Texel is one of the Dutch North Sea Islands. More than one thousand hectares of dunes, tall grasses and wild orchids, but only seven villages. It’s in one of those that Nadine and husband Jef have restored the historic vicarage that is now home to a sleek hotel and its Michelin-starred restaurant.
At the northern tip of the island, the red silhouette of the Cocksdorp lighthouse marks the entrance to the Dunes National Park, which stretches the full length of the West coast. It’s a perfect place to explore close-up by bike and spot barnacle geese, hawks, greylag geese, Northern lapwings and many other bird species; it is also home to Highland cattle with their woolly coats and proudly displayed long horns.
On this island, they’re everywhere. Little white fluffy spots on the landscape, outside churches on sea dikes and in the fields: sheep. At the last count, there were 14,000 of them on the island; about the same number as human inhabitants. This pastoral breed is so famous that it is known simply by the name of Texel, and carries the name of the island right around the world. It is bred and valued not only for its wool, also for the tender texture of its lamb meat with its hint of sea air. Just like those around the bay of Mont St Michel.
Den Hoorn is the most southerly village of Texel. In the main street, the exterior of Bij Jef dates from 1830 and differs very little from those of its neighbors. But behind that street frontage, Nadine and Jef have totally reinvented the interior space. A large conservatory serves as the hotel lounge, and floods the dining room with natural light. Upstairs, the majority of the bedrooms are accessed beneath the high glass roof.
With the help of an architect and designer who also live on the island, the couple have designed an almost invisible decorative style for Bij Jef. Plenty of open space, a few lightweight tables and a handful of small velvet sofas... it’s all about comfort. The lounge opens onto a broad patio with views over the fields that surround the village.
The hotel joined Relais & Châteaux in July 2017. “Since then, we’ve seen a much more international profile of guests,” says Nadine. “We have only a dozen rooms and suites, but to maintain our high rating, our team expands to 30 people during the summer months. It’s better to be fully staffed!”
White walls, waxed concrete or leather covered floors and open-plan bathrooms: the style of the rooms and suites (from 40 to 50 m²) is sophisticated contemporary. “We’ll soon have been living on Texel for 20 years,” explains Jef, “and here, it’s right that luxury means comfort without fuss.” That commitment is clear from the duvets lined with local wool and the discreetly sophisticated welcome gifts by Anne Sémonin.
Before its recent total renovation, the reputation of Bij Jef was built for many years on the cuisine of Jef Schuur, who has held one Michelin star since 2009! Jef’s kitchen is open to the dining room, so at every service, diners can see the distinctive mane of hair as the chef works surrounded by his team preparing plates to rock your taste buds.
In fact, Jef's approach has more than a hint of rock ‘n’ roll about it. This die-hard locavore works with local produce whenever he can, but isn’t afraid to have fun with it. The North Sea crab gets it on with marinated tomatoes, the shoulder of Texel lamb is roasted for 12 hours at low temperature, while the ‘uncooked apple tart’ (see photo on left) is served at table with a presentation worthy of a stand-up show.
“I love combining tastes and dishes,” admits Jef, “but I like to do it my way. I want the end result to look simple and obvious. But above all to taste great! I want to surprise and spoil my restaurant guests in equal measure.” Island strawberries and asparagus, shrimps, shellfish, mackerel and langoustine freshly landed at the nearby port: Jef's uncompromising commitment to eating local is one of his greatest strengths.
And his other greatest strength? His wife Nadine. A respected sommelière (not to mention telegenic - she was a judge on the equivalent of MasterChef in her country), Nadine is equally ready to charm you with a German red or a deliciously lemony and salty Chablis from Château de Béru. The bottom line is that the Bij Jef duo works incredibly well. And one day, it’ll be the turn of their son Sam. But he’s only 11 at the moment. So there’s still plenty of time...