THE ALARM wakes me at 0630. I am down for 0700 and enjoy a hearty breakfast, looking forward to the day ahead.

The day is slowly waking up. It looks like we still have a slight south-westerly blowing. I can tell by the flags fluttering outside the hotel entrance. Seagulls are floating around, catching the thermals.

DSC_5054I take a ride through the Beemster Polder. This scenic landscape is particularly unique, and has been recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

DSC_5064Laid out in a square grid pattern, each length measuring precisely 1,850 metres, the straight roads are peppered with attractive properties, many used as second homes by the rich society of Amsterdam.

DSC_5103I next transfer to the picture-postcard town of Edam. As you would anticipate, cheese is on the menu, with two distinctly authentic cheese shops attracting locals and tourists alike.

DSC_5106Wandering the streets, it is as if one has stepped into a fairytale. I climb the steep, wooden steps to the bell tower of the Old Church, a magnificent structure today used for functions in the town. I enjoy privileged, sweeping views over the rooftops of the old town.

DSC_5112The Zaanse Schans is a totally different affair. This is traditional Holland as you would hope for and expect; a living and breathing museum to times past.

DSC_5066Showing the former wealth of the Zaan area, 1.6 million tourists a year flock to wander the unique houses, small factories and a dozen windmills dotting the landscape, once upon a time a swampland.

DSC_5113It is possible to rent the wooden houses and, by all accounts, once the tourists have dispersed of an evening, the tranquillity of the area is all-consuming.

DSC_5119I check into the Intell Hotel Zaandam and take a boat ride, soaking up the industrial past of the Zaan region with its warehouses, and pass a traditional waterfront property depicted by Monet in one of his paintings. The boat drops me off back in the Zaanse Schans, where I enjoy dinner in an authentic painting mill along the River Zaan, the sails turning and humming their tune to a distant past.

– Michael Cowton

All images © Essential Journeys/Michael Cowton