In the heart of a lush, lush forest of the Belgian Ardennes, far from the hustle and bustle of the world, is a small monastic community known above all for the production of its famous Trappist beer. Thus stands in an exceptional site theOrval abbey, the abbeys of Orval could we even say because facing the ruins of the old one was built a new church at the beginning of the XXe century, testifying to the eventful history of this monastery which was also one of the richest in Europe.
The name legend
The name of "Orval" comes from a legend linked to Countess Mathilde of Tuscany in the XIe century. Following the death of her husband, Godefroid the Hunchback, she stopped in Orval to meditate and lost her precious wedding ring in a fountain. But following his prayers, a trout sprang from the fountain, ring in mouth to give him back. The countess would then have exclaimed: "Really, this is a golden valley" (and yes, in the Middle Ages, we already used verlan!).
The fountain is still visible to the left of the abbey church, while the Orval beer logo reminds us of this blessed legend at each tasting. The water necessary for the production of the beverage would also come from the same source feeding the fountain.
A turbulent history
Shortly after its founding in the XIe century, prosperity quickly gained the abbey in particular because of its strategic position. It is indeed located in a fertile region conducive to agriculture, logging but also to the steel industry (in the XVIIIe century). The ruins that can be visited with a signposted route, after a short audiovisual film beforehand, give us to appreciate what was the history of the abbey combining elements of Romanesque and Gothic style in the remains of the abbey church . Let us quote the remarkable rosette with six lobes of the left transept or the beautiful Romanesque capitals of the nave.
And if the building has lost none of its majesty, why do we only visit ruins? Quite simply because the abbey was destroyed many times, first in the 14th centurye century. The cloister was rebuilt and vaulted at this time. In 1637, the abbey was burned down by the Huguenots but its prosperity enabled it to recover in the following century. Alas, hardly rebuilt, the abbey was again destroyed this time by the cannons of the revolutionary troops of General Loison in 1793. It was then not until 1926 that a group of Cistercian monks decided to revive the site by building a new one. 18th century cellar churche century. And it’s not the beer lovers who will be complaining about this renaissance of Orval beer.
A temple of beer and more ...
Today, the abbey owes its fame mainly to the beer it produces within its enclosed walls. It is indeed one of the seven beers with the name "Trappist", that is to say beers brewed within the abbey itself by the monks or under their control. More than a guarantee of quality and authenticity, Trappist beers are considered to be among the best in the world.
It therefore seemed impossible not to devote a small chapter of the visit to this universal beverage to the visitor. Right next to the Mathilde fountain is a building retracing the history of Orval beer, ranging from the multiple manufacturing processes to its famous octagonal glass traditionally made from Bohemian crystal. However, it should be noted that the abbey does not limit to the production of beer but also that of small cakes as well as three types of cheese, one of which is of course made from Orval beer! What more could you ask for visiting a beautiful abbey while bringing back a little gastronomic souvenir?
- The legend of Orval (commercial link)