Westerwolde is a region in the southeast of in Groningen province in the Netherlands. The region consists of the municipalities of Vlagtwedde and Bellingwedde, that plan to merge and become the municipality of Westerwolde in 2018. Westerwolde is a rural area with about 30 villages and hamlets. The largest village in the region is Ter Apel (population 6,000), with the other main villages being Vlagtwedde, Sellingen, Bellingwolde and Blijham. A small, but touristic village is Bourtange, which consists of a star-shaped fort.
In some definitions, the municipality of Stadskanaal is also part of Westerwolde. However, Stadskanaal is also part of the Veenkoloniën (Peat District), and described in that article.
The Westerwolde region is in the southeast of the province of Groningen, bordering Germany (the Western Plains) to the east and Drenthe province to the south. The region is famous for the fortified villages of Oudeschans and especially Bourtange. Just as in other relatively remote regions of the Netherlands, Westerwolde suffers from a declining and ageing population.
There are four tourist information centres in the region. A fifth tourist office for Westerwolde is located in the larger town of Stadskanaal. In addition to these tourist offices, there are various 'tourist info agencies', i.e. restaurants, drugstores, campsites, or museums that provide tourist information. For an overview of such agencies, see the website of Tourist Info Westerwolde.
- 1 Tourist Info Vlagtwedde, Dr. P. Rinsemastraat 7b, Vlagtwedde (in the public library), ☏ . April-October Mon-Sat 10:00-12:00.
- 2 Tourist Info Bourtange, Willem Lodewijkstraat 33, Bourtange (in the information centre of the fortress), ☏ . Daily 10:00-17:00.
- 3 Tourist Info Sellingen, Dorpsstraat 32, Sellingen, ☏ . April-October Tue-Sat 13:00-16:00.
- 4 Tourist Info Ter Apel, Markt 29, Ter Apel, ☏ . Mon-Fri 13:15-16:00, Sat 10:00-12:00.
There are no motorways or expressways in the Westerwolde region, but several key roads are nearby.
- The east-west A7 motorway passes just north of the region, with access to Westerwolde via the exit at Winschoten and the N367 trunk road.
- The north-south N33 expressway passes just west of the region, with access to Westerwolde via the exit at Veendam and the N366 trunk road.
- On the southern side, the A37 motorway passes about 20 km south of the region (exit Emmen, access to Westerwolde via N34 and N391).
- On the eastern side, the German A31 Autobahn runs parallel to the border. From the exit at Haren, expressway B408 leads to Ter Apel, and from exit Dörpen local roads lead to Bourtange.
From the city of Groningen (and the nearest airport, Groningen Airport Eelde), the fastest route to the northern part of Westerwolde is via the A7, exit Winschoten (Groningen to the village of Blijham takes about 30 minutes). To the southern part of Westerwolde, the fastest route is via the A7 (to Zuidbroek) and N33 (to Veendam), followed by several trunk roads. From Groningen city to the village of Ter Apel, the drive takes about 50 minutes.
From destinations in the south and west of the Netherlands, the fastest way is via Emmen (A37). For example, from Schiphol Airport the drive takes about 2.5 hours.
By public transport
Being a relatively remote and sparsely populated region, access by public transport is rather limited. There is no railway station in Westerwolde, the nearest railway stations being in Winschoten in the north (with local trains to Groningen city) and Emmen in the south (with local trains to Zwolle). There are some useful bus routes into the Westerwolde region, all operated by Qbuzz:
- Bus route 12 (1x/hour): from Winschoten to Westerwolde (Bellingwolde, Blijham).
- Bus route 14 (1x/hour): from Winschoten via Westerwolde (Blijham, Wedde, Vlagtwedde) to Stadskanaal.
- Bus route 42 (1-2x/hour) from Emmen to Westerwolde (Ter Apel, sometimes to Sellingen, Bourtange, Vlagtwedde).
- Bus route 73 (1x/hour) from Groningen via Hoogezand, Stadskanaal, Westerwolde (Ter Apelkanaal, Ter Apel) and Nieuw Weerdinge to Emmen.
Westerwolde is, like much of Drenthe and Groningen, covered in canals. These canals, originally used for transporting peat, which the region contained, nowadays allow for an easy connection from city to city, as most of the cities formed and grew along these canals. Canals such as the Ruiten-Aa-kanaal, however, do contain a lot of locks, as well as many bridges, many of which are manually operated. On a good day, however, this is well compensated by the weather, view and ease of transport by boat. If you qualify to rent a boat or own one yourself, then consider exploring the region by boat.
For those that do not have access to a boat, a bike is a typical way of exploring the Netherlands. The road network is well-maintained, bike routes are in high quantities, both for citybikes and mountainbikes. Don't own one or unable to bring one? Some bike repair shops rent out bikes as well. By far the biggest one in the region is 5 Rolfes Sports. in Musselkanaal. For something closer-by, simply asking at the service desk of your hotel or campsite, as well as a tourist office can help you find one in your vicinity. Some of the hotels and campsites also offer bike rental. For a day, costs are around €15, for a week about €75.
- 1 Fort Bourtange (Vesting Bourtange), Willem Lodewijkstraat 33, Bourtange (From Vlagtwedde, follow the N365 heading for Bourtange. Once in Bourtange, keep going straight, even where the N365 bends off to the right. Follow this street (Willem Lodewijkstraat) and you will find yourself on the parking of the fortifications.), ☏ . Information centre open Mon-Fri 9:15-17:00, Sat-Sun 10:00-17:00. The main draw of the Westerwolde region: one of the best surviving examples of a star fort in Europe. There's a range of historic buildings and artefacts. Main sights include the picturesque market square, the church, a gunpowder house, and various museums. Especially in summer, regular events are organized to increase the historic feel of town. For more information, see the guide on Bourtange. Free entrance to fort; entrance to museums €8.50.
- 2 Oudeschans. A fortified hamlet built in 1593 during the Eighty Years' War, with a population of about 100. The meaning of Oudeschans is 'Old Sconce', i.e. old fortification. There are several national monuments in the village, including a 17th-century garrison church, walls, canals, and bastions.
- Bourtange for an overview.
- 3 Vestingmuseum Oudeschans (Fortification Museum), Molenweg 6, Oudeschans, ☏ . Wed-Sun 13:00-17:00. Museum in the fortified hamlet of Oudeschans. The museum shows the history of the 16th-century fortification and has a collection of archaeological findings. €3.
- 4 Ter Apel Monastery (Klooster Ter Apel), Boslaan 3, Ter Apel, ☏ . Tue-Sat 10:00-17:00, Sun 13:00-17:00. The only remaining rural monastery from the Middle Ages in the Netherlands. Construction took place from 1465 to 1561. In the monastery, there is now a Museum for Monastery and Church History & Religious Art. Adults €7.50.
For restaurants within the fort walls of Bourtange, see the specific article on the village of Bourtange.
- 1 Restaurant De Sultan, Wilhelminastraat 39, Vlagtwedde, ☏ . Daily 15:00-22:00. Turkish restaurant. Main courses about €15.
- 2 Restaurant De Ruiten Aa, Zevenmeersveenweg 1, Sellingen, ☏ . Wed-Thu 9:30-20:00, Fri-Sun 9:30-21:00. Restaurant with a nice terrace near the Ruiten Aa river, with seasonal regional food. Main courses €15-20.
For places to sleep within or near the fort walls of Bourtange, see the specific article on the village of Bourtange.
- 1 Hotel Boschhuis, Boslaan 6, Ter Apel, ☏ . Hotel opposite the Ter Apel Monastery. Double rooms from €87.50 per night.
- 2 Hotel de Waalehof, Weenderstraat 4, Sellingen (in the hamlet of Jipsinghuizen), ☏ . Appartments and hotel rooms in a large farmhouse. From €33 per person per night.
- 3 Herberg Sellingen, Dorpstraat 37, Sellingen, ☏ . €92.
- 4 Camping Moekesgat, Heembadweg 17, Ter Apel, ☏ .
- 5 Camping Roelage, Ruiten A Kanaal West V2a, Ter Apel, ☏ .
- 6 Camping De Papaver, Beetserweg 58A, Sellingen, ☏ .
- 7 Camping de Barkhoorn, Beetserweg 6, Sellingen, ☏ .
- 8 Camping 't Plathuis, Bourtangerkanaal-Noord, Bourtange, ☏ .
- 9 Camping de Bronzen Eik, Zevenmeerseveenweg 1, Sellingen, ☏ .
- 10 Mini-camping de T-Tuin, Vledderkamp 85, Vlagtwedde, ☏ .
- 11 Camping Boerenbont, Venneweg 4, Vlagtwedde, ☏ .
- 12 Camping Wedderbergen, Molenweg 2, Wedde, ☏ .
- Veenkoloniën — Groningen's 'Peat District', characterised by long, straight canals with linear settlements.
- Oldambt — Just north of Westerwolde, the region known for its yellow rapeseed fields and 'windmill city' Winschoten.
- East Frisia — the far northwest of Germany, including the East Frisian Islands.