While we live in Belgium we hope to visit all of the Trappist Breweries in our country. A Trappist beer is one that is brewed in self sustaining abbey by monks that maintain strict adherence to fundamental brewing rules. Of the only seven Trappist Breweries in the world, six of them are in Belgium (the 7th is in the Netherlands); they are Achel, Westvleteren, Orval, Rochefort, Chimay, and Westmalle.
One weekend in September we went to the Orval monastery to tour the brewery. It is open only ONE weekend every year and we made reservations months before to hold our spot. It was a much anticipated day. Orval is located in the southwest tip of Belgium, very near Luxembourg.
The monastery grounds were breathtaking. It cost us nothing to make the reservation and tour the place. They even provided beer and cheese at the end of the tour with souvenir Orval bottle openers. I am not an avid beer drinker, but I had a blast during the factory tour and even tried some of the brew just to top off the fantastic experience.Even though the beer operation is in a monastery it was still technically complex and very sophisticated. Click here to find out more about how Orval Trappist Beer is made.However, this type of independent self-guided tour would never be allowed to take place in the United States. We were free to wander and get up close and personal with the factory inner-workings. We saw this vat of fermenting yeast and Connor kept saying she "didn't want to take a bath in the Gross!" Don't worry little one, we wouldn't put you inside that!
The bottling room was the most fascinating part. We were there early in the day and had the entire room to ourselves. The bottles were mechanically labeled, filled and capped with extraordinary speed.
Our eyes were as big as pancakes while this took place. Why are factories so incredible? I mean it is the same thing happening over and over and over again. But watching the monotony is part of the spectacle.
By the time we got to the makeshift cafe in the storeroom we were ready for a taste. The brothers poured us free beer and filled us up with their homemade cheese. Not sure what God would say about drinking at 10:30 AM, but we weren't about to miss out!
Connor eyed some little French playmates at our table. It wasn't long til they were hootin' and hollerin' together. In French, In English, In Toddler Talk! They played tag, climbed on the benches and rolled on the floor together. Another reminder that children do not have the language barrier. They speak a universal language of happiness and unabashed joy!
I really had trouble editing any of these shots out. It was honestly so cute and touching; a memory I don't want to forget. To see Connor hanging and dancing with these girls like they were best friends even they had only just met. All the while we sipped free Trappist beer in southern Belgium.
So now we have four of six Trappist Breweries down, two more to go! I doubt any will be as captivating and beautiful though as the Orval Monastery. Mark your calendars for next year. They only open their brewery doors one weekend out of the whole year to welcome visitors.
After Orval we traveled to the Berg Etz castle which lies near the intersection of the Rhine and Mosel River Valley. It is Rick Steves' "favorite castle in all of Europe" so who were we to miss out!?! It lurks in a mysterious forest left intact for 700 years and was never destroyed. It's been in the Eltz family for 850 years. But when we arrived and started the descent to the castle it was clear we had mistakenly taken the "hiking/scenic" route versus the more direct tourist track. We were hiking along a wooded path for nearly half an hour.
But when we set our eyes upon this we knew we had arrived!
What a perfect German fairy tale castle nestled right in the middle of nowhere.