After much begging and pleading, I finally found a victim willing to take me to the Orval abbey in Belgium. Country hopping is natural for Europeans, but it still amazes me that I live less than an hour from Belgium! A few country roads later, we were in one of six trappist breweries in Belgium.
Orval is essentially a monastery; the area where the monks live is closed to the public. The monks that live there choose to leave their worldly belongings behind, and devote their lives to prayer. What amazes me is their strong sense of community – not only through worship, but in their daily tasks in the kitchen or in the office. Above you can see part of their herb garden, which stems from a former chemist and pharmacist monk who lived in Orval during the 18th century.
My favorite part of the visit was the ruins from an old church, created before 1200. You can see the new one in the background towering over the ruins. Over time, the church was destroyed by fire and reconstructed, but never completely. The Cistercian Order was given the land in 1926, after hundreds of years of habitation.
Underneath the new abbey, there is a museum revolving around religious artwork and architectural history of the two buildings. There is also a small museum explaining the beer-making process, which was really well presented and organized.
The most interesting part of the abbey is that beer-making has always been a part of its history. Only after the first world war, when the monks needed income to sustain themselves, and started selling their beer and cheese. Now, the monks cherish their sense of hospitality and their beer is known across the world, and it comes from this little abbey in Belgium. The profits go to the upkeep of the site, as well as to charities. They only have one type of beer – and you can taste it across the street with some cheese also made by the monks.
I would highly recommend a trip to Orval – it is the perfect oasis for a tired traveler or for a relaxing afternoon. Have you ever heard of trappist beer (trust me, it’s good)? Check out other trappist breweries in Belgium here.