From the long barrier of the Afsluitdijk, the east shore of Holland's great lake curves south through a string of historic towns that shelter behind the coastal dike.

Makkum

30km (19 miles) W of Leeuwarden; 17km (11 miles) SW of Franeker

A small harbor town 8km (5 miles) south of the Afsluitdijk, Makkum has been home to tile makers and ceramics craftspeople since the 1500s. Getting there by public transportation from Leeuwarden takes around an hour by bus and is somewhat complicated. Take Connexxion bus 350 from the bus station, and transfer at the Afsluitdijk to Connexxion bus 96 for Makkum. It's a lot easier to get around by car in these parts.

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What to See & Do -- Connoisseur, polychrome Makkumware ceramics -- fully the equal of (some would say superior to) Delft Blue from De Koninklijke Porcelyne Fles -- are produced at the workshop of Koninklijke Tichelaar Makkum, Turfmarkt 65 (tel. 0515/231-341; www.tichelaar.nl), founded in 1594 and now in its 10th generation of family management. Guides take you through the entire production process, in which craftspeople employ the same procedures as in the 17th century. Watch the exquisite designs being painted by hand. Tichelaars is sold in specialized stores all over the country. At the salesroom, you can buy anything from a simple tile to a larger piece with an elaborate design. The workshop is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5:30pm, and Saturday from 10am to 5pm; admission is 4.50€ ($7.20) for adults, 2.50€ ($4) for children ages 6 to 15, and free for children 5 and under.

The Waag (Weigh House), a square, towerlike structure in the heart of town dating from 1698, constructed of brick and topped with an elegant steeple, was used for weighing cheese and butter. Its ground floor has quaint, oval windows; the upper floors have shuttered windows.

Heading south from Makkum to Workum (Warkum), take in the intriguing modern art of beloved local artist Jopie Huisman (1922-2000). The Jopie Huisman Museum, Noard 6 (tel. 0515/543-131; www.jopiehuismanmuseum.nl), is open January to October Monday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm, and Sunday and holidays from 1 to 5pm; November to December, it's open daily from 1 to 5pm. Admission is 5€ ($8) for adults, and free for children 12 and under.

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Hindeloopen (Hylpen)

39km (24 miles) SW of Leeuwarden; 20km (12 miles) S of Makkum

Like something out of a Dutch fairy tale, this tiny 13th-century Hanseatic League trading port on the IJsselmeer is filled with charming houses and crisscrossed by small canals with wooden bridges. Talented craftspeople from the village have for centuries adorned their homes, furniture, cupboard beds, and even wooden coat hangers with vivid colors and intricately entwined vines and flowers. It's thought the designs were originally brought from Scandinavia by Hindeloopen sailors who sailed the North Sea in the days when the IJsselmeer was the Zuiderzee.

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Getting There -- Hourly trains go from Stavoren and Leeuwarden to Hindeloopen station, just outside the village. Cars are not allowed in many of the village's narrow streets.

Visitor Information -- VVV Hindeloopen, Nieuwstad 26, 8713 JL Hindeloopen (tel. 0514/851-223; www.vvvhindeloopen.nl), is in the village center.

What to See & Do -- A good place to view Hindeloopen's decorative designs is the Museum Hindeloopen, Dijkweg 1 (tel. 0514/521-420; www.museumhindeloopen.nl), across from the village's 17th-century Grote Kerk (Great Church), on the northwest edge of town. Each room presents a varied collection of period furniture and local costumes. There's a splendid selection of Dutch tiles, and every wooden surface seems covered in bright designs. The museum is open April to October Monday to Friday from 11am to 5pm, and Saturday, Sunday, and holidays from 1:30 to 5pm. Admission is 3€ ($4.80) for adults, 2.25€ ($3.60) for seniors, 1.80€ ($2.90) for children ages 6 to 16, free for children 5 and under, and 7.50€ ($12) for families.

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Alternatively, you could visit one of the village workshops and see for yourself how the furniture is decorated. Het Roosje, Nieuwstad 44 (tel. 0514/521-251), is a workshop established in 1894 that specializes in woodcarving.

Stavoren (Starum)

46km (29 miles) SW of Leeuwarden; 7km (4 1/2 miles) SW of Hindeloopen

Founded in 500 B.C. and once a capital of the ancient Frisian kings, then a medieval mercantile center and member of the powerful Hanseatic League, Stavoren has shriveled considerably from those heady days. Yet it remains a handsome small harbor town, for fishing boats and pleasure craft. Small boats and antique Frisian skûtsje sailing vessels shuttle through the town's Johan Friso Canal between the IJsselmeer and the Frisian lakes.

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An hourly train from Leeuwarden stops in end-of-the-line Stavoren. In summer months, a passenger-and-bike ferry operated by Rederij V&O (tel. 0228/326-667; www.veerboot.info) crosses over to and from Enkhuizen on the IJsselmeer's western shore, a 90-minute trip, from where there are train connections with Amsterdam. One-way fares are 9.80€ ($16) for adults, 6.20€ ($10) for children ages 4 to 11, and free for children 3 and under; day round-trip fares are 13€ ($21) and 7.60€ ($12), respectively.

Visitor information is available from VVV Stavoren, Stationsweg 7, 8715 ES Stavoren (tel. 0900/540-0001; www.stavoren.vakantieland.nl).

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.