Zeeland, the westernmost province of the Netherlands, is aptly named. Much of it lies below sea level, and the region, made up of sandy islands and flat stretches of coastline, is immersed in maritime heritage. Many famous Dutch admirals were born here, and even the coat of arms depicts a half-submerged lion, which looks as if it is fighting the tide.
Although the province is nearly 3,000 square kilometers in size, about 1,200 square kilometers of this is water.
The region is a popular seaside holiday destination. In the summer, Zeeland coastal towns such as Vlissingen are bustling with Dutch, Belgian and German tourists, who come for the miles of sandy beaches and the seafood. Vlissingen, which features a long seaside boulevard, also includes a beautiful old town, which survived repeated bombings during World War II, and a small nautical museum depicting local naval heritage. You can also snack on the fast food of choice in this part of the world – pickled herring served with chopped onion, known locally as maatjes.
The laid-back atmosphere of Vlissingen makes for a pleasant weekend away, and seafood restaurants offer good value. De Visserhaven, founded in 1888, provides diners with an authentic Zeeland seafood experience.
“There are a number of products which are typical for this part of Holland,” explains De Visserhaven General Manager Willem Hamer. “Of course we can talk about mussels, and of course another good one is oysters. Much of the seafood from here is known for its typical ‘zilte’ ("salty") aftertaste, while the flat Zeeuwse oysters are known for their beautiful silky creamy taste and structure. Many people, especially from Belgium and France, visit us specifically for these oysters. In other parts of Holland, they don’t exist at all.”
Another local specialty is lobster from the Oosterschelde, an estuary in Zeeland that also makes up the largest national park in the Netherlands. The park consists primarily of salt waters, but also includes some mud flats, meadows and shoals. One of the most delicate lobster species in the world is caught here near the village of Yerseke.
“It’s DNA is different from other species, and because these lobsters are protected, we are only able to catch them from 1 April to 15 July,” says Hamer. “The prices are quite high, but the taste is absolutely delightful. Only a few selected restaurants are allowed to serve them.”