Discover the Trappist Trail: A Belgian Beer Road Trip in a Campervan
Discover the Trappist Trail: A Belgian Beer Road Trip in a Campervan

Discover the Trappist Trail: A Belgian Beer Road Trip in a Campervan

Uncover the secrets of Belgium’s Trappist beers and scenic landscapes on a remarkable campervan road trip.

Are you a beer enthusiast seeking an unforgettable adventure? Look no further than the Trappist Trail in Belgium, a journey that combines the exquisite taste of Trappist beers with the beauty of the Belgian countryside. Picture yourself cruising along winding roads in a campervan, exploring historic monasteries, and savoring some of the world’s finest brews. In this article, we’ll guide you through the best time to visit, key stops, route details, and places to stay with your campervan. Get ready to embark on a Belgian beer road trip like no other.

Belgian beer is renowned worldwide for its exceptional quality, diversity, and unique brewing traditions. What makes Belgian beer special can be attributed to several key factors:

  1. Diverse Styles: Belgium offers an extensive range of beer styles, from Trappist ales to lambics, saisons, gueuze, abbey beers, and more. Each style has its own distinct flavor profile, making Belgian beer a treasure trove for enthusiasts seeking variety.
  2. Brewing Heritage: Belgium has a rich brewing heritage dating back centuries. Monasteries have played a significant role in brewing, leading to the creation of Trappist beers renowned for their authenticity and craftsmanship.
  3. Complex Flavors: Belgian beers are celebrated for their complex flavor profiles, often combining fruity, spicy, malty, and yeast-driven characteristics. These complex flavors arise from unique yeast strains, diverse ingredients, and meticulous aging processes.
  4. Wild Fermentation: Lambics and gueuze beers are fermented using wild yeasts and bacteria, which impart sour and funky flavors. This spontaneous fermentation process is a hallmark of Belgian beer production.
  5. Artisanal Approach: Belgian brewers often maintain a hands-on, artisanal approach to brewing. Many breweries are family-owned, and recipes are often closely guarded secrets passed down through generations.
  6. Trappist Beers: Belgium is home to six Trappist monasteries that brew beer. These Trappist ales are brewed under strict guidelines, with profits often used for charitable purposes. Their dedication to tradition and quality sets them apart.
  7. Local Ingredients: Belgian brewers use high-quality local ingredients, including specialized malts, hops, and water sources, contributing to the unique flavors of their beers.
  8. Innovation and Experimentation: Despite its traditional roots, Belgian brewing is also known for its innovation. Brewers continually experiment with new flavors, ingredients, and aging techniques, pushing the boundaries of what beer can be.
  9. Cultural Significance: Beer holds immense cultural significance in Belgium. It’s often enjoyed with meals, and many towns and regions have their beer styles, further adding to the diversity of Belgian beer culture.
  10. Beer Tourism: Belgium’s beer culture has led to a thriving beer tourism industry. Visitors can explore historic breweries, picturesque abbey settings, and beer museums, immersing themselves in the country’s beer history.
  11. Unique Glassware: Belgian beers are often served in specialized glassware designed to enhance the drinking experience, showcasing the beer’s aromas and flavors.
  12. Food Pairing: Belgian beer is celebrated for its compatibility with food. It can complement a wide range of dishes, from seafood and chocolates to hearty stews and cheeses.

In summary, what makes Belgian beer special is its rich history, diversity of styles, complex flavors, and a commitment to quality that has been passed down through generations. Belgian brewers continue to push the boundaries of beer, making Belgium a must-visit destination for beer enthusiasts seeking a truly exceptional and diverse beer experience.

Best Time to Visit the Trappist Trail

Before you hit the road, it’s crucial to plan your trip for the best possible experience. Belgium offers a range of weather conditions throughout the year, and your choice of timing can significantly impact your journey.

Spring (March to May): Spring is an ideal time to explore the Trappist Trail. The weather is mild, and the countryside bursts with vibrant colors as flowers bloom. You’ll have the opportunity to enjoy outdoor activities and brewery tours without the summer crowds.

Summer (June to August): Summer brings warmer temperatures and longer days, making it a popular time for tourists. While this means more people at the breweries and campsites, it also offers the chance to experience Belgian beer culture at its liveliest.

Fall (September to November): If you prefer a quieter experience, consider visiting during the fall. The weather remains pleasant, and you can witness the picturesque transformation of the landscape as leaves change color. Breweries are less crowded, allowing for more personalized tours.

Winter (December to February): While winter in Belgium can be chilly and wet, it’s a magical time to explore the Trappist Trail. Cozy up in your campervan and visit the breweries to enjoy their strong, warming ales. Just be prepared for shorter days and occasional closures.

The best time to visit depends on your preferences and tolerance for crowds and weather conditions. Each season has its unique charm, so plan your journey accordingly.

Key Stops on the Trappist Trail

The Trappist Trail is a journey of both flavor and culture. Here are some key stops you won’t want to miss on your Belgian beer road trip:

1. Brussels: The Start of Your Adventure

Your adventure begins in Belgium’s vibrant capital, Brussels. Before hitting the road, take some time to explore the city’s historic sites and, of course, indulge in some local beer. Try iconic Belgian beers like Duvel, Chimay, or a classic Belgian witbier.

Pro Tip: Visit the Cantillon Brewery in Brussels, famous for its traditional lambic beers. This family-run brewery offers guided tours where you can witness the time-honored brewing methods.

2. Westmalle Abbey: A Trappist Tradition

Drive north to Westmalle Abbey, one of the few Trappist monasteries that allow visitors. Here, you can tour the brewery and taste their renowned beers, including the Westmalle Tripel and Dubbel.

Pro Tip: Don’t miss the Westmalle Extra, a rare and limited-edition beer only available at the abbey itself.

3. Antwerp: A Cultural Interlude

After Westmalle, head to Antwerp, a city known for its art, architecture, and bustling harbor. Take a break from beer tasting to explore the Antwerp Cathedral, Rubenshuis, and the vibrant Grote Markt.

Pro Tip: Enjoy a glass of De Koninck, Antwerp’s city beer, at one of the local bars, and pair it with a traditional Belgian meal.

4. Orval Abbey: A Blend of History and Beer

Venture southeast to Orval Abbey, famous for its unique Trappist beer, Orval. The abbey’s picturesque ruins and peaceful surroundings make it an ideal spot for relaxation and reflection.

Pro Tip: Explore the beautiful Orval Park, which surrounds the abbey, and don’t forget to taste the Orval beer with its distinctive brettanomyces character.

5. Rochefort: Dive into Trappist Tradition

Your next destination is Rochefort, home to the Rochefort Trappist brewery. This small town offers a glimpse into the serene life of the monks and a chance to taste their world-famous Rochefort 10.

Pro Tip: Rochefort 10 is often considered one of the best beers globally, so savor it slowly and appreciate its complexity.

6. Chimay: The Grand Finale

Conclude your Trappist Trail adventure in Chimay, home to the Chimay Trappist brewery. Take a guided tour to witness the brewing process, and be sure to try their signature beers, such as Chimay Blue and Chimay Red.

Pro Tip: Chimay beers are best enjoyed with a plate of local cheese, offering a perfect pairing of flavors.

Route Details: Navigating the Trappist Trail

Now that you’ve identified the key stops, it’s time to plan your route. The Trappist Trail covers approximately 500 kilometers, so ensure your campervan is well-equipped for the journey. Here’s a suggested route:

  • Brussels to Westmalle Abbey (Approx. 50 km): Start your journey in Brussels and head north to Westmalle Abbey. The drive takes about an hour, and you’ll get to taste your first Trappist beer.
  • Westmalle Abbey to Antwerp (Approx. 40 km): Continue north to Antwerp, a quick 40-minute drive. Spend some time exploring the city’s cultural treasures.
  • Antwerp to Orval Abbey (Approx. 250 km): Drive southeast to Orval Abbey, which is about a 3-hour journey. Enjoy the scenic route through the Ardennes region.
  • Orval Abbey to Rochefort (Approx. 180 km): Head northeast to Rochefort, a 2-hour drive. Be sure to take in the beautiful Belgian countryside along the way.
  • Rochefort to Chimay (Approx. 150 km): Your final leg of the journey takes you to Chimay, which is approximately a 2-hour drive from Rochefort.

Remember that the driving times are approximate and may vary based on traffic and road conditions. Take your time to savor each location, and don’t rush the experience.

Places to Stay with a Campervan

One of the perks of a campervan road trip is the flexibility it offers in terms of accommodation. Here are some places to stay along the Trappist Trail:

1. Campsites and Aires

Belgium has a well-developed network of campsites and aires (designated parking areas for campervans). These are scattered throughout the country, providing convenient places to park your campervan for the night. Many campsites offer basic amenities like electricity, water, and sanitary facilities.

Pro Tip: Make reservations in advance, especially during the peak tourist season, to secure a spot at your preferred campsite.

2. Abbey Guesthouses

Some Trappist abbeys offer guesthouses where visitors can stay. While these accommodations are relatively simple, they provide a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the Trappist way of life. Staying at an abbey guesthouse can be a tranquil and spiritual experience.

Pro Tip: Check each abbey’s website or contact them directly to inquire about guesthouse availability and reservations.

3. Rural Retreats

For a more secluded and nature-focused experience, consider parking your campervan in rural areas or near forests. Belgium’s countryside is dotted with scenic spots where you can enjoy the peacefulness of nature.

Pro Tip: Ensure you’re aware of local regulations regarding overnight parking to avoid any issues.

4. Local B&Bs and Inns

If you prefer a break from campervan life, you can also find charming bed-and-breakfasts and inns along the Trappist Trail. These accommodations offer a cozy and comfortable stay, often with a touch of Belgian hospitality.

Pro Tip: Book your B&B or inn well in advance, especially if you have specific preferences or requirements.

Tasting Belgian Beer Responsibly

While exploring the Trappist Trail, it’s essential to enjoy Belgian beer responsibly. Here are some tips to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience:

  • Designated Driver: If you’re traveling with a group, designate a driver who will abstain from alcohol to ensure everyone’s safety.
  • Sample Sizes: When visiting breweries, opt for smaller sample sizes rather than full glasses of beer to pace yourself and try a variety of brews.
  • Stay Hydrated: Balance your beer consumption with plenty of water, especially if you plan to visit multiple breweries in one day.
  • Local Food: Pair your beers with local Belgian cuisine to enhance the tasting experience and absorb the alcohol.
  • Know Your Limits: Be aware of your alcohol tolerance and avoid excessive drinking to prevent accidents or health issues.
  • Stay Informed: Familiarize yourself with local laws and regulations regarding alcohol consumption and driving.

Essential Belgian Beers for your Bucket List

When embarking on a Belgian beer adventure along the Trappist Trail, there are several essential Belgian beers you must try to fully appreciate the country’s rich brewing heritage. Here are some of the must-try Belgian beers:

  1. Chimay Blue (Grande Réserve): Known as “Chimay Bleue,” this Trappist ale is a strong, dark beer with complex flavors of dark fruits, caramel, and spices.
  2. Westmalle Tripel: A classic Trappist Tripel, Westmalle Tripel is characterized by its golden color, fruity esters, and a well-balanced bitterness.
  3. Orval: Orval stands out for its distinctive brettanomyces character, resulting in a unique blend of fruity and funky flavors. It’s a pale ale with a remarkable taste.
  4. Rochefort 10: Often regarded as one of the world’s best beers, Rochefort 10 is a Quadrupel with rich, dark fruit, toffee, and chocolate notes.
  5. Duvel: A strong Belgian Golden Ale, Duvel is famous for its effervescence, fruity aroma, and a dry, crisp finish.
  6. St. Bernardus Abt 12: Often considered an alternative to Westvleteren 12, this Quadrupel is characterized by its dark, fruity, and malty profile.
  7. Cantillon Gueuze: For sour beer enthusiasts, Cantillon Gueuze is a must-try lambic beer with a complex, tart, and funky flavor profile.
  8. Kwak: Recognizable by its unique glassware, Kwak is an amber ale with malty sweetness and subtle spiciness.
  9. La Chouffe: This Belgian Strong Pale Ale is known for its fruity and spicy notes, making it a refreshing and delightful choice.
  10. Rodenbach Grand Cru: For fans of sour red ales, Rodenbach Grand Cru offers a perfect balance of tartness, oak, and fruitiness.
  11. Saison Dupont: Saisons are a Belgian farmhouse ale style, and Dupont’s version is a classic, with a dry, spicy, and fruity character.
  12. Gulden Draak: Gulden Draak is a Belgian Dark Ale known for its rich, caramelized maltiness and a hint of dark fruits.
  13. Petrus Aged Pale: If you’re into sour beers, Petrus Aged Pale is a Flanders Oud Bruin with a sour and vinous profile.
  14. Maredsous 10: A strong Tripel with fruity and yeasty notes, Maredsous 10 offers a pleasant balance of sweetness and bitterness.
  15. Stella Artois: While not a craft beer, Stella Artois is Belgium’s iconic lager, and it’s worth trying in its home country for a taste of tradition.

These essential Belgian beers represent a diverse range of styles and flavors, showcasing the craftsmanship and brewing excellence that Belgium is renowned for. As you travel the Trappist Trail and explore the country’s breweries and abbeys, be sure to savor these beers to fully immerse yourself in the world of Belgian brewing. Cheers to an unforgettable beer journey!

In Conclusion

Embarking on a road trip along the Trappist Trail in Belgium is a dream come true for beer aficionados and adventure seekers alike. From the bustling streets of Brussels to the serene abbeys in the Belgian countryside, this journey promises a unique blend of culture, history, and world-class Trappist beers. Plan your visit during the ideal season, map out your route, and choose your accommodations wisely to make the most of this unforgettable experience. The Trappist Trail awaits, ready to introduce you to the world of Belgian beer like never before.

Now, pack your bags, hop in your campervan, and get ready for the beer adventure of a lifetime!

Remember, drink responsibly and savor the flavors of Belgium, one Trappist beer at a time.