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Two countries for the price of one

PUBLISHED: 16:06 11 June 2008 | UPDATED: 09:51 23 August 2010

IT may not be the first place you think of when considering a European holiday, but the Lower Rhine region, on the border of Germany and Holland, is a superb destination where you ll find yourself enjoying two countries for the price of one, writes Kate N

IT may not be the first place you think of when considering a European holiday, but the Lower Rhine region, on the border of Germany and Holland, is a superb destination where you'll find yourself enjoying two countries for the price of one, writes Kate Nelson.

The abundance of holiday possibilities, just a 40 to 50 minute flight from Stansted, renders the region an excellent choice for families, couples or individuals. Large cities and market towns provide shopping, spectacular architecture and lively nightlife. And the beautiful sprawling countryside, full of lakes, meadows and of course, the Rhine itself, offers up a plethora of opportunities for thrill seekers or those who just want to take it easy. A good place to begin exploring the region is the large city of Arnhem, about 65km from Weeze airport. The new award winning central station is on the route of the high speed link between Amsterdam and Frankfurt, making it very easy to get to and from and despite its size, the city is clean, friendly and feels safe. Shoppers will love the centre which boasts swanky boutiques, innumerable shoe shops, exclusive jewellers and intriguing furniture and art shops. And even those who aren't quite so spend-thirsty will be hard pushed not to find some pleasure in aimlessly strolling the charming winding streets. Despite much of Arnhem being razed to the ground during the WWII, there remains plenty of enchanting buildings, one of which is the central church in the middle of town, on "Ruiterstr".

You can dizzily ascend over 300ft to the top in an all-glass lift to reach a breathtaking view over the whole city. From this 360 degree vantage point you can view Arnhem Bridge, famously eternalised in the Richard Attenborough film A Bridge Too Far about Operation Market Garden, the allied forces attempt to recapture the occupied city from the Germans during WWII.

Moving away from the city, The Netherlands Open Air Museum (www.openluchtmuseum.nl) on the outskirts of Arnhem is an intriguing family friendly place about Dutch life, set in 65 hectares of park and meadowland which you can stroll, cycle or catch a tram around.

It deservedly won European Museum of the Year in 2005 for its interactive and innovative approach to telling the history of Dutch people, and the sheer size and variety of what it offers makes it easy to spend a whole day there.

There are around 80 original farm buildings which have been outfitted with furniture, recreating scenes from Dutch home life throughout the centuries and fully-costumed role-playing staff, including a working blacksmith and a washerwoman. The museum houses some bizarre civilian-donated collections including a plethora of aeroplane sick bags and an army of garden gnomes. Ingeniously bracketed to the wall and ceiling of one building is the entire contents of three generations of one hoarding family's home, who never threw away a single thing that they used. Other good bits are the DIY boating lake, the huge original windmills and the delicious bacon and maple syrup pancakes on offer at the organic museum café. The Lower Rhine region is steeped in history but it's location along one of Europe's longest and most important rivers has not always been an asset and during WWII, millions of people, mostly civilians, from both Germany and Holland lost their lives. In their memory and just a 40 minute picturesque drive along the Dutch German border from Arnhem is the National Liberation Museum (www.bevrijdingsmuseum.nl) at Groesbeek. It's modern and attractive, built amongst now lush crop fields where the allied forces landed during Operation Market Garden.

The pretty setting betrays the bloody history between the two nations but a short trip to the battlefield graves is a sobering reminder, with the average age engraved on the tombstones just 22.

Inside, details and artefacts of the world's most deadly human conflict are housed in cabinets, portrayed on film and explained in 3D models.

It's stylishly exhibited but it's not hugely interactive so younger children may become restless, nevertheless the contents are shocking and should grab the attention of anyone who takes an interest in history.

The 'Grenzland Draisine' (www.grenzland-draisine.de) is a bit like a large warehouse trolley which travels along railway tracks, powered by four people's peddling.

It's terrific fun and not as strenuous as it sounds because the land is so flat. Up to 10 people can fit on one and at €9 per adult and €4.50 for children under 12, it is an inexpensive, enjoyable way to wile away an hour or two and take in the flourishing green and yellow countryside, where lustrous rapeseed fields sit side by side with unkempt wild meadows. One of the major assets of the whole region is its superb transport network and its ease of navigation for drivers.

Kempen, situated about 30km north-west of Düsseldorf, is an incredibly charming little town steeped in history and dripping with legends. Many festivals are held there throughout the year and for a relatively small town, it certainly comes alive at the weekend.

Xanten is another quaint town where there's an impressive Roman archaeological park. You can also enjoy a soak in the Roman baths or just a hop skip and a jump away from the park is the Xanten Südsee (south sea) where you can partake in a number of water sports including windsailing and canoeing. So if you're looking for a European holiday that's cheap and easy to get to, you'll be hard pushed to find a better option than the Lower Rhine. The people are friendly, there's a myriad of things to do and it's just far away enough to feel like a proper jaunt. Berlin and Amsterdam may attract the hoards but sometimes it's best not to follow the crowd. Kate Nelson

Fact FILE

Netherlands Tourism Board

www.holland.com/uk

Lower Rhine Tourism Board

www.lower-rhine.com

l How to get there

Ryanair offer flights to Dusseldorf Weeze from London Stansted, Glasgow Prestwick and as of 4th June from Edinburgh. Flights start from £10 including taxes, fees & charges and can be booked at www.ryanair.com.

l Where to stay

Best Western Hotel Haarhuis is excellently situated right opposite central station and within five minutes you can be in the centre of town. Rooms are

Stationsplein 1

6811 KG Arnhem

The Netherlands

T: +31 (0)26 - 4427441

E: info@hotelhaarhuis.nl

W: www.hotelhaarhuis.nl

Rooms start from €113,50 (single) and €150,00 (double)

Hotel Papillon is a friendly and intimate hotel just a few minutes walk from the main square. Some rooms have themes such as Africa and Italy.

Thomasstraße 5 und 9

47906 Kempen

Germany

T: +49 (0)2152 - 1415-0

E: kempen@hotel-papillon.com

W: www.hotel-papillon.com

Rooms start from €59 (single) and €88 (double)

Hotel Haus Duden is just outside of town (about a 10 minute taxi ride). It has a countryside glamour and serves good food.

Konrad- Duden - Straße 99

46485 Wesel

Germany

T: +49 (0)281 96210

E: info@hotel-haus-duden.de

W: www.hotel-haus-duden.de

Rooms start from €75 (single) and €95 (double)

Car hire

Avis Car Hire is situated at Weeze Niederrhein Airport

T: +49 (0)2837 665510

W: www.avis.co.uk

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