Belgium is a beautiful and diversified country. I really had no idea, until my dear friend started showing me various places she thought I would like. The Orval Abbey was one of them and I must say she scored a 10/10!
The Orval Abbey is located in the South of Belgium, a stone throw from the French border and an easy drive from Luxembourg.
It is located in a quiet and charming valley, surrounded by luxuriant forests, small lakes and peaceful little villages. The Gaume region is so green, so pleasant, that it makes you want to slow down and admire. Every little path you see on the side of the roads you want to try, every villages you want to stop and admire…. Well maybe that’s just me! But it is for sure a part of Belgium that is worth exploring.
A little bit of history:
The first monks settled in Orval in the early 11th century and erected the first church. They were replaced by a small community of Canons (another religious order) who were able to complete the construction work begun by their predecessors. In 1124 the completed church was consecrated. In 1132, seven monks under the leadership of Constantin arrived at Orval from Trois-Fontaines. Monks and Canons formed one single community and adapted the buildings to Cistercian usages. The new church was completed before 1200.
But the Abbey of Orval has a long history of construction, destruction and reconstruction, which started not long ago after it was first built:
Around 1252, the monastery was destroyed by a fire; the rebuilding took around 100 years.
In 1637, during the Thirty Years’ War, the abbey was pillaged and burnt by French mercenaries.
In 1793, during the French Revolution, the abbey was completely burnt down by French armies, and the community dispersed.
In 1887, the land and ruins were acquired by the Harenne family and donated to the Cistercian order in 1926 so that monastic life could resume on the site.
Between 1926 and 1948, the new monastery was constructed, and in 1935 Orval regained the rank of abbey.
Orval history explains why the site is divided into 2:
– The ruins of the cistercian church and monastery that you get to visit as well as a few other buildings, including the museum.
– The actual monastery that you can glimpse at from certain areas but that you do not get to visit (this includes the brewery).
Come along and enjoy the visit:
The entrance of the Orval Abbey
The newest par of the monastery which can not be visited
The courtyard before the ticket hall
The beginning of the visit. This building hosts art exhibition as shown on the picture below.
Art exhibition at Orval
The view of the cistercian abbey (with the newest church in the background)
The view of the newest building of the abbey
View of the cistercian abbey (with the newest church in the background)
Sitting under this old tree is so relaxing.
The herbs garden with explanation of the medicinal use of the plants
Behind the herbs garden, you can enter the building and see a gallery of medicinal cabinets. I love those old bottles!
Although you can not visit the brewery, there is a building that you can visit which gives lot’s of information on the art of making beer and some info on the history of the site. By it’s side, you will find the Mathilde water fountain.
Let’s walk around the church:
The burial is of burial of Wenceslaus I, Duke of Luxembourg
Now let’s go to the museum.
The museum’s prime originality lies in its location, as its collections are housed in vaulted cellars dating from the 18th century.
It is super cool (temperature wise!) inside. Perfect on a hot sunny day!
The Museum entrance by the vaulted corridor
Some cellars are not accessible, except to the monks!
The visit is already over and it’s time to head back.
The entrance building
We still had a bit of time to stop by the gift shop and we didn’t resist… we bought some beer!!
Trappist beers contain residual sugars and living yeast, and, unlike conventional beers, will improve with age. These have become quite famous and are considered by many beer critics to be among the finest in the world. The Orval beer can only be bought at the Abbey and quantities are limited by person. Extremely popular! The queue to purchase can be very long…
The Orval Abbey is a great place to visit. Embrace it, find a little place where you can contemplate, meditate or prey if you feel like it. It has been a place of devotion for centuries and if you pay attention, you will feel it.
The Technical bits:
Official web site: www.orval.be
Very interesting website which gives details of the history of the Abbey, of the beer and cheese making tradition, and of course all the necessary infos on opening hours, access, and stay.
As indicated above, the brewery is not part of the regular visit. But it seems that every now and then, you can actually visit, although the next available date in September is already full.
A word of advise:
Hoards of tourists, who might have sampled a little bit too many Belgium beers, will come by bus every now and then. Be patient, they don’t stay for too long and after a while you will find the piece and quietness you are looking for.
The Gaume region is simply gorgeous. Get off the highway and drive on the small roads through typical villages and lush forests, you won’t regret it.
Next I will take you to the Avioth Basilica. A little surprise!!
If you’re in Belgium you might also want to visit the Han caves, which are not that far. Check out my post here.
So tell me: Have you been to the Orval Abbey?
Did you like it?
What’s your favorite Abbey in the world?