The Noord-Brabant village of Nuenen is a fairly unremarkable Dutch settlement, with some attractive houses and pretty surrounding scenery – apart from one key thing. Vincent van Gogh lived in the town for a time as a young man, and that has put Nuenen into a different league.
Van Gogh went to Nuenen to live with his parents once again from December 1883 to November 1885, writing to his brother Theo that “And the Brabant one has dreamed of, reality sometimes comes very close to it … I must confess that it strongly attracts me again.”
The town is all out Van Gogh – from a bronze version of the Potato Eaters on the village green, to the names of its main hotel. Town officials and art lovers have been very crafty in making the most of what was a short-lived connection.
Our visit coincided with Nuenen’s annual blues festival, so it may have been untypically busy. But if you are a Van Gogh fan, a trip to Nuenen is essential, given its influence on his early work and the fact he painted his favourite work, the Potato Eaters, while living there. If you are simply curious about Van Gogh’s time in the Netherlands, you will find plenty to entertain you as well.
What to do
Visit the Van Gogh Village Museum
The Van Gogh Village Museum re-opened in April after a major extension and renovation, and aims to take visitors on a journey through the misunderstood painter’s times and techniques when he lived in the region.
There are no real Van Gogh’s on show, but the museum does its best to tell the Brabant side of his story through other artifacts, including documents and photographs, in a lively and interactive way.
It also includes a recreation of the Potato Eaters room for selfie fans and contemporary art exhibitions, including photography inspired by Van Gogh. There is plenty of hands on stuff for children to do as well. Read our earlier article about the museum.
Walk the Van Gogh walk
At the museum you can also pick up a map for the Van Gogh walk around the village, which takes you past a number of key landmarks, including the house where the Potato Eaters was painted and the tiny church where his father was pastor.
The walk starts opposite the museum at the parsonage where his parents lived. If you walk down the narrow alley you can peek through the hedge at the old cowshed where Van Gogh slept and worked – his parents apparently banned him from the house because he was so difficult.
The route, which covers around four kilometres, is a little tricky to follow at times so keep your wits about you. There is also a longer, 10 kilometer walking route around Nuenen for keener ramblers.
Check out the rest of Van Gogh’s Brabant heritage
Nuenen may have the Potato Eaters, but other Brabant villages are also keen to exploit their links to the great man. Zundert, where Van Gogh was born, has the Van Gogh House, Etten-Leur, where he first registered as a painter in 1881, has the Van Gogh church, in Tilburg you can visit the place where he learned to draw and Helvoirt, where the family lived for a time, has a walk of its own around seven “Van Gogh monuments”.
Visit the Van Gogh-inspired Starry Night bike path
Between Nuenen and Eindhoven you can find the 600 metre Starry Night bike path installed by artist Daan Rosengaarde, which takes cyclists and walkers along a route studded with thousands of twinkling stones. You need to visit at dusk or when dark to get the best effect.
The bike path forms part of a longer route past some of the key landmarks and inspiration during Van Gogh’s Brabant period. There are actually 10 separate routes covering a total of 435 kilometres so cycling fans have no reason to be bored.
See some actual Van Gogh works
The North Brabant Museum in Den Bosch is the only museum in the southern Netherlands to house original works by Vincent van Gogh, dating from his period living in the region. If you want to see the famous paintings, the Kröller Müller museum in the Veluwe national part makes a nice alternative to Amsterdam’s overcrowded Van Gogh museum but is a good 100 minute drive away.
Where to stay
Nuenen itself has one hotel, the Parkhotel Auberge Vincent on the edge of the village green. We stayed in a fairly basic room in the basement and were lucky to find that. The town also has a sprinkling of B&Bs to choose from. Nearby Eindhoven would make a fine alternative base if you have a car or are close to the railway station.
Where to eat
Nuenen is well served by cafes and restaurants, but all seem to close fairly early in the evening, so don’t expect drinking till dawn. Many are located around the village green and serve the usual selection of ribs and burgers. You also have a couple of Chinese eateries to choose from.
We had dinner at Olijf, close to the museum, which was friendly, delicious, and big city prices. Nuenen is also home to De Lindehof, which has two Michelin stars if you really want to push the boat out.
How to get there
The drive from Amsterdam takes about 90 minutes and there is plenty of parking in the village. There are also regular trains from Eindhoven.
As much of the entertainment in Nuenen and its surroundings is outdoors, it is not the best place to visit if it is cold and wet. The blues festival takes place on the Whitsun weekend.
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