The resort of Oostkapelle is on the peaceful northwest coast of Walcheren, once an island that became a peninsula with the construction of the Oosterscheldekering dam in 1986. Middelburg, the capital of Zeeland is only ten kilometres to the south, and in the 17th and 18th century its wealthy citizens founded country estates near the coast at Oostkapelle.
The remnants of these can be seen in the De Manteling, now a nature reserve.
Oostkapelle ‘s untamed Blue Flag beach, accessed via a lane through the dunes, is extraordinary even by Walcheren’s lofty standards.
1. Oostkapelle Beach
To give you a sense of the quality of the beach at Oostkapelle, the resort has won the “Cleanest Beach in the Netherlands ” award four times in the last 15 years.
The last time was in 2017, to go with annual Blue Flag and Quality Coast recognition.
Safe to say that Oostkapelle Beach is pristine, both on the wide stretch of sand, and in the water.
One advantage of a small, quiet resort like Oostkapelle, is that there’s no intrusive development on the dunes behind; just beach pavilions like Berkenbosch, Lage Duintjes, Zeecafe and De Piraat, where you can take lunch and escape from the occasionally blustery wind.
You could stay on these sheltered sun terraces and watch the sunset, which is always a spectacle.
2. Terra Maris
The 18th-century orangery of Kasteel Westhove is the charming venue for a museum about the province of Zeeland’s nature and landscape.
At this location, on the edge of the dunes, you’re only a few hundred metres from the North Sea.
Zeeland’s physical history is an absorbing topic, in a region where large tracts of land have been reclaimed from the North Sea, and where the immense projects for the Delta Works in the 20th century helped keep the Netherlands safe from flooding once and for all.
Some of the exhibition centres on Zeeland’s 100 or so villages lost beneath the waves, enriched with artefacts recovered from these sites.
There are models showing 11th-century farms, as well the dikes built in the 1600s, while an aquarium offers a snapshot of the marine life off Zeeland.
Outside is a 2.5-hectare landscape garden, presenting the region’s various habitats.
3. Kasteel Westhove
Halfway to neighbouring Domburg is Kasteel Westhoeve, a moated Medieval castle that can be viewed from the outside.
Nobody is exactly sure who built this stronghold, but in Medieval times it was under the control of Middelburg Abbey, which wielded serious regional power in this period.
Some of the many powerful people to walk through these doors are Philip I of Castile (1478-1506), as well as his wife and their son Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (1550-1558). The castle took a lot of damage in the Eighty Years’ War later that century, and new estates were established on its land.
Today, there’s a youth hostel inside, while the outbuildings, including the orangery housing Terra Maris, were rebuilt in the 18th century.
4. Molen D’Arke
Coming into Oostkapelle on the Noordweg you may miss this windmill tucked behind the houses.
Molen D’Arke is a tower mill that went up in 1858 to replace an older post mill, re-using some of the mechanism from that earlier mill.
D’Arke has been in the same family since 1950 and was brought back to working order in 2007. Two of the original three pairs of stones still turn, and you can drop by on Fridays on Saturdays in summer to buy a bag of organic flour milled at this fine monument.
If you’re intrigued by the mill’s inner-workings then the miller will be happy to give you a quick guided tour.
5. De Manteling
From Kasteel Westhove and Terra Maris you can stride out into a gorgeous 740-hectare nature reserve, shaped by humans over hundreds of years.
Away from the dunes the reserve covers historic estates founded by the Middelburg elite in the 17th and 18th century.
Some of the holdovers from this period are stately avenues and herds of fallow deer.
You may be fascinated to learn that a lot of the flowering plants like daffodils, snowdrops, rhododendrons, primrose and wood anemones wouldn’t occur naturally here and were introduced by the estates.
Many species of woodpeckers and songbirds breed in De Manteling, and there’s a constant chorus in summer.
You won’t run out of places to go walking in Oostkapelle, as to the east of the town is another tranquil natural space.
Incorporating a piece of coast and its hinterland, the Oranjezon is very diverse, combining beaches, tall dunes, scrubland and forest.
On the trails you may be greeted by herds of wild Konik horses, which are left out on the dune grassland to graze and ensure a wider spectrum of plant life.
Between these meadows and the peaking dunes there’s dense hawthorn and blackberry scrub, which creates a habitat for dozens of breeding bird species.
In autumn the Oranjezon is also visited by migrating birds, swelling the number of varieties spotted each year to 130. You can visit during daylight hours, and have to stick to the designated trails to help maintain this valuable environment.
When it comes to architecture, the essential feature of this church on Waterstraat is the tower, which was put up at the end of the 14th century.
This structure survived the Siege of Middelburg (1572-74) in the Eighty Years’ War, which claimed the rest of the church, as well as a reconstruction that took place in the 1820s.
In summer you can take the stairs to the top for a small fee, to see the two bells, one of which was cast in 1620. Inside you’ll see a wooden pulpit crafted in 1650, and sculptures of angels including St David with a harp that belonged to an 18th-century organ case and now adorn the gallery.
Even in this quiet corner of Walcheren you can access the rest of the peninsula by a whole web of cycling paths, all interconnected.
You can use knooppunten (nodes) where the paths intersect to see everything the peninsula has to offer.
At only half an hour away, this puts the city of Middelburg and all its Dutch East India Company heritage in range.
Locally there are designated routes, Fietsroute in en om Veere and Fietsroute Oostkapelle en Kamperland, that wind through the dunes in the Veere area or out to the gargantuan Oosterscheldekering storm surge barrier in Kamperland.
Being a tourist-oriented place, Oostkapelle has a couple of hire shops, Robbert Boogaard Tweewielers and Bicycle Rental Festina Lente, so you don’t need to worry of you don’t have your own wheels.
The next resort along the coast is a short ten-minute drive, and like Oostkapelle first attracted holidaymakers in the 17th and 18th centuries.
In the 1880s the physician Johann Georg Mezger helped put the Domburg on the maps of Europe’s nobility, ushering in aristocrats and magnates who came for rest cures.
A remnant from this period is the glorious neo-Renaissance Badpaviljoen (bathing pavilion), built in 1888-89 and now containing apartments.
Domburg has another majestic beach, as well as a few historic monuments in its centre like a Baroque former town hall dating from 1667. There’s a few more facilities in Domburg, like a swimming pool, a highly-rated golf course (Domburgsche Golf Club) and a surf school, all just a stone’s throw from Oostkapelle.
Every Thursday there’s a market in the centre of Oostkapelle catering to the annual influx of holidaymakers in the summer months.
The market trades from 10:00 to 19:00 and sells a bit of everything.
There are beach oriented items like books, toys and beach towels, as well as fashion, postcards, perfume, nuts, candy, jewellery, leather goods, and ready-made snacks and meals like freshly cut sandwiches, stroopwafels (caramel pancakes) and poffertjes (mini-pancakes).