised price. If this occurs you will be given the option of cancelling your booking and obtaining a full refund. If an Academy Travel tour is forced to cancel you will get a full refund of all monies paid.
Will the itinerary change?
Occasionally circumstances beyond the control of Academy Travel make it necessary to change airline, hotel or to make slight amendments to daily itineraries. We will inform you of any changes as soon as they occur.
Full and final payment for the tour, airfare travel, insurance and any additional travel you book is due 60 days before departure. Payment may be made by bank deposit, cheque, cash or credit card. Please note there is a surcharge for payments made by credit card.
Academy Travel reserves the right to decline the booking or terminate the holiday of any traveller. We aim to be fair and reasonable in all our dealings with our clients. We aim to provide full and accurate information about our tours and promptly provide information of any changes or alterations that take place before departure.