Welcome to Baarland, a town in Zuid-Beveland, whose cobblestone streets might appear quite plain to the accidental passer-by, but stay a while, and you just might find its true charm, nestled beside the main avenue, in rows of crooked brick houses, with their tell-tale painted shutters and meticulously manicured gardens (and beyond).
We'll reach it by foot, a mere 35 minute walk from (our even smaller) Oudelande. Well before the town's center, just after the small canal, we see a sign for the "Hellenburg" ruins, and decide to stop to explore.
The crunch-crunch of the sea-shell footpath beneath our feet reminds us of the proximity of the sea, while the freshly plowed land dividing the ruins from the town lends its soil-rich scent. From the original castle, only the foundation remains, but it's easy to imagine what it might have looked like, with the nine grand towers and fortress-like wall, surrounded by the characteristic moat.
Sadly, since there are no proper printed travel guides of Zeeland (in english, anyway - Lonely Planet only dedicates a few pages to the region in their Netherlands guide), findings such as these are left largely to chance. On the flip side, when you do come across one of the many castles, villas, or ruins (afterall, it's just a matter of time) you can be certain that these special landmarks will seldom be overrun with tourists.
But there is more to explore, so come along with me. We'll be tempted to stop at the old church, which has been converted into a "Brasserie", and has a sign out front, inviting us in for a cappuccino, but let's save that for last.
We'll keep right, walking along Baarland's main street, with its shutter-clad brick homes. We'll pause for a photo of the "Frituur", with its 1950's-style sign; the art shop, with its nature-inspired oil paintings displayed in the window; the pond, with it's two grand lion sculptures; the grassy park area with a gazebo as its centerpiece; the "new" church and bell tower, and wait, what's that? There's a castle, barely visible, just behind the church. The little bit that we can see is really spectacular, but no matter which direction we walk, it seems impossible to get to it.
We resolve to inquire about it at the Brasserie, over coffee and pancakes.
The Brasserie, known as De Kleine Toren van Baarland, looks very classy, and as we've brought the dog and baby along, we doubt that we'll be able to dine there today. We sneak in to ask if it's alright, and she says, "Oh yes! Some people even request special chairs for their dogs!". Relieved, we take a seat at a nearby table, and Lukas toddles over to the special kids table, complete with child-size chairs and a wide assortment of toys.
At first, classical music is playing in the background, probably the preferred music of the refined-retirees dining by the window. Classical really seems fitting for this beautiful old church, but when the other guests leave, the music becomes trendier, as if to acknowledge our arrival.
We inquire about the castle at the town's center, and, as we expected, it's a private castle, whose (apparently incredible) gardens are open twice during the summer for visitors.
It's a weekday, and we're now the only guests, which probably explains why our service is absolutely perfect. And the food is no different, making us feel like we're on Cloud 9 (despite the dog's crazy antics and the baby going "number 2" in the absence of a spare diaper).
We come to the conclusion that Baarland, and it's tiny, refined (and seemingly out of place) Brasserie, is remarkable, and it's right here, in our backyard. What a perfect way to spend Thanksgiving day.
We missed the monumental American Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, but we made up for it with European castles, fresh air, and sunshine. What more could we ask for?