Orval and Bullion

In order to understand the attraction of visiting Orval Abby, one must first understand a little about

Outside OrvalBelgium’s beer brewing history. Everyone knows (or should know by now) that Belgium has a colorful and delicious brewing culture. Part of this culture was honed by the famous Trappiste brewing monks of Belgium. Historically, many monastic orders turned their hand to one or many trades in order to keep themselves busy with manual labor and to produce goods that could be sold to support the monastery. Brewing beer became a common tradeskill of the Trappiste order and a particular style called Tripel was born. Although the beer was made famous by the Trappiste monks, you can see this style has moved beyond the church and is produced by many Belgian commercial brewers outside of monastery walls and even has become a popular style with craft brewers in the United States. Though many of these Trappiste monks have given up brewing, seven remain active in Europe, five of them operating in Belgium. I partook in a pilgrimage of sorts to visit one of the more famous and exclusive Trappiste abbeys called Orval.

Orval AbbyThe site itself is located in a quiet valley in the south of Belgium close to Luxembourg and France. Upon visiting, I soon learned the Abbey contained masters of many trades other than brewing in it’s history. Orval controlled extensive farmland and employed numerous masons, scribes, blacksmiths and masons. The result is an enormous abbey grounds in a beautiful red stone. The main part of the building is closed off from tourists, but we were able to enter the medieval ruins that mark the older part of the grounds. It was a gorgeous walk and I took lots of pictures. After the tour of the grounds, I left Orval with a case of beer (which is easy to find at bars, but always sold out at the grocers). I also acquired a kilo of delicious beer cheese, which I split with my companion. I’m still working my way through that block of fromage.
 Orval
From the highest point

The tour through Orval did not take more than a couple of hours, so we ended up with more afternoon to kill. I decided a good use of that time was to visit Bullion Castle on the boarder of Luxembourg and France. This wasn’t a beautiful castle, but one of war and practicality. It was situated on a large craggy bluff surrounded by a river which snaked around its base forming a natural moat. Though the positioning was borne of necessity, the effect of entering the valley with the medieval castle overlooking a small valley village was stunning. The castle itself was made of old gray stone, modified over the years so much that each section of the castle reflects very different styles. I picked up an audio tour device and the castle had a well planned and numbered walking path through the winding corridors. At the heart of the castle  each room was hewed from the slate of the bluff itself, housing the torture chambers and prisons. On the outside was a lovely courtyard that typically hosts daily falconry shows, which were not happening during our visit due to some off site bird adoption event. I must say, missing out on the bird of prey show broke my heart, and it still saddens me to think on it. I warn any reader who visits a castle in the future to bring practical shoes with excellent grip. Castles are dark, slippery and dangerous.

Torture

 

After visiting the castle, we crossed into the village to find a place to have a drink with a view of the

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castle. The Panorama hotel and restaurant seemed perfect. With a name like Panorama, what could go
wrong? It turned out that the hotel was closed until late spring so we were SOL. Being the intrepid travelers we were, we simply cracked open Orval’s we purchased from the brewery that had been chilling in the car during the castle visit and filled up our newly purchased Orval glasses and found a bench on the patio of the shuttered hotel. It was frigid, in the 30s (F) with a crisp breeze, but the beer and view was worth it. We toasted to a trip well traveled and returned home in time for dinner.
Barbar Blond – Found it on tap at a local dive. A rich almost buttery blond. Would order again.
Ramee Blond – Claims to be a tripel, but it’s rather flat and has no body
Rochfordt 8 – A light Trappiste dubel, mild and easy to drink
Orval –  So far, my favorite of the Trappiste beers. Rich and bitter. Drink slowly unless you want to hurt yourself.