Known collectively as Het Gooi, the sprawling suburbs that spread southeast from Amsterdam towards Amersfoort and Utrecht (see p.000) are interrupted by open heaths, lakes, canals and woods, reminders of the time when this was a sparsely inhabited district largely devoted to sheep farming. The turning point was the construction of the Amsterdam–Amersfoort railway in 1874, which allowed hundreds of middle-class Amsterdammers to build their country homes here, nowhere more so than in well-heeled Hilversum, long the area’s main settlement and nowadays pretty much a dormitory town despite the best efforts of the Dutch media, much of which has decamped here. Hilversum is a possible target for a day-trip on account of its modern architecture, most notably the work of Willem Dudok, although Het Gooi’s two other prime attractions, the immaculate star-shaped fortifications of Naarden and the handsome medieval castle at Muiden, are frankly more appealing.
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Just to the north of the A1 motorway about 10km southeast of Amsterdam, Muiden straddles the River Vecht as it approaches the Markermeer, its several waterways crowded with pleasure boats and yachts. At the far end of the town on the old ramparts is the Muiderslot, one of the country’s most visited castles.
Look at a postcard of Naarden, about 8km east along the A1 from Muiden, and it seems as if the old town was created by a giant pastry-cutter, its gridiron of streets encased within a double ring of ramparts and moats that were engineered with geometrical precision between 1675 and 1685 to defend the eastern approaches to Amsterdam. Within the ramparts, Naarden’s attractive and architecturally harmonious centre mostly dates from the late sixteenth century, its small, low houses erected after the Spanish sacked the town in 1572, including the elaborately step-gabled Stadhuis, built in 1601 and still in use by the town council today. Naarden’s old town is readily explored on foot – it’s only 1km long and about 800m wide.