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Home Page > Travelogues > Belgium > Chimay


Notre Dame de Scourmont, Chimay -- Humble Abbey, Reknowned Brewery 


Back in my younger days when I was an avid homebrewer, I dreamed of the day when I would do a 'Beer Tour of Belgium'.  I am a fan of Belgian beer, which strives for uniqueness as opposed to the mass-producedMain Chapel all-the-same-style beers of America and elsewhere in Europe.  These beers are not for the average beer drinker, believe me.  They are usually strong (some varieties being nearly as strong as wine), sour (because of the use of natural uncultured yeasts in some cases and less use of hops), and incredibly expensive (up to $5 for a 11.2oz bottle or $10 for a 22oz bottle).  These are beers you savor for special occasions or meals (on the other hand, if you want a Belgian everyday beer there is always Stella Artois, which is on par with Budweiser).

It is the history of Belgian brewing that makes these beers so special.  They grew and evolved through the abbeys of the region during medieval times.  Back then, each abbey was a self-sustaining commune of brothers and sisters.  Some of those whose beers survived to this day came under the Cistercian order.  They grew their own food and produced dairy products, particularly cheese.  They sustained themselves by hosting hungry travelers seeking refuge and safety from the bands of thieves in the surrounding thick forests.  Many of the older abbeys look like fortresses with good reason, as medieval Belgium and France were not safe places.

Most of these abbeys are long gone and left as ruins, replaced with more modern and humble surroundings, but the traditions of producing unique beers and cheeses Cemetaryremain.  The Notre Dame de Scourmont abbey, located a short drive south of the town of Chimay, is one such example.

The abbey is a fairly good-sized place, but only a portion of it is open to the public.  Access is free.  Among the places one can visit is the main church, shown above.  In keeping with Cistercian tradition, it was fairly simple and plain.  The public was welcome to attend the various prayer sessions and Masses conducted through the day.  Also accessible is the cemetery, shown in the second photograph, and the woodland surrounding the grounds.  This was where all of the order's brothers and sisters were buried.  The woods include the following, a beautiful new statue of St. Joseph holding Baby Jesus and an older wooden cross with a French inscription.  These are shown in the third photograph.

Of course, visitors will probably want to take a tour of the brewery itself, but these are lStatue of St. Joseph with Jesusimited and must be planned in advance (I did not have time).  What I understood was that the brewery was heavily modernized and as the Chimay brand is world-renowned the operations are commercialized.   However, these operations are still very much under the direct control and supervision of the monks -- which is a requirement of the beer being certified as an original genuine 'Trappist' product.  There are only six breweries in the world that can legally use that term (the others being Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, Westvleteren, and Achel).  Chimay® Ales come in three varieties -- a red ale, a traditional trippel, and a special dark ale -- and are exported all over the world (while many of the others are less common outside of Belgium).  In general, I would say that a visit was more for the beer enthusiast than the sightseer, especially when compared with the Orval monastery near Florenville.

Less than a mile away, there was a local restaurant devoted to Chimay® products where one can buy all the Chimay beer and cheese one desires.  While I did not recall there being a significant discount, there were special editions of Chimay's ales available or on display that I had not seen anywhere else.  As for the cheese, Chimay's main product is similar to a Dutch gouda and was very good.  How it compared price-wise to other local cheese I cannot say.

Frankly, I recommend visiting Orval over Chimay.  Orval is very unique and the sense of history far more apparent.  On the other hand, since I have visited several small European breweries, if you are able to secure a tour of the Chimay brewery, I would recommend it.

Trip Taken 3 August 2001 -- Last Updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2006 Tom Galvin

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