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Monastery Beer Tours in Belgium?

We would really like to find a monastery tour in Belgium, but the only one we can find is by Lonely Monks, is 9 days long and quite expensive (about $6500 each!). We don't want that long a tour... Anyone had any luck either finding the brewing monasteries on their own or finding a shorter, less pricey tour? We've been to Bruges before, using Rick's book as a guide, and had a great time!

Posted by
11368 posts

I have seen brewery trips to monasteries in Belgium advertised and not so pricey.

Posted by
1422 posts

You should be aware that the monasteries that brew the trappist beers, like Westvleteren, Chimay, Westmalle etc don’t allow visitors. You can’t visit the monasteries nor can you tour the breweries. The Trappist monks are first and foremost part of a religious order, they spend most of their day praying. The brewing of beer is a way for them to make money to help support the monastery, the monks and the charitable work that they do. So that’s why you won’t find many tours, as there isn’t really something to tour. Sure you can visit the towns where the monasteries are located, you can visit the monastery shop ( if they have one) and taste the beer in a local cafe, but that’s about it.

Posted by
52 posts

Like Dutch_traveler said. The only monastery I've toured is Leffe in Dinant. It was awful, really more of an advertisement than a tour, but I have to say, sitting outside on a warm July day at the post-tour bar they set up outside overlooking the Meuse was amazing, and possibly the most fun I've had drinking beer in Belgium ever (a very high bar!). I don't know if it's always a thing but they had it when my girlfriend and I were there last year.

We've toured a few other breweries in Belgium, but none were monasteries. Cantillon and De Halve Maan were both excellent. $6500 buys a lot of Trappistes Rochefort. Unless it's a tax deduction, how about setting up a few non-monastic tours on your own?

Posted by
7720 posts

As Dutch Traveler mentioned, there are no tours of the Abbey proper and the brewing facilities for these beers, There usually is however a cafe or center associated with the abbey.

One good one would be the St. Sixtus Abbey near Westvleteren, renowned for their Westvleteren 12. There you can go to the Abbey, see the outside, and go across the road to the In de Vrede cafe. They have decent local food, and you can order all three of their beers by the bottle. The gift shop sells a number of items, including six packs of the beers, based on availability.

In the area are several other good small breweries worth the trip, including the fabulous Deca Brewery, and the well regarded de Struise Brewery. The St, Bernardus brewery is also near, not an Abbey, so they do (when covid is not an issue) offer tours and have a tap room. There are also maybe a half dozen or other breweries in the area.

The difficulty though, is you need a car to see these places efficiently. You also need to research opening times for the tap rooms, and any tours offered. Many may only be open for example, on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, or limited days. There is however a ton of things to do related to beer and WW1 sights in the Ypres/Poperinge area, as well as some decent beer bars.

We also hit a few other places, covid heavily impacted what was open though. Cantillion in Brussels is excellent, again several other microbrews and great beer bars there. Outside of Brussels, near Beersel, is Oud Beersel and 3 Fontainen, both Gueze breweries like Cantillion, and one small one we found, the Belgoo brewery that is doing some neat things.

Bruges has De Halve Moon, a very good tour of an old historical brewery, along side modern production, also Bourgogne de Flanders. Bruges also has a great selection of beer bars, serving extensive lists.

Don't overlook Ghent and Antwerp, some microbrews, but lots of beer bars.

I think, with a mix of public transport, and some strategic driving, you can piece together a good trip, hitting a variety of beer styles and types. Maybe at select locations, find a local beer tour to get you to a good selection of places.

Posted by
20 posts

Maredsous Abbey has a guided tour. They also have a large cafeteria and pretty grounds that you can walk around. The cafe is somewhat touristy and the food was average, but the beer is good and the abbey is worth a stop if you're in the area.

You can't tour the Orval abbey itself, but they have a small museum and you can walk through the ruins of the old abbey, which is really great. There's a cafe just off site for their beer and a nice croque monsieur sandwich.

Both of these are south of Brussels in Wallonia. You need a car to get around, but the region is very pretty with forests/hills/river towns and some great castles/ruins. Other than that, Cantillon in Brussels offers a fun self-guided tour of their historic 100-year old brewing operation. Overall, I'd agree with the previous posters - most European brewers just don't do tours the same way as in the States. You'd be better served visiting the quaint pubs and bars.

Posted by
52 posts

Great tips RobertS. It looks like there's a bit of a climb at the end, but you could take the train to Namur and then hop on a city bike for about a euro and pedal along the Meuse and over to Maredsous. My gf loves their brune and I'm a fan of their blonde. I'm putting it on our to-do list.

Posted by
20 posts

Spoilednonrev: I don't know how easy it would be to reach by bike, but also nearby is Chateau fort de Montaigle. It's a cool ruined castle in a pretty valley.

Posted by
52 posts

Thanks, that castle is right on the route I plotted between Anhée and the abbey. The path between Namur and Anhée is bicycle-only, so that part's easy. From there to the abbey it looks like a little 1.5-lane country road that would also be very pleasant on a bike.