The closing of the Zuider Zee and the draining of the Noordoostpolder transformed northwest Overijssel: not only were the area’s seaports cut off from the ocean, but they were placed firmly inland with only a narrow channel, the Vollenhover Kanaal, separating them from the new polder. As a result, Vollenhove and more especially Blokzijl, the two main seaports concerned, reinvented themselves as holiday destinations and today hundreds of Dutch city folk come here to sail and cycle.
Traditionally, both Vollenhove and Blokzijl looked firmly out across the ocean, doing their best to ignore the moor and marshland villages that lay inland. They were not alone: for many centuries this was one of the most neglected corners of the country and things only began to pick up in the 1800s, when the “Society of Charity” established a series of agricultural colonies here. The Dutch bourgeoisie were, however, as wary of the pauper as their Victorian counterparts in Britain and the 1900 Baedeker, when surveying the colonies, noted approvingly that “the houses are visited almost daily by the superintending officials and the strictest discipline is everywhere observed”. The villagers were reliant on peat for fuel and their haphazard diggings, spread over several centuries, created the canals, lakes and ponds that now lattice the area, attracting tourists by the boatload. The big pull is picture-postcard Giethoorn, whose mazy canals are flanked by splendid thatched cottages, but try to avoid visiting in the height of the season, when the crowds can get oppressive.