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In earlier times, the territory southeast of Amsterdam was a place of strategic importance, as evidenced by the grand military constructions still standing today, such as the 13th-century Muiderslot moated castle in Muiden -- itself a handsome village of gabled houses along the waterfront at the mouth of the Vecht River -- and the star-shaped fortifications of Naarden.

Naarden

19km (12 miles) E of Amsterdam

The highlight of this small town is that it has one of Holland's best-preserved rings of old military fortifications.

Getting There -- Trains depart every hour or so from Amsterdam Centraal Station to Naarden-Bussum station; the ride takes around 25 minutes, and a round-trip ticket is 7.60€ ($12). By car from Amsterdam, take E231/A1 east.

Visitor Information -- VVV Naarden, Adriaan Dortsmanplein 1B, 1411 RC, Naarden (tel. 035/694-2836; fax 035/694-3424; www.vvvhollandsmidden.nl), is located inside the walls of the old town. The office is open May to October Monday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm, Saturday from 10am to 3pm, and Sunday from noon to 3pm; November to April, it's open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 2pm.

What to See & Do -- Much in the spirit of locking the barn door after the horse had bolted, the surviving inhabitants of Naarden erected their double fortifications, in the shape of a beautiful 12-pointed-star, after the town was brutally sacked and its populace put to the sword by Don Fadrique Álvarez de Toledo and his Spanish troops in 1572. The inhabitants might have spared themselves the trouble, since the French were able to storm the works in 1673.

Beneath the Turfpoort, one of six bastions, you can visit the casemates (artillery vaults) which house the Nederlands Vestingmuseum (Dutch Fortification Museum), Westwalstraat 6 (tel. 035/694-5459; www.vestingmuseum.nl), filled with cannon, muskets, accouterments, and documentation. The museum is open mid-March to October, Tuesday to Friday from 10:30am to 5pm, and Saturday, Sunday, and holidays from noon to 5pm; November to mid-March, Sunday from noon to 5pm; Christmas/New Year, Saturday before Christmas to Sunday after New Year, Tuesday to Friday from 10:30am to 5pm, and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5pm. It's closed January 1, December 25 and 31. Admission is 5.50€ ($8.80) for adults, 4.50€ ($7.20) for seniors, 3€ ($4.80) for children 5 to 12, and free for children 4 and under.

Take in the town's 15th-century late-Gothic Grote Kerk (Great Church), Marktstraat (tel. 035/694-9873), noted for its 45m-high (148-ft.) tower, fine acoustics, and annual pre-Easter performances of Bach's St. Matthew Passion. The church is open June to September daily from 1 to 4pm. Admission is free.

An American Life -- American artist William Henry Singer (1868-1943) chose to live and paint in the clear light of Holland rather than follow his family's traditional path to fame and fortune via the steel mills of Pittsburgh. He settled in suburban Laren, a haven for artists of the Laren, Hague, and Amsterdam schools, 26km (16 miles) southeast of Amsterdam. Among the town's star residents was Dutch Impressionist Anton Mauve (1838-88), an uncle of Vincent van Gogh.

Singer's home, a 1911 villa he called the Wild Swans, is now the Singer Museum, Oude Drift 1 (tel. 035/539-3939; www.singerlaren.nl). It houses Impressionist-influenced paintings by Singer and his collection of works by American, Dutch, French, and Norwegian artists. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 11am to 5pm (closed Jan 1 and Dec 25). Admission is 11€ ($18) for adults, and free for children 12 and under. To get here from Hilversum and Naarden, take bus no. 109, which stops at the museum.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.