This Tour will explore Belgian Trappist and Abbey beers and promises to be a heavenly experience. The Tour is based for five nights at the centrally located Novotel Gent right next to the City cathedral. If you haven't visited Ghent lately, you're in for a surprise as it is fantastically beer-and-bar laden. Have a look at Podge's Ghent Bar Guide which keeps us coming back to Ghent for updates! As if the huge number of beer bars wasn't enough, during our stay on the Saturday the eighth Ghent Beer Festival is taking place.
Trappist and Abbey beers have had an interesting relationship in Belgium. The sheer quality of Trappist brewed beers in the past led to secular brewers attaching religious names and images to their advertising to capitalize on and borrow some of the Trappist cachet. This led to out-and-out legal battles in the inter-war period and the Trappists got more protective over others using their name. As a result, though secular brewers dropped the name 'trappist' they got cleverer with religious iconography on their labels, including generalized monks, habits, abbey-looking-buildings etc. This started annoying another group of brewers who had permission under license to brew real Abbey beers. The religious beer wars really settled down in 1997 when eight Trappist Monasteries (Orval, Chimay, Westvleteren, Rochefort, Westmalle, Achel and Koningshoeven (NL) and Mariawald(G) founded the International Trappist Association to prevent non-Trappist commercial companies from using the Trappist name by ensuring that certain strict criteria were imposed. Only two years later the real Abbey brewers did something similar, for in 1999 a Certiﬁed Belgian Abbey Beer (Erkend Belgisch Abdijbier) logo was introduced by the Union of Belgian Brewers which can be used on the labels of beers which officially have a link with an existing or former abbey and that payment of royalties for charitable purposes go to that abbey.
05.15hr Coach pick up Crown Street, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP1 3HS (opposite NCP Car Park).
06.15hr Coach pick up at The Woolpack, Mildmay Road, Chelmsford CM2 0DN.
08.00hr Coach pick up at Stop24 J11 M20 near Folkestone Kent CT21 4BL.
09.25hr P&0 Ferry crossing from Dover Ferry Port.
12.00hr Arrive Calais.
13.00hr Our first stop is at the new Trappist Café Heerlijk at Raversijde near Oostende which opened early 2017 having moved from further down the coast. The owners are very keen on Trappist beer and offer all of the world’s Trappist beers on their menu. Here we’ll have our first group meal and an introduction to the world of Trappist beer.
15.30hr Leave Heerlijk.
16.00hr Call in for our first Erkend Abdij or Recognized Belgian Abbey Beer at Gasterie Ten Duinen which is a picturesque café in the woods surrounding the ruined Cistercian Abbey of the Dunes (Ten Duinen) on the coast at Koksijde. Here we can choose from the range of Ten Duinen Beers brewed by Huyghe under the name Saint Idesbald whose head appears on the label. This range of beers can be seen replicated across most Abbey beer brewers – they have a Blond 6.5%abv, a Double 8%abv, and a Tripel 9%abv. This ‘classic’ product range was copied from the Trappist monasteries choice of beers produced post Second World War. St Idesbald beers are named after the Cistercian monk and abbot of this abbey who was buried here in 1167. Time permitting, you can have a walk round the ruins close to the café. The first St Idesbald beer is on Podge*.
17.00hr Leave Gasterie Ten Duinen.
18.15hr Arrive at Novotel Gent Centrum and check in. Travellers have a free evening exploring the bars and cafes of the city armed with Podge’s Gent Bar Guide and Map copies of which will be distributed on Tour.* Gent is an amazing city for beer cafes as you will see and Podge’s complete Gent Bar Guide on googlemaps contains a whopping 107 entries, but we’ll be supplying you with an edited printed version of the central city bars.
10.00hr After a leisurely breakfast*, leave hotel by coach.
10.20hr Pay a visit to our friend Dominiek Geers and his family, the fifth generation to sell beer in this village and who owns the great drink shop Dranken Geers in Oostakker near Gent. Here we have an opportunity to buy beers to take home from their stock of hundreds of Belgian and quality foreign beers.
11.30hr Leave Dranken Geers.
13.00hr Arrive at Villers Abbey in Villers-la-Ville, south of Brussels. The abbaye de Villers is an ancient Cistercian abbey founded in 1146 and, like all monasteries under the control of revolutionary France its inhabitants were forced to flee in 1796 when its wealth and lands were confiscated by the new French revolutionary leaders. It never revived its fortunes and lies today in beautiful ruins, and has been visited as a tourist attraction for over 100 years. Villers is one of the most complete sites because there are traces of not only the monastic buildings and the church but also the cloister, the monk’s refectory, but also secondary buildings such as the mill, hostelry and brewery. We will be visiting the new micro-brewery installed in the abbey’s former laundry house. They produce four organic beers, two of which are inspired by recipes from the abbey’s archives, the 5%abv blonde Authentique (Villers V) and 9%abv triple Abbaye de Villers IX. The other two beers are Lumineuse blonde and Ténébreuse brown. We’ll visit this small brewery in two groups* and have a taste of their beer*.
14.00hr Following the brewery visit we will proceed on foot next door to the former grain mill for a group meal at Le Moulin de Villers. Apparently the mill building was once a hotel and was visited by French writer Victor Hugo who immortalised the abbey prison in his masterpiece Les Misérables.
16.30hr Leave Le Moulin de Villers.
17.30hr Arrive at Gasthof D’Oude Brouwerij a café located in the former dairy of Affligem Abbey. Affligem Abbey was founded in the eleventh century by six hermits and is still a working religious Benedictine community opposite the café. In the 12th century Benedictine Monks brewed beer in the abbey but in 1970 the brewing of Affligem Abbey beer was transferred to Brouwerij De Smedt in Opwijk, now owned by Heineken. For centuries this region of Affligem-Asse-Aalst was one of the richest hop-growing regions of Europe, originally centred on Affligem Abbey. Recently a hop field was replanted to the left of the café. We may be able to taste the hoppy beer Affligem Cuvée 950 created in 2012 to celebrate the 950th Anniversary of the founding of the Abbey. Look out also for Affligem 1074, brewed to commemorate the founding of the abbey and made with herbs from the monastic garden. Affligem beers are certified Abbey Beers.
18.45hr Leave Gasthof D’Oude Brouwerij.
19.30hrish Arrive back in the lovely city of Gent for a crack at its quality bars and restaurants. Enjoy.
10.00hr After a leisurely breakfast*, leave hotel by coach.
11.15hr Arrive at the Norbertine Postel Abbey at Postel. Here we will visit the two large taverns at the abbey gates. is a Premonstratensian abbey in the province of Antwerp, founded in 1138 by Premonstratensian canons, not monks, from Floreffe Abbey. In 1797 (French Revolution again), the abbey was forcibly closed and the canons expelled. In 1847 the community was re-established and the original abbey buildings including the abbey church, were restored. Postel Abbey beer is no longer brewed within the abbey itself but in Opwijk as above. They brew a 7% blonde and Dubbel, a 9% Tripel and a Kerstbier at 8.5%. The abbey famously produces cheese and bread both sold in the Abbey shop between these two cafes. We have allowed time to visit both cafes being the De Drie Linden and the larger Gasthof De Beiaard. Postel beer is available from both, but is on draught at the Gasthof which is a café restaurant with huge indoor seating and large outdoor terrace. Located near a crossroads of major roads, Postel Abbey always attracted travellers but the "Gasthof De Beiaard" was built fifty or so years ago and is named after the abbey's bell carillon which is regularly played, and can be heard from the café terrace.
13.00hr Leave Postel Abbey.
13.30hr Arrive at the Achel Trappist Monastery known as ‘Achelse Kluis’ (Achel Cloister) straddling the Belgian-Dutch border. In fact 10% of the grounds are in the Netherlands. The monks belong to the Cistercians of Strict Observance and this monastery is famed for its spiritual life and its brewery. The monastery came about in 1648 when Catholic mass was banned in the Dutch Republic and the monks came over the border. The community flourished until 1789 when they were expelled and the abbey lands sold off when the French revolutionary army invaded the Austrian Netherlands. Monks from Westmalle restarted things here in 1846 and the first beer brewed on site was the "Patersvaatje" in 1852. The monks left the abbey again in 1914 when the Germans took away 700kg of copper and brewing then stopped. A new abbey was built post WW2 but only two wings of the planned four were completed. In 1989 the abbey sold most of its land to the Dutch National Forest Administration and the Flemish Government. In 1998 with the support from the monks from Westmalle and Rochefort brewing started again. We will visit the monastery café Gasterie Achelse Kluis from which you can see the brewery through glass walls. Oddly Achel blonde and bruin beers are brewed at 8% and 9.5% are available in the café along with some special versions not found outside the monastery such as the small quantities of 7% (brown and blonde) brewed especially for the Monastery Inn and is only available on draught.
14.30hr Leave Gasterie Achelse Kluis.
15.30hr Make our way to Halle-Zoersel to the Stroopop café restaurant. Here we will have a group meal and have a go at their brilliant beer menu of 130 choices with loads of Trappists, Abbey’s and lambic beers. They also do Chimay Tripel and Westmalle Dubbel on draught.
18.00hr Leave Stroopop.
19.00hr Arrive back at Novotel Gent for an evening free in downtown Gent, and for those who fancy the 8th Gent Beer Festival is open today on the inner ring road.
10.00hr After a leisurely breakfast* coach leaves.
10.45hr Arrive at the town of Grimbergen and the Fenikshof Café. We can see the Norbertine Abbey church from the café terrace in the centre of Grimbergen. In 1967 the astronomical observatory Mira was erected in abbey grounds. From its founding in the twelfth century the beer brewed here was famed amongst travellers. Like all other abbeys the monks were chased away in the French Revolution. In 1958 Maes Brewery contacted the monks with a proposal to commercialize a dark beer which Maes had developed under the name "Grimbergen." These days the brand belongs to Carlsberg Group. Alken-Maes brews one set of Grimbergen beers for the Belgian market, and Carlsberg makes a different set of beers in France for the French market. The Belgian varieties are: Blond, Dubbel, Tripel, Optimo Bruno (brown), and the latest innovation Grimbergen Gold. The beer label features the mythological phoenix rising referring to the abbey which was many times destroyed by fire and built again. The café takes this name too. Here we can try the Belgian Grimbergen beers which are certified abbey beers. The first Grimbergen beer is on Podge*.
12.00hr Leave the Fenikshof, Grimbergen.
12.30hr Arrive at the Taverne “In den Rozenkrans” attached to the Vlierbeek Abbey in Kessel-Lo near Leuven. Like most in Belgium this Benedictine abbey was founded in the twelfth century and encompassed swathes of farmland around the buildings. During the occupation by the French Revolutionary army the abbey, like all other monasteries, was suppressed in 1796, and the monks were expelled. The buildings and contents were sold off in 1798. The community did come back but never in strength and the last monk of Vlierbeek died in 1838. Few buildings remain, and most of these are private houses, but the church can be visited. The old west wing houses the Rozenkrans tavern. An important part of the rule of St Benedict was the proper receiving of guests with special rooms and food and drink for travellers. There would have been refreshment rooms in all abbeys and the Rozenkrans has been here for many years, but its current name dates from the 1960s when the inn was used for filming a TV series and the words ‘In den Rozenkrans’ was painted in black above the door and the name has remained unchanged since then.
14.00hr Leave ‘In den Rozenkrans’.
14.30hr Arrive at Abdij van Averbode near Diest in Flanders at its new venture known as Het Moment. Like most European abbeys Averbode was founded in the twelfth century. The monks are Norbertines, an order founded by Saint Norbert, also known as Premonstratensians, after Prémontré, the French town where the order was founded in 1121. The abbey has suffered over the years with the church destroyed by lightning, destruction at the hands of iconoclasts and reduced to 28 monks by bubonic plague in 1584. The church was built in the Baroque style in the late 1600s. In 1797 religious suppression forced the monks to flee to Germany but returned here in 1834.The abbey flourished in the nineteenth century, bought printing presses and became a major publisher of magazines and books until 1996. Today the abbey houses 78 canons, of which 45 live and work in the abbey. Our visit will be to the new venture Het Moment. This is a visitors centre, abbey café, brewery, a cheese maker, bakery and an abbey shop. Het Moment is housed in old buildings at the Western Gate of the abbey. The new venture produces traditional abbey products of beer, bread, gingerbread and cheese. Averbode beer is a blond tripel of 7.5%abv. The bottled version is brewed at Brewery Huyghe in Melle but the draught house beer is brewed in the micro-brewery you can see inside the abbey café. The house beer is not available in bottles and can only be tasted here. Averbode is an authenticated abbey beer. The first house beer is on Podge*. We will have a group meal of abbey products in the café.
17.30hr Leave Het Moment, Averbode.
18.30hr Arrive at the East Flanders village of Denderleeuw for a visit to two cafes – the small beer café Maes aan de Dender and the famous beer restaurant Heeren van Liederkerke. It’s probably best if the group splits its time between these two bars for ease of service as they are within a few minutes walk of each other. The Maes aan de Dender has a menu of 130 beers including St Bernardus 12 on draught, which despite its historical connections to Westvleteren monastery and obvious monk label branding is not an authenticated Belgian abbey beer. The Heeren van Liederkerke stocks an enormous 460 beers for you to choose from. We’ll have time for a beer or two here.
20.00hr Leave Denderleeuw.
20.40hr Arrive back in Gent.
10.00hr After a leisurely breakfast* coach leaves.
10.30hr Arrive for a brewery visit and tasting at Brouwerij Van Steenberge in the town of Ertvelde, north of Gent. This brewery began in 1784. Paul Van Steenberge, a professor of microbiology at Gent brewing school ran the brewery after the first world war and changed the name to Brewery Bios, invested in a new brewing hall and tanks and switched from wooden barrels to glass bottles. In 1962 his son Jozef took over and focused on producing high fermentation beers. In 1978 the brewery acquired the beer recipe for Augustijn from the Augustinian friars who brewed in their monastery in Gent. It was fine-tuned at the brewery and launched in 1982 and remains the top beer sold today. Jozef also had the foresight to begin brewing Piraat and Gulden Draak when there was little market for strong beers at the beginning of the eighties. Jozef foresaw this trend and thanks to him the brewery survived and grew. In 1990, Paul Van Steenberge, Jozef’s son, took over. He built a fully automated brewing hall, a computerised barrel filling installation, water purification installation and a new bottling installation all in the face of a saturated home market but with an eye to exports. In 1998, Jef Versele, Paul Van Steenberge’s cousin and the 7th generation joined and expanded exports to 60% of production mostly to the US, the Netherlands and Italy. Although Augustijn beer is linked to an old abbey and is branded with a monk, it is not a certified abbey beer, but they do brew two certified abbey beers being Bornem and Keizerberg Beer, connected with an abbey in Leuven. This illustrates the complex rules of abbey authentication. We will have a brewery tour* and tasting* in their brand new modern tasting room called Bar Baptist.
12.00hr Leave Brewery Van Steenberge.
13.00hr Pay a visit to Café Trappisten in Malle in Antwerp province which is the brewery tap of the famous Westmalle Trappist Brewery opposite down a road, but there are little or no photo opportunities as very high walls surround the monks here. The Abbey of Westmalle, or more correctly the Abdij van Onze-Lieve-Vrouw van het Heilig Hart (Abbey of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart) is a Cistercians of Strict Observance abbey founded later than most in 1794, but the community was not elevated to the rank of Trappist abbey until 1836. The regulations stated that monks were allowed to drink the local beverage with their meals (besides water), which in Flanders was beer. In order not to have to buy it they decided to brew it themselves. A brewery was first installed in 1836 to make beer for the monks at lunch. A new brewery was built in 1934. Café Trappisten was created from an original shop on this site in 1923 which was leased from the monks and the rent was two carts of manure and a bottle of gin. This old building was replaced by the current building in 2008 with large terraces added. The café offers all beers and cheeses made in the monastery including the lovely Westmalle Extra, very rarely available commercially and also the half and half, being half bottled triple (first sold commercially in 1934) and half draught dubbel (first produced 1856). We will have a group meal here.
15.00hr Leave Café Trappisten.
16.00hr Arrive at De Koningshoeven Brewery in Berkel-Enschot in North Brabant, the Netherlands, but only just over the Belgian border. Here they brew the La Trappe range of Trappist beers. This abbey was founded in 1881 by monks of Mont-des-Cats Abbey in Godewaersvelde. One of the monks was the son of a Munich brewer and set up a brewery in 1884 to help the community out of financial problems. Most of the buildings date from the 1890s including the malt tower which still dominates the view of the brewery. Koningshoeven beers have long been at the more commercial end of the Trappist brewers’ art and in the 1970s they expanded by collaborating with Stella Artois brewing Pilsner, Dortmunder and Bock beers. This collaboration ended in 1980 when the monks took brewing back into their own hands and created the brand name La Trappe for the new series of high-fermented beers they wanted to produce. The Quadrupel was introduced in 1991 originally only brewed in winter but soon brewed all year round. The name ‘quadrupel’ is appears to be a modern name for a strong beer, rather than a traditional beer style. In 1999 La Trappe began collaborating with the Bavaria Brewery in Lieshout and the contract was such that they had to renounce their use of the authentic Trappist logo, which they recovered five years later once they had appropriately severed their links with Bavaria. On this visit we will see a film about the abbey, have a tour of the brewery* and have a taste of La Trappe beer*. We can then buy a beer or two at the new tasting rooms and garden terrace. The brewery produces about nine beers, more than any other Trappist producer. There is an abbey shop nearby selling Trappist products.
18.00hr Leave De Koningshoeven for the journey back to Gent.
19.30hr Arrive back at Novotel Gent.
10.00hr After breakfast* check out of hotel. Coach leaves for our last day.
11.30hr Arrive at In de Vrede in Westvleteren, the monastery café at Sint Sixtus Monastery near Poperinge. This abbey was founded as late as 1831, but hermits had been living in the woods here prior to this. In 1850 some monks from here were sent to Chimay to found that monastery. Sint Sixtus bought brewing equipment in 1838 but until 1877 they only brewed a 2%abv table beer known as ‘Ordinaire’ which was drunk by the monks at lunchtime. Later they began brewing a Double 4%, a Special 6% and Extra at 8%. Things ramped up in the 1930s when brewing was increased in order to fund the rebuilding of the abbey and a bottling machine was purchased enabling greater volume of sales from the abbey. In order to boost sales at the opening of WW2 the ‘12’ was introduced but spiritual worries about the brewery over-dominating life in the monastery caused the community to sell all of the cafes they owned (except In de Vrede) and they stopped selling outside to beer merchants and café outlets. The beer would thenceforth only be sold to people coming to the abbey itself. In a further attempt to withdraw from beer-making in 1946 a contract was signed with a cheesemaker in Watou (now the St Bernardus Brewery) which allowed him to make Sint Sixtus beers, which the monks sold under their name. This agreement ended in 1992 when it was decreed that to be a Trappist beer it had to be brewed within the monastery walls. That same year, the abbey opened its new brewery to replace the older equipment improving quality and consistency which added to the perfection of the traditional brewing methods now means their beer is among the most prized in the world.
13.30hr Leave In De Vrede, Westvleteren.
14.00hr Arrive at the outstanding St Bernardus Brewery outside the brewing village of Watou for a guided tour* and beer tasting*. This brewery started life as a religious community called the Refuge Notre Dame de Sint.Bernard established in the late nineteenth century and made cheese to finance abbey activities. It closed in 1934, the monks moved to France and the cheese factory was sold to Evarist Deconinck who got the contract to brew Sint Sixtus from 1945 to 1992. The brew master from Sint Sixtus in Westvleteren became a partner in the brewery and brought along with him the know-how, the abbey recipes and the Sint Sixtus yeast strain. When the contract ended in 1992 St Bernardus continued to brew Sint Sixtus style beers but under their own name. Yet, despite its branding with smiling monks, the St Bernardus range are not designated abbey beers, yet this range is seriously good and out-punches most certified abbey beers illustrating the fact that Trappist designation is concerned with high quality, whereas Abbey designation is not. St Bernardus brew eight beers of real quality and consistency. Make sure you leave room in your luggage for a substantial souvenir beer gift pack*.
15.30hr Leave St Bernardus Brewery.
15.45hr Arrive Au Nouveau St Eloi a typical Flemish café just south of the village of Watou. The café is on a small road down the middle of which runs the Belgian-French border, with this café in Belgium. Here we will have a group meal and a choice of beer from their menu of 150 choices.
18.00hr Leave for Calais ferry.
19.55hr P&O Ferry to Dover.
20.25hr Arrive Dover Ferry Port.
20.50hr Coach drop Stop24 J11 M20, Kent CT21 4BL.
21.50hr Coach drop Dartford Railway Station DA1 1BP.
22.30hr Coach drop 102 Mildmay Road, Chelmsford CM2 0EA.
23.30hr Coach drop Crown Street, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP1 3HS.
If you are travelling alone and want to share a room with another traveller please contact Podge as we are regularly able to pair up travellers in twin rooms to avoid the need for payments of Single Supplements.
Hotel accommodation and breakfasts;
Hotel city taxes;
Luxury coach travel on a 49 seater coach with toilet;
All brewery visits, tours and brewery beer tastings;
Entrance fees to attractions, museums and historical sites;
All items marked with an asterisk above and on the individual detailed tour itinerary when issued;
Copies of Podge’s City Bar Guides and Maps for the town where we stay or spend some time;
Still and sparkling water on the coach;
Pick up from Ipswich (at bus shelter outside Crown House, Crown Street, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP1 3HS (opposite NCP Car Park), Colchester (Southway Chapel St South Layby) or Chelmsford (The Woolpack, Mildmay Road). Arrangements can be made for different joining points on the way to Folkestone or even on the other side of the channel.
Travellers are responsible for the costs of all food and drink apart from items marked with an asterisk on the detailed itinerary plus all passport and insurance costs.
All itinerary times are local and approximate.
Personal insurance is not included in the Tour price but is strongly advised, as is carrying the European Health Insurance Card available online, by phone or via the Post Ofﬁce.
If you have any questions or would like to be added to the interested list please send Podge an email or call him on +44 (0)1245 354677.
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