The 17th-century Dutch palace that rivals Versailles



I’m at the entrance to a rather elegant study. It’s a corner room, quite small but with a fine chandelier, a high ceiling, and dark red silk lining the walls. It’s simply furnished with a couple of chairs and a desk that folds out of a large square armoire. The sun is pouring in and outside I see a huge garden terrace.

Bordered by brick walls raised on high banks, there are avenues of oaks and hornbeams, interspersed with fountains, gravel paths and a network of tiny canals.

And at the center of it all is a carpet of intricate parterres of impeccably trimmed box hedges, planted with tulips, pansies, bluebells and fritillaries.

We Brits aren't the only ones who know how to garden

We Brits aren’t the only ones who know how to garden

For all the world, I feel like I’m in France, in a fine chateau overlooking gardens designed to emulate those of Versailles.

But I am not. I’m in Holland.

This is a palace built by a Dutchman and this room was the stage for a critical moment in British history. This is where meetings were held and letters were written for William III and his wife Mary to claim the crown in London.

The Palace of Het Loo, which has just reopened to the public after a 231 million euro restoration programme, is located in Apeldoorn, right in the center of the Netherlands.



Until 1684 it was a relatively modest hunting lodge, the favorite refuge of William of Orange. But after becoming Stadtholder—the Dutch head of state—his ambition caught fire and he set about designing an opulent red-brick palace in the flat wooded landscape where he loved to chase wild boar and deer.

There is no direct evidence that William intended to emulate the gardens of Versailles. But it’s hard to ignore the comparisons.

A few hundred miles to the south, Louis XIV, William’s great military rival, was in the throes of building the most extravagant pleasure palace ever conceived.

William did not have the resources of Louis, but like the French king, he understood the importance of using architecture to demonstrate political power and recruited some of Louis’s exiled Huguenot architects and designers to help him.

Four years later, when he and Mary became king and queen of England and Scotland in 1688, his ambition only increased.

New plans were drawn up to add more wings to the palace and expand the gardens. William also had a new dining room built, so he could eat “in public” – another trope borrowed from the grandeur of Louis XIV’s court. The extensions were completed in 1693 and Het Loo remained William’s favorite holiday retreat even after his move to London.



What we see today – at least in the gardens – is as much a recreation as a restoration, but it is based on detailed documents and drawings. And there are still living links with the 17th century.

Surprisingly, the oldest of the historic collection of citrus fruits that are grown in containers, kept under glass in the winter and carried into position between the parterres in the summer dates back to 1690 when they were first set up. Many others are over 250 years old.

Inside the building, the restoration divides the internal rooms in two. A series of apartments recreate the glory days of the late 17th century when William and Mary were residents.



The other preserves the furnishings and ornaments of the early 1900s, when Queen Wilhelmina (1880-1962), great-grandmother of the current king, held court here. A new exhibition space under the main courtyard adds a contemporary twist.

But visiting Het Loo, given to the state by the Dutch royal family in 1970 and opened as a museum in 1984, offers more than just an insight into Dutch royal heritage. It is an impressive reminder of the power and status of the Netherlands in the late 17th century.

This was the golden age of Dutch commercial, cultural and military power. At the time, the Dutch, not the British, ruled the waves.

By 1667, Dutch warships were so dominant and the Royal Navy so weakened, that the Dutch fleet was able to sail into the Thames Estuary, capture the town of Sheerness, and sail up the Medway past Chatham.



In one raid they destroyed or captured 14 warships and, remarkably, managed to tow the flagship of the Navy, HMS Royal Charles. It was a moment of triumph for the Netherlands and national embarrassment for Great Britain.

But by the time William and Mary took the throne, the worst of tensions had ended. Indeed, for the next 14 years, William was head of state of both Holland and Great Britain. It was, I suppose, an early form of political union in Europe.

And the influence of William and Mary’s Dutch experiment runs deeper than we think. The joint monarchs were not fond of London much, but once they took the throne, they began to emulate their successes at Het Loo with even more spectacular red brick building projects.



With Sir Christopher Wren at their disposal, they began building two new mansions. One was attached to the Tudor buildings at Hampton Court. There are some curious Dutch details.

The same ornate locks commissioned for Het Loo can be found at Hampton, for example. Meanwhile, they also acquired and transformed the Earl of Nottingham’s mansion in west London. It became the new Kensington Palace, now home to the current heir to the throne. From William of Orange to William of Wales.

How to visit Het Loo

The palace, on the outskirts of Apeldoorn, near Arnhem, reopened last year after restoration and a spectacular new exhibition space was inaugurated on 21 April 2023, built under the main entrance courtyard.

There is an excellent new restaurant and – beyond in the stables – a courtyard cafe.

To see the gardens at their best, come in June — once the citrus trees are out of winter storage and floral displays are at their peak — or September.

Balzaal, the café in the courtyard of Het Loo

Balzaal, the café in the courtyard of Het Loo

The palace is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10:00 to 17:00 and from 13:00 to 17:00 on Mondays (except during schools and public holidays, when it is open all Monday. Admission €19.50.

There are trains every hour to Apeldoorn (the journey takes about an hour) from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.

The best place to stay is the Bilderberg Hotel der Keizerskroon, which is right next to the palace and its gardens. Double rooms from €129.

Have you visited Het Loo? Share your experiences in the comments section below

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *