This scheiße-auf-der-strasse is starting to get old a bit. . . being on the road, that is. I think about that today, briefly, after waking up early, doing the morning routine, breaking camp, packing up and moving again on the 15th day of our family camping road trip this summer. But then, the words of wisdom of my friend Mike seemed to have traveled the seas, rode the airwaves and rang in my head. “Beats going to work everyday, doesn’t it?!“, he’d say with a grin. And he’s right! I would NOT be able to be traveling with my family for this long (3 weeks on a camping road trip, up to see family and friends in Poland for another 3 weeks, and another 3 weeks back down on the road home) had I not quit my job to have a family GAP YEAR to change a lifestyle that has now entered its. . . third year! Ahhhhh, life of the happily unemployed. Today’s destination? Chimay, Belgium, for a day. . . or maybe two.
So what’s in Chimay? What can you do here for a day?
Chimay beer, beer and a Trappist beer at that! There’s also the abbey of the monks that brews it, and the palace of the prince that made it all happen; 3 things that sum up this charming little village just 160-something miles (230 kilometers) northeast of Paris from our camp site with a 3-hour travel time and a pleasantly unplanned stopover at the birthplace of the creator of “The Three Musketeers”–Alexandre Dumas.
So what about the beer? It’s made by monks for both monks and (wo)men alike. And it’s delicious. It’s one of only 10 authentic TRAPPIST beers in the world. And what’s a trappist? Well, it’s trapped within the walls of a monastery. . . Uhhh… DUH?! get it?. . . trapped. . . trappist??? OK, bad pun. ; ) According to the wisdom of WIKIPEDIA, trappists are the monks and nuns who form a community and live according to the rules of Saint Benedict.
In order for a beer to have the trappist label it has to be: (1) brewed within the walls of a trappist abbey, (2) brewed by or under the supervision of monks (THINK, the beer-brewing rebel monk in the Robin Hood tale), and (3) most of the income from brewing is used for charitable purposes (makes you wanna drink more, doesn’t it?). There are 4 different kinds to suit your mood and taste buds and they are all so simply delicious that this simple monk who worked for two years to make what his superior simply called a “good beer” should be beatified. Join the campaign to make Pere Theodore a saint! #SaintPereTheodore, #SimplyChimay
Can I have a Chimay beer tasting and tour where it is produced? (Btw, I just learned that an abbey is a collection of monasteries, NOT a monastery for women monks as I initially thought. (Uhh DUH ta-DUH!) The Chimay beer is produced at the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Scourmont. . . And to answer the question: NO! Not unless you sign up to be a Cisterian monk. Or maybe they’ll give you one if you stay at their lodge. YES! the abbey has rooms that you and I lay people can check into for some spiritual peaceful retreat. Hhhmmm. . . beer and peace?!?!?!
And another NO! You cannot tour the production facility at the Abbey because the monks and nuns DO NEED to maintain their spiritual way of life. That means, us tourists get in the way of their way of life “pax, ora et labora” (peace, pray and work) and solitary beer drinking. But you can have a self-guided informative tour of the Chimay beer production, the abbey’s history and Chimay cheese (YES! The abbey also makes CHEESE!) for only 4 euros (without wetting your beer buds) at a nearby inn called Auberge de Poteaupre Espace Chimay.
What else to see in Chimay? The Chateau du Chimay. Sometime in 1850, the then-Prince of Chimay gave a a tumbleweed track of land to some monks. The soil was apparently so poor and boggy that nothing would grow. But the monks who live by the motto “Ora et Labora” (work and pray) did pray and work the lands into fertility that makes the area easy on the eyes now with all its farms, as well as an economic backbone. A miracle you might say! A miracle indeed as this order produced a man and monk in search of a “Good Beer!” looking for that perfect strand of yeast for 2 years. And the rest is history. . . All this to say that this chateau or palace of the former prince who made it all happen is well worth a visit.
Why? I could care less about pretty palaces, castles, kings and queens and all that nobility. Hell, I’m ‘Merican! Once in a while, though, it’s nice to see one, particularly for my children’s on-the-road education. This one is quite beautiful. The entire noble line supposedly were benefactors of the arts and had serious money for it. The parts of the castle that are open to tourists were well preserved with lavish furnishings. A princess still lives here and (word is) she sometimes shows up incognito with the tourists.
The highlight of the visit? As part of the tour, you can watch a little history of the palace and the village of Chimay in the well kept 19th century theater (equipped with contemporary projector-screen) that the nobility of Chimay used to entertain. There’s a spy story in there too where the princess of Chimay helped a Soviet pianist escape its KGB guard-minders into the loving arms of western freedom during a scheduled performance!
Here’s an itinerary for A Day in Chimay To give you more time to taste chimay
First thing in the morning, visit the family-friendly palace (Chateau de Chimay). It was open 11-17 hours when we were there in July. But you may come in earlier to enter the grounds and surroundings. The official tour last about an hour, and you may still linger about when it’s over. Entrance: 9 euros; FREE to children 0-7 years old.
Then drive about 8 kilometers (10 minutes) out and have a slow-go lunch at the family-friendly Inn of Poteaupre (Auberge de Poteaupre Espace Chimay). Our young children played for hours with other wild and wonderful kids at the inn’s 2 outdoor playgrounds! The inn serves traditional (read: simple but yummy good) Belgian cuisine such as the rabbit cooked in trappist beer and prune sauce and cold escaveche (or traditional Wallonian fish–an acquired taste this one!). Lunch is just an excuse to taste the beer and you can have little tasters of all 4 types for 9 euros.
Take the self-guided tour of the inn’s Chimay beer and cheese musuem in the same place; easily a one hour informative activity (if you read as much as you can) about the history, beer process of making beer and cheese, history of Chimay beer, the abbey and the Cisterian monks. There was also an exhibit of the old tools used to make and deliver beer.
Then, take a 20-minute (1.4-km) walk to the grounds and garden (including the monks’ cemetary) of the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Scourmont . No, it’s not dismal; just peaceful actually. Besides you’ll need to sober up after the beer tasters. Don’t forget to pick up your kids at the playground on the way out. Say a prayer at the church, if you pray, or get closer to god and purchase religious souvenirs, from postcards to wooden crosses, rosaries, books, etc, from a self-service (honor system) payment store. Remember, you have to walk back to your car!
Get a taste of the Chimay night life and have light dinner back at the town square whose small church (constructed in 1732) is older than the US of A. Enjoy family activities such as chess, and other things which name I don’t know (see photo) in the open square. Dine and drink al fresco but bring your sweaters. It could be cold. Have a. . . what else. . . Chimay! It may make your dreams come true! Big Smile!
Next: Destination Maastricht, the Low Lands.