Zuid-Holland (South Holland) province takes in a cluster of important cities and towns, all within about an hour's drive or train ride from Amsterdam. Roads pass through a landscape straight out of a painting by one of the Dutch Masters. You'll see flat green fields ribboned with canals and distant church spires piercing a wide sky.

Stately and dignified, the Hague is the Dutch government's home. Technically, it's not a true city -- never having been granted a charter or city rights -- but such a triviality is brushed off with disdain. The Hague's seacoast resort, Scheveningen, makes something of a stab at being Holland's Deauville or Biarritz.

Brash Rotterdam has been commercial to the core from the beginning. Most of its historically significant buildings, along with most of the city, were destroyed in World War II Nazi bombings. Rebuilding was a remarkable feat of modern urban planning. High-rise towers, with straight lines and right angles -- features that until recently were considered anathema in most parts of the country -- mold an oddly attractive open cityscape. Rotterdam has one of the world's busiest ports on its doorstep.

The Hague and Rotterdam, for all their geographical proximity, are about as different as two cities easily could be. Zuid-Holland's trio of venerable art towns have more in common. The triangle formed by Delft, Gouda, and Leiden makes for leisurely sightseeing, with distances short enough to allow you to visit all three from a base in Amsterdam, the Hague, or Rotterdam. Better yet, overnight in any one of the three.