Last weekend we had one of those wonderful “only in Europe” kind of experiences.
A milestone birthday is approaching soon for me (let’s just say it isn’t my 30th and leave it at that) so I wanted to do a special MTB ride to mark the occasion. A friend suggested a ride he’d recently done near the Orval abbey/brewery
which is way down in the Ardennes along the French border, about 2 hours from Brussels. A little riding, some Trappist beer and cheese – what could beat that?
The ride itself wasn’t really epic – there are far better routes in La Roche en Ardennes or Ohey that give better elevation gain, singletrack and terrain – but the experience couldn’t be beat. The route we’d uploaded into my friend David’s GPS turned out later to be full of huge inaccuracies (off by as much as 100 meters) resulting in lots of stopping and starting, missed trailheads, indications to turn down into steep ravines or cross streams, and a 50km ride instead of 41km.
But it didn’t matter. The day was uncharacteristically sunny for Belgium and the actual trail crisscrossed over the Belgian/French border more times than we could count. Near the end of the ride, we stopped for a delicious cheese plate to see us through the rest of the ride. And it wasn’t the typical large chunks of Gouda you’d find in Belgium, either. We were in France, remember? The gorgeous cheese plate was comprised of cheeses from the different regions of France and accompanied by a small salad. We washed it down with, what else, a bottle of Orval, possibly even hand-carried to the restaurant from the brewery.
As the ride ended, we made our way to the Orval abbey itself. It’s a huge place, made all the more interesting by the fact that just 13 monks live there! The ruins of the former monastery from the 12th century are there and you can walk around them. The current monastery was constructed from 1926-1948, so it feels new by comparison. There is a small gift shop where you can buy their beer, cheese and other food as well as books on their history, etc.
There isn’t a cafe or anywhere on premises to actually drink the beer, but it’s ubiquitous so that is not an issue. I really like Orval. It’s hoppy, fruity and a bit malty, and lower in alcohol than most trappists or abbey beers at 6-7%, making it a bit more drinkable.