Literally meaning 'The Low Countries,' almost half of the Netherlands once lay underwater. On the delta of three major rivers - the Rhine, Maas, and Scheldt - the country owes its existence to the conquest of water through astonishing feats of hydraulic engineering. From the 16th century, windmills were used not just to keep the land dry but also to drain entire inland lakes.
With around half of the country still at or below sea level, the fertile, pancake-flat stretches of land known as polders are bisected by a network of drainage ditches and canals which control the water table beneath huge open skies – while miles of protective dunes protect the long coastline to the west and north. But the Netherlands is just as remarkable in many other ways. One of the most urbanized and densely populated nations on earth, almost 17 million people (on average the tallest in the world) live in an area little more than half the size of Scotland. The towns and villages of the country's twelve provinces are often picture-perfect places of gabled townhouses, pretty canals, and church spires - each one often a profoundly separate place with its own distinct identity.
There’s perhaps nowhere else in the world where you can hear so many different accents, even dialects, in such a small area. In spring and summer, the world-famous bulbfields turn into huge, bold vistas of color. Originating not from the Netherlands but Turkey, tulips continue to grow extremely well on Dutch soil and have almost become part of the national identity.