Wednesday, April 29, 2015

04/07 - 04/11 - Tour de Belgium, Part 1 of 3

5 days, 10 breweries, at least 9 historic spots and memorials, 2 Casa del Habanos, a few cigars and meeting some friends. That's the brief resumee of my recent trip to Belgium. A nice trip, especially with the new car. Originally I planned to make one report about this trip but due to the fact that I saw a lot, have tons of pictures and a lot to write I split it in three parts. The first part is about the first day.

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The "suitcase" was packed quickly...

I started my trip on Monday evening and made an additional stop in a hotel in Thionville, close to the border of Belgium. This made it a bit more relaxed in the next morning to reach my first stop in Belgium within my scheduled time frame: the brewery of the Trappist Cistercian monastery Orval. Orval is among my favorite Belgian beers, therefore it's obvious for me to make a stop there. I only took a small sample from the tap as I had to continue my drive to another Trappist monastery, Chimay. But I bought some bottles of their beer and also some of their well-known Trappist cheese.

On the way to Orval

Abbaye Orval

Abbaye Orval

The way to Chimay also led me to some of the many war memorials that you can find in Belgium, the first of those I drove by was a small French cemetery from WWI.

French war cemetery

A little bit later I reached the Mardasson Memorial which honors the memory of the 76890 American soldiers who were wounded or killed during the Battle of the Bulge. The complex is designed as a pentagram with a height of 12 metres (39 ft) and a side length of 31 metres (102 ft), centered by a circular atrium with a diameter of 20 metres (66 ft). While the inner walls are covered with ten paintings from the battle, the outer crown is engraved with the names of the 50 U.S. States, and the insignia of most participating battalions are shown on the walls. There's a Latin inscription on the memorial stone in the centre of the memorial:

Memorial Stone at the Mardasson Memorial


which translates to "The Belgian people remember their American liberators – 4th July 1946."

Mardasson Memorial

Mardasson Memorial

I also made a stop in Recogne-Bastogne where is a German soldier graveyard with 6807 Wehrmacht soldiers who died there in WWII. It's really a depressing feeling to walk around this graveyard and see on the stones the dates. Most of them died in December 1944 when the war was more or less over and it was also obvious that it was lost and the age of many of them is 16, 17, 18 years... they were still kids... too young for that silly war, too young to die.

German war cemetery Recogne-Bastogne

German war cemetery Recogne-Bastogne

German war cemetery Recogne-Bastogne

The next stop on the long bucket list is Abbey Notre-Dame-de-Saint-Rémy where the famous Rochefort beer is brewed. Rochefort is a private brewery (and closed for public) as usually all the other Trappist breweries but one of the workers (not a monk) was kind enough to let me in and also gave me the permission to take some photos, a very nice gesture. At moment when I took the pic in the brewhouse they just had the Rochefort 8 in the making... I picked up some nice bottles of that fantastic beer in a local shop just around the corner.

Trappist brewery Rochefort

Trappist brewery Rochefort

I also strolled a little bit through the streets of the old village of Chimay, along the castle and the narrow streets before I started for the last part of this day's trip.

Castle Chimay

Castle Chimay

In the streets of Chimay

After all that stops I arrived in the early afternoon at my final destination for that day: Chimay. Ok, it's only the name of the beer, the abbey itself – founded by this renowned community of Trappists – is actually called Scourmont Abbey. It's been founded by seventeen monks from Westvleteren on a plot of land donated by local Prince Joseph de Chimay.

I first visited the grounds of the abbey - no chance to have a glance at the brewery - and their local graveyard, after that I drove just around the corner to the Espace Chimay where I stayed the night.

The weather was picture perfect, after that last onset of winter that we'd on the weekend before, so I took the chance for a tasting panel of beer - Gold, Rouge, Blonde and Bleue - and cheese, consisting of Chimay Grand Classique, Chimay Grand Cru, A la Chimay Rouge, and Vieux Chimay. The beer was as good as I'd it in mind and I went ahead with some more Bleue during my stay, fresh from the tap. The cheese was ok but a touch too mild for my liking...

The cigars I smoked - a Hoyo de Monterrey Hoyo de Dieux from 1994 and a Sancho Panza Corona Gigantes from 1985 - went very well with the beer, a perfect combo at a nice location.

Scourmont Abbey

Espace Chimay

Beer tasting panel

Cheese tasting panel

Sancho Panza Gigantes from 1985 and Chimay Bleue

Originally it was planned to meet with Thierry, but unfortunately he'd to cancel his short trip to Chimay for job reasons. I'm sure we'll find another chance to meet again.

Here you can find the other reports of that trip: