The largest lake of the Netherlands: the IJsselmeer (IJssel Lake)
Vast waters for experienced water sports enthusiasts
Northeast of Amsterdam you will find the largest lake of the Netherlands: the IJsselmeer. The lake
was created through the process of damming in 1932, with the creation of the 32 kilometre long
Afsluitdijk. Because of this, the water transformed from a rough sea into a large freshwater lake
with plenty of opportunities for recreation. These include professional sailing with historic sailboats
and modern catamarans, to wind and kite surfing.
The Markermeer (Marker Lake), 700 square kilometres in size, borders the IJsselmeer on the
Southwest. The two lakes are separated from each other by the ‘Markerwaarddijk’, a 26 km long
road that connects the cities Lelystad and Enkhuizen. Driving on the dike by car you’ll discover that
the view of the IJsselmeer is breathtaking. The Markermeer is named after the peninsula Marken,
located in the Southwest of the lake.
Origin of the IJsselmeer and Markermeer
The Zuiderzee, the largest inland sea in the Netherlands, was extremely important for international
commercial shipping and fishing. The VOC-ships (ships belonging to the United East Indian
Company) that sailed to Hoorn and Amsterdam, contributed greatly to the economic prosperity of
the cities. At the same time, it was extremely infuriating to island residents of Urk and Schokland,
who well into the 19th century suffered from the Zuiderzee, which fiercely struck the coast. Whole
pieces of land were inundated with seawater, greatly damaging farmland.
A plan surfaced: dikes and polders would have to protect the mainland. In 1920, the first building of
the first dike commenced and in 1932 the Zuiderzee was completely closed in by the Afsluitdijk. The
IJsselmeer was born.
Flevoland, the ‘new’ land
The plan also included the creation of polders: the new land. In 1940, the Afsluitdijk was closed on
the side bordering the province of Overijssel and the draining could begin. Quickly thousands of
people from all over the country came to live in the Noordoostpolder. For many, this was also a way
to avoid being sent to Germany to work in the war industry. The draining of the land was hard work.
Most of the work had to be done by hand as big machines didn’t exist yet. Roads had to be
constructed, ditches had to be dug, canals deepened and farms and homes had to be built The new
polders, together the province Flevoland, were primarily meant for agriculture.
The Afsluitdijk is 30 kilometres in length and 90 metres in width. It runs from Den Oever in Noord-
Holland, to Zurich in Friesland. The Afsluitdijk is actually a dam: there are locks for shipping. The
Markerwaarddijk, officially the Houtribdijk, was completed in 1976 and runs from Enkhuizen in
Noord-Holland, to Lelystad in Flevoland.
Ports in the new land
Flevoland has two major ports: Almere and Lelystad. The port of Almere is in the oldest part of the
city, where water sports and water recreation in combination with art and cultural activities colour
the scene. The harbour to the Gooimeer offers pleasant surroundings, with a lot of restaurants, a
casino and a small marina. Famous events in the Port of Almere include the Stoomfestival and the
Almere Haven Festival, this appeals to around 50 thousand visitors annually. Since a few years the
Almere Triathlon has been organized in the Port of Almere.
Lelystad is rich in water. The municipally has no less than 17 kilometres coastline on the
Markermeer and IJsselmeer. Because of this there are dozens of opportunities to, both actively and
passively, recreate on or near the water. Lelystad has five marinas with over three thousand berths.
Besides two beaches Lelystad has a well equipped indoor pool, plenty of open water and a labyrinth
of waterways where you can enjoy quiet fishing, boating or sailing.
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Water recreation, especially for experienced water sport enthusiasts
The Markermeer and IJsselmeer are beautiful sailing areas for water sport enthusiasts. With a
sailboat, yacht or catamaran- large or small- it is a challenging environment for yachtsmen. Speed
devils can jet ski here or sail on a powerboat.
There are no real routes and that adds to the fun. You can sail wherever you want, for instance to
the great ports of Hoorn, Enkhuizen or Edam.
In the (late) summer the great lakes are often the location of great sailing competitions. The
Bontekoe race is a regatta for charter ships and traditional fishing boats. The great number of
different boats, including clippers, tjalk boats and fishing boats give a great insight into the Dutch
sailing heritage. The most international and annual event is the 24 hour sailing race in which over
700 yachts from the Netherlands and abroad compete in the hopes of becoming victorious. In
Medemblik, nearby the finish line, there will be a great party.
Oostvaardersplassen (Oostvaarder Lakes), an unexpected piece of nature
The vast, swampy landscape of the Oostvaardersplassen is unique in the Netherlands. It is a pristine
area where nature can do whatever it wants. The immense natural area (5,600 acres) located in
between Almere and Lelystad was more or less created randomly. It was originally intended as an
industrial area, but because it was located relatively low, it was a wet area where reed, cattail and
willow emerged. Soon geese, ducks and the, at that time rare, Canary drum flocked to the area,
marking the start of this important natural area.
The largest part of the Oostvaardersplassen consists of water and swamps and cannot be accessed
by man, but the hiking and cycling paths offer lookout points and observation huts from which the
unique area can be enjoyed. The Oostvaardersdijk and the Knardijk have rightfully earned their
name ‘bird boulevards.’ These dams offer a majestic view of the open marsh landscape. Feeding
spoonbills often gather underneath the dam and also hundreds of Heck cattle, American elks and
Konik horses graze here regularly. For those who want to come even closer, there are special shelter
Amsterdam, May 2010
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