Clingendael, a stunning public park in the Netherlands, is nestled between The Hague and Wassenaar. It’s a real walking park, as most paths are paved, making the estate very accessible for wheelchair users and strollers. For cyclists, there is a riding route through the dune forest of the park. The landscape is designed in the English landscape style and boasts magnificent buildings, gardens filled with towering trees, and tranquil water features. Yet there’s also a touch of the Orient within its lush canopy, unique in the Netherlands.
The estate’s crown jewel is the unique Japanese Garden, open only for a limited period in spring and autumn each year. The estate, with its lush nature, meandering walkways, and expansive playing fields, offers a serene retreat from city life. At 6800 square meters, it’s the largest Asian garden in Holland and home to rare plants, including a thriving collection of Sakura (Japanese Cherry Trees) which bloom in the first weeks of spring.
Clingendael Park, like most things in Holland, has a long and rich history. In the early 1500s, the parkland was a working farm in a ‘clinge’, a valley between the dunes; hence the name. It was transformed into a country estate with a fine manor house about a century later. Extensive gardens were soon developed, crafted in the then-dominant French style, and adorned with topiary, symmetrical landscaping, and box hedges.
Around 1800 a baron from the Van Brienen family bought the property and expanded it with the purchase of adjacent lands in 1839. They constructed the elegant Hotel Des Indes nearby partly to serve their own entitled visitors. The family also commissioned landscape architect Jan David Zocher to replace the original French garden with the more fashionable English landscape style. The large pond, winding paths, flower islands, intriguing layouts, and green lawns dotted with Japanese Maple trees are a testament to that period.
By the turn of the century, horse breeder Marguérite Mary was the last of the Van Brienen family to live on the plantation. ‘Daisy,’ as she was known, was deeply affected by her visit to Japan in 1909 and had the wonderful Japanese Gardens built in response a year later. She also added stables for her prized stallions and renovated the main manor house, where she lived until World War II.
WAR & PEACE
Soon after Daisy’s passing in 1939, things took a dark turn in The Netherlands, but Clingendael’s role during WWII is noteworthy. Dr. Arthur Seyss-Inquart, a German Nazi collaborator, took up residence and had a series of air raid shelters built there to protect himself. Afterwards the estate became a German command center as the bunkers had become a meeting place for the Third Reich. Rumors of torture and murders on the property alarmed Dutch citizens, who avoided the area when possible. The doctor was excuted at Nuremberg in 1946.
After the war, civility returned and the Van Brienen family regained control of the estate. They sold it to the municipality of The Hague in 1952, opening the parklands to the public for the first time. Over the years, the city took great care of the landscape, adding winding greenways and paved footpaths for all to enjoy.
Following a comprehensive renovation of the manor, the The Netherlands Institute of International Relations began operating from the house in 1982. The ‘Institute Clingendael‘ as its also known, is a special international think tank of important diplomats and a powerful presence in the City of Peace.
Unfortunately, a new, heavily fortified United States Embassy was built on the edge of the property in 2006 against local protests and is still controversial.