Trappist-route, go!

Corona, pandemic, lockdown, curfew, overburdened healthcare, closed borders ...

We have been living an unreal situation that has been dragging on for over a year now. Some people digest it a bit better than others.

One way to ease the pain? An evening on the couch with a glass of craft beer. Fortunately we are not short of nice beers. As I wipe away my foam mustache and put down the empty glass, the idea arises to make my own pub crawl. Not happily singing from one café to another, but a route within our national borders that connects the six recognized Trappist monasteries.

Divine inspiration!

Time for some research!  Trappist beer - or Trappist for short - is beer brewn by Trappists, monks of the Cistercian order. It is not a type of beer, as is often thought, but a description of its origin. The name ‘Trappist’ is derived from the French abbey from which the Trappist order takes its name: Abbey Notre-Dame de la Grande Trappe.

According to the rules of the International Trappist Association, the conditions to bear the name "Trappist" and the accompanying logo "Authentic Trappist Product" are the following:

1. The product must be produced within the walls of the abbey.

2. The product must be produced by or under the supervision of the monastic community and its exploitation must be subordinate to the monastery.

3. The proceeds are to be used for the livelihood of the monks and for the maintenance of the monastery. Whatever is left should be spent on social works and charities.

There are twelve Trappist breweries worldwide: six in Belgium, two in the Netherlands, one in Austria, one in the United States, one in Italy and one in England.

The six Trappist monasteries in Belgium are:

Achel - Trappist beer, brewed in the home brewery of the Achelse Kluis

Chimay - Produced in Scourmont Abbey.

Rochefort - Top fermentation beer made by Notre Dame de Saint-Remy Abbey in Rochefort.

Westmalle - Westmalle Tripel, Dubbel and Extra Trappist

Westvleteren - Westvleteren available in the variants' Blond ', 8' and '12'.

Orval - Orval-Trappist, by Orval Abbey

Achelse Kluis

I start in the far north of the country. At the Achelse Kluis. The abbey is partly on Belgian, partly on Dutch territory; the Belgian part lies in the municipality of Hamont-Achel, the Dutch part in the municipality of Heeze-Leende. A heavenly location in the middle of the Limburg fields and forests. Due to the declining number of monks, it was decided in September 2011 at the General Chapter of the Trappist Order that the Achelse Kluis no longer would be an independent abbey, but again a branch of Westmalle Abbey. In March 2017, only two monks remained and there was speculation about the future of the Achelse Kluis. The two remaining monks moved to Westmalle in the summer of 2020.

Due to the departure of the Trappists from Achel, the International Trappist Association ruled in January 2021 that Achel should no longer be allowed to wear the Trappist label.

I give them the benefit of the doubt and consider them an official Trappist monastery.

On a sunny afternoon there is a pleasant hustle and bustle of walkers and cyclists. The abbey shop is open and you can load your shopping cart full of jams, cheeses, tea, books, religious items, ... but I'll stick with my first trophy; a bottle of blond Achel trappist.

Close to the Achelse Kluis is the impressive reconstruction of the Dead Wire, a 332 kilometer long wire barrier that was built by the German occupiers of Belgium during WWI War along the border between occupied Belgium and the neutral Netherlands. The barrier was under deadly electrical voltage and was supposed to prevent war volunteers and German deserters from fleeing Belgium. 

Post at Postel

I will not let myself be stopped and start my ride towards the next abbey through the fields and pine forests of North Limburg. Over Lommel and along the Molse lakes there is a short religious stop at the Postel Abbey. A coffee on the terrace is not an option, so I continue my course along wonderfully quiet roads through the Kempen. The landscape is not very spectacular, but this is more than compensated by the nice feeling of being able to drive through fields and forests in a relaxed way.

Next stop is the Abbey of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart of Westmalle, a Cistercian monastery founded in 1794 The abbey had 24 friars at the beginning of the 21st century and provides for the maintenance of its members through various activities: a farm, a cheese factory, a brewery and receiving guests.

3 Trappist beers are brewed in this devout place. The triple, double and extra from Westmalle. Unfortunately, the abbey shop is not open and there is no possibility to visit the abbey. So, no bottle of Westmalle Trappist in my tank bag unfortunately. Apart from the vast fields and a few ruminating cows, there is little remarkable to discover in the area. So we buckle the helmet back on and I brace myself for a longer ride to the Westhoek.

To the West!

The roads are a bit busier up to Antwerp. The city itself is an ant's nest of cars and trucks. I slide through the traffic and continue through the Waaslandtunnel that leads to the much quieter Linkeroever. In Zwijndrecht I leave the hustle and bustle far behind and find myself in the middle of the vast fields again in no time. The farmers are already hard at work, so watch out for mud and manure on the road! If you come across place names like Vliegenstal and Koewacht along the way, you know that you are driving in the middle of agricultural areas. The route grazes along the Dutch border, but you stay neatly within the lines of our territory.

Zelzate is again a somewhat busier intersection, but after a few kilometers I drive through the flat Flemish countryside again. Via Ertvelde, hometown of our most famous schlager-singer Eddy Wally, I drive further south. It is wonderful to drive along the most quiet country roads and beautiful Flemish villages.

From miles away I can already see the monument of the great war. The Ijzertoren of Diksmuide. The Yser Tower is primarily a memorial to the Flemish soldiers, fallen in the First World War.  This tower, originally inaugurated on August 24, 1930, stands on the bank of the Yser,

On the four sides of the monumental base on the tower is written No more war, in the four languages ​​of the warring factions of the Western Front during the First World War: Plus jamais de guerre, Nooit meer oorlog, Nie wieder Krieg. I leave the iron tower in peace and follow the Yser to my destination; The Saint Sixtus Abbey of Westvleteren. A monastery founded in 1831 by Jan-Baptist Victoor from Poperinge, who settled in the woods of Saint Sixtus around 1814 and spent the rest of his life there as a hermit. But in addition to the abbey's devotion, Westvleteren is best-known in Belgium because in 2008 Westvleteren 12 was voted best beer in the world.

Unfortunately, on my Husqvarna I don't have the place to take a six-pack and I leave this beautiful place somewhat thirsty. I drive straight through the pleasant town of Poperinge, then suddenly, while I was driving all the time through a landscape as flat as a pancake, I find myself in the middle of the hills. The Heuvelland with it’s highest “peak” the Kemmelberg is a wonderful welcome change from the always flat roads. A short cobbled strip leads to the top of this 156m high Kemmelberg. Just like everthing in the region, this place carries the history of WW1. At the top of the mountain is a monument in honor of the more than 5000 fallen French soldiers; the "Monument Aux Soldats Francais" and is popularly called "Den Engel".

Hello Wallonia!

The route continues eastwards via Mouscroun and the rural roads of Hainaut. Some kilometers have to be covered, because the next abbey is on the other side of the country. So we drive and don’t stop for the next hours. Now and then a grazing shot with the French border, but mostly enjoying the landscape and the quietly humming engine under my buttocks. To stay in the atmosphere, I pass Bon-Secour, just on the French border. A pilgrimage type with, for such a small village, a very impressive basilica.

The colored line on my GPS leads me further along the Lacs de l'Eau d'Heure, an impressive lake area and further through fields and forests to the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Scourmont of Chimay. The priory was founded in 1850, where the monks live according to the rules of the Trappists, whereby prayer (individual or in group), work and rest alternate. The seclusion and the silence are important elements here. Fortunately, they also find the time to brew the delicious Chimay beer. The abbey itself, like most of these monastic communities, cannot be visited. Then just enjoy the outside and the divine environment.

I break the silence, start my single-cylinder and brace myself for a ride of a hundred kilometers through the rolling countryside of the Ardennes. Wonderfully quiet, babbling brooks, the fresh scent of spring and freshly fertilized fields ... When I pass the small village of Doische, I see a small pearl in the corner of my eye. A kind of shop window contains a whole series of old motorcycles. BSA, FN, Norton,… all neatly arranged. It looks like a showroom from 50 years ago. What wonderful machines! Unfortunately the door is closed and I don't get the chance to admire these treasures up close.

The countryside is briefly interrupted when I cross Dinant. Let's hope that by the time you read this you can relax here on one of the many terraces on the banks of the Maas. I drink my water bottle and dive back into the rural surroundings. From Dinant it is a short drive to Rochefort and the next abbey on my list. The Notre-Dame de Saint-Rémy abbey is very difficult to reach due to road works. A gravel road of several hundred meters takes me to the entrance of the beautiful building. There is no entry here either.

It is almost impossible to penetrate into the privacy of the monks; a strict enclosure applies to most of the abbey. The breweries are also not open to the public. The monks' way of life is strict: get up at 3 am, do not eat meat, only talk when it is really necessary. But it does give them time to brew good beer.

The track continues along the same gravel road to the very south of our country. Deeper into the Ardennes. The asphalt is not always in good shape, but the surroundings make up for the lack of maintenance. The asphalt in and around Orval is of impeccable quality and the smooth curves make this a very wonderful playground! These are really the better steering roads.

Man and machine are enjoying themselves on the way to the parking lot of the last abbey of my quest.

Orval, my love!

The legend of Countess Mathilde of Tuscany is linked to this Notre-Dame d'Orval abbey, which was founded in 1132. It is said she rested at the well in the valley around 1076. While sliding her hands through the water, she lost her wedding ring. The ring was a memento of her late husband, Godfrey with the Hump, and she begged and prayed to God for help. After her prayers she returned to the source. A trout came up with her wedding ring in her mouth. She exclaimed: "This is truly a golden valley!"

Out of gratitude she decided to establish a monastery in this blessed place. The source is now called the Mathilde source. Local tradition has it that any young girl who throws a coin into the well will get married within the year.

The trout with the ring in the mouth is depicted on the label of the bottles, glasses and advertising panels of the Orval Trappist beer.

The beer brewed here is my personal favorite. But unfortunately I don't have the space to stock up on supplies. Then just a jar of jam from the local shop. Unfortunately, the rest of the abbey cannot be visited due to the well-known virus.

Then there is only one route left for me… from Orval back to Achel. A hefty journey of 290 km! But a wonderful ride. Along the tight asphalt and the fast curves north again. To arrive in Neufchateau via some small unsightly villages. I stick to the rather smaller roads that are not always perfect, but guarantee cozy village centers, almost no traffic and relaxed driving. In a bend around St Hubert, just not past La Roche to end up in the somewhat busier Barvaux. I follow the Ourthe to Esneux where I end up in the Condroz and leave the Ardennes behind. I also avoid Liege with a wide bend and set course for Waremme. And the language border is already there! The Limburgers welcome me with orchards that are completely covered in blossoms. A wonderfully beautiful view.

I cross Limburg from south to north to eventually end up at the very tip of the province at the Achelse Kluis.

The circle is round. An exciting journey, a long journey, but very varied and a wonderful way to explore your own country.

It made me thirsty.

You can see this trips and download the GPX files here:

Orval to Achel

Vleteren to Chimay to Rochefort

Achel to Westmalle to Vleteren







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