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Set your worries aside on the boardwalk and beaches along the North Sea. (Picasa/Barbara Ramsay Orr)
Set your worries aside on the boardwalk and beaches along the North Sea. (Picasa/Barbara Ramsay Orr)

The Hague, unbuttoned: Dining, shopping and lounging in this vibrant city Add to ...

The shopping is good. Along Hoogestraat you’ll find Ogen, Eduard Pelger and Dunklemens (famous for its croquettes), all upmarket Dutch shops. If remarkable undergarments interest you, be sure to visit Marlies Dekkers’ shop on the Denneweg to pick up a “little nothing” from her Undressed line. Amble by the shops in the grand glass-roofed Passage, or swan around the cafés and stores in the new Haagsche Bluf (the Hague Boast).

The Noordeinde is the most fashionable shopping street, with Maison de Bonneterie, Pauw, and Hoogeweegen Rouwers rumoured to be favourite shops of the Dutch royals. I love the funky fitted jackets and short swagged skirts in Purdey and the classic elegance of a pleated yellow silk dress in the windows of Frans Hoogendorn.

When I observe that the Dutch are better dressed than North Americans, Mr. Dorr smiles. “Ah, those are Hagenaars,” he tells me, “the affluent, slightly posh denizens of the old city, not to be confused with ‘hagenezen,’ those born outside the circle of the city.” Two young women walk by, dressed even on this warm day in head-to-toe black, with high leather boots, couturier outfits and splendid hats. “Yep, Hagenaars,” he nods.

Nicknamed Manhattan by the Sea, The Hague is a true seaside city, with beaches and miles of sandy dunes lying minutes from its centre. An easy 15-minute tram ride, or a 20-minute bike ride, brings you to a whole new face of The Hague, where ties are loosened and briefcases are exchanged for beach bags. The seaside resorts of Scheveningen and Kijkduin lure city dwellers out to swim in the North Sea, to walk the miles of white beaches or lounge in the sun with a glass of Heineken at one of the clubs along the boardwalk.

Stretched out beside the sand, with a cold drink in one hand, I was impressed by a surprisingly aggressive game of beach volleyball. There were sailboats and yachts on the horizon, and bungee jumpers leapt from the observation tower at the end of the pier. As the sun got lower, the music got louder and clubs in the beach pavilions along the boulevard began to prepare for the evening crowd. The lights in the layer-cake-pretty Steigenberger Kurhaus Hotel winked on. This is the summer place to be in The Hague – by the water, in the dunes, under the stars.

Still, the city’s museums are the real treasures. Beguiling stops for art lovers are the Mauritshuis, described as the most beautiful museum in the world, the Gemeentemuseum, which specializes in classical modern art, Museum Het Paleis, which displays the inscrutable graphic works of M.C. Escher, and Panorama Mesdag, which contains the world’s oldest 19th-century panorama still in its original site.

The art of the table flourishes here, as well. The Hague has its own culinary specialties but, like its citizens, the restaurants are international and you can find almost any cuisine represented well. It’s most famous for Indonesian, however, a flavour rooted in The Hague’s history: The city’s nickname is the Widow of Indonesia, as many of the plantation owners and employees of the Dutch East India Company came from here.

Garoeda is one of the best known Indonesian restaurants in the old part of the city, so I headed there for the house specialty, the rijstaffel, or rice table, a dizzying collection of different dishes. Chicken satay, shrimp in coconut sauce, chicken with peanut sauce, spicy beef, bitter melon, sweet and sour cucumbers, prawn crackers – 17 dishes altogether in the version I ordered, served with bowls of white rice.

“The rijstaffel is more Dutch than Indonesian in style,” Mr. Dorr explained. “We don’t like to waste anything, so the ladies who ran households on plantations wouldn’t throw out the leftovers. Instead they had them served in a collection, with rice, at the end of the week.” Now a culinary tour de force of Indonesian specialties, it was origin-ally the result of Dutch parsimony.

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