Amsterdam’s enclave of peace and tranquillity

A historic courtyard in the city centre was once home to a pious order of women. It is still a wonderfully peaceful spot, though these days anyone is free to enjoy its serenity

In Amsterdam’s busy centre, on the northern side of the square called the Spui, an unassuming timber door is a portal into one of the city’s most magical spots: a 14th-century enclosed courtyard where tiny gabled houses – all different – wrap around green lawns. Traffic noise vanishes and the serenity is almost startling – particularly these days, with parts of the city now suffering the detrimental effects of mass tourism.

This former convent (of sorts) was home to the Beguines, a Catholic order of unmarried or widowed women who lived like nuns although they didn’t take monastic vows. The last died in 1971.

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