In the far north of the Limburg province of Belgium, literally a stone’s throw from the border of the Netherlands sits the Abbey of Saint Benedict. This is not just any ordinary abbey. The Sint-Benedictusabdij de Achelse Kluis is one of the world’s ten official Trappist breweries and the smallest in Belgium.
Today was possibly the last day with the temperature in the teens (Celsius) for what could be months in Belgium so I decided to spend the November 1 holiday doing a repeat beer and bike ride to this lovely part of Belgium and Netherlands. Originally I did a similar ride in June 2015. The holiday meant that the abbey was closed to visitors today. Therefore, the photos are a mixture of November 2016 and June 2015.
Monks started brewing beer at this location all the way back in the 1600’s. Only in 1868 did the monastery actually become part of the Trappist order. The monastery suffered two separate periods of catastrophic ruin which interrupted the brewing activities, the French Revolution and World War I. After World War I, no brewing occurred until 2001.
The abbey itself lies in one of the most beautiful and scenic parts of Belgium and Netherlands. If you have never lived in a country as flat and densely populated as northern Belgium, you wouldn’t quite understand how precious a small forest can be. This 50km ride beginning and ending from the Neerpelt train station is so far my favorite short (50 km or less) forest/scenic bike ride in Belgium and the first one which I have actually repeated. Nearly the entire ride is amongst canals, forest, farms and grassland.
Many places along the border between Belgium and Netherlands memorialize the electric fence that the Germans installed in World War I to seal the border. The term used in Dutch is Doodendraad or “Killing Wire”.
I was surprised at the richness of the fall foliage. Living several years in Pennsylvania and New England in the USA spoiled me with the beautiful autumn colors. Until this point, I had not yet experienced anything similar in Belgium. But in several places, the leaves were still near peak color and not yet fallen off the trees. Along the way I passed a father and daughter riding their horse and buggy through a forest on the Belgian side of the border. This was just one of many quaint scenes of normal life in this area. In the Leenderbos forest which spans both sides of the border, long-horned and hairy cattle are allowed to roam free. Signs indicated to keep 25m distance at all time. When riding through the countryside of the Netherlands, it is inevitable to pass an old-fashioned windmill. This route did not disappoint. The one in the photo was more or less dilapidated and looked to be in disuse. But it still gives a charming cultural stamp on the landscape.
The Sint-Benedictusabdij de Achelse Kluis has a lovely cafe and the best beer shop (not photographed) of all the Trappist monasteries that I’ve visited. The abbey makes two different styles of beer, a blond and a bruin. However, they make it at 3 different alcohol contents. The beer on tap at the cafe is 5%. The bottled versions are 8%, and the higher 9,5% is only available in 75cl bottles sold at the beer shop.
The route was planned using Fietsnet.
Starting/Ending Point: Neerpelt Train Station, Belgium
Total Length: 50,9 km
The final route and statistics are from the GPS Tracks App for iPhone.
In my opinion this route is one of the most beautiful in this part of Belgium and Netherlands and each season of the year gives it it’s own special character. There is also some history to be found for war buffs and of course the pay-off is to enjoy the Trappist Achel beer of the Saint Benedict Abbey. This is what beer and biking is all about.