One of the things I love about Belgium is its population of abbeys which dot its landscape. It is not out of Christian faith or interest in donning the habit that inspires this love, but that many of the Belgian abbeys have jumped on the lucrative marketing train and licenced a beer or range of beers named after the abbey. I have written at great lengths about Belgian abbey beer in previous posts about Leffe, Tongerlo, Maredsous, Ename, Affligem, Averbode, Corsendonck, and Postel to name a few. It is the abbey beer that I think distinguishes Belgian beer from the beer in every other country on Earth. It is not just the character of the taste of Belgian beer that makes them better than the rest of the world, but the way so many are linked to the country’s history. In fact, any Belgian abbey that hasn’t licenced a beer must be out of their monk hoods.
Not all Belgian abbey beers, as it turns out, are mass marketed like some of the ones I have already mentioned. Two abbey beers which only occasionally appear in Flanders are Bonne-Espérance and Abbaye d’Aulne. These always felt like fringe abbey beers and for a long time I shrugged them off as perhaps fake or even dreaded supermarket-linked beers (like Florival for example). It wasn’t until planning my bike rides for 2019 that I discovered they really did belong to a couple of abbeys which happened to be quite close together near the town of Binche in the French part of Belgium.
Binche is an interesting town. First of all, forget about trying to pronounce it. English speakers will immediately say Binch-eh or Binch, like the word pinch. Actually, it is a French word so to try to phonetically spell out the pronunciation in English is near impossible. It is something like Baaa-nsh. Where the baaa part is like the sound a sheep makes but shorter. Got it?
Believe it not, Baaansh has a UNESCO link. It has one of the two most famous carnivals in Belgium (along with Aalst, which I have posted about). For a town which has something which UNESCO finds so historically important to protect it, I was amazed when I tried to research the town in my collection of old travel books on Belgium. I found zip. Zero. It may be historically unique and important, but tourists of the past preferred to go to Bruges, Gent, and Antwerp. Not surprising given the carnival is in February and that is probably the worst month to be in Belgium weather-wise.
But Binche has another link to one of my favorite figures in history. Charles V. That’s right Mr. Gouden Carolus and Keizer Karel has a link to Binche. The motto of the city is Plus Oultre which was also the motto of Charles V. Why? I don’t know. But maybe it has something to do with the fact that Binche Castle was gifted by Charles V to his sister Queen Mary of Hungary. She showed her gratitude by tearing it down and building a fancy palace. Today, only some fortified walls remain because in the mid-1500’s the Spanish and French went on a tit-for-tat palace burning tantrum. Binche ultimately became a forgotten town and most of what was left of the palace was demolished in the early 1700’s.
But it is 2019 and as I perused Komoot and Google maps, I saw the potential for one helluva Beer & Bike ride.
The Ride Details
Ok, the link I am about to provide was not the exact route that I rode. The first half of the route that I actually rode was only suitable for a mountain bike and had some steep climbs up dirt, tree root hindered trails. So I went back afterwards and updated my route to what I think will be a ride which includes all of the highlights but will be suitable for any bike. Plus it will spend more time riding along the La Sambre river. With that said, any photos I show are ones that would be seen on the route in the link.
Here is the link in Komoot.
- Starting point: around Binche train station
- Ending point: aroind Binche train station
- Distance: 44.9 km (adjusted), 48.7 km (my actual)
- Moving Time: 3 hrs 9 minutes
The Ride Highlights
Aulne Abbey was a Cistercian monastery which was destroyed by the French at the end of the 18th century. The ruins of the abbey church are quite impressive and surrounded by great cafes in which to enjoy the Abbaye d’Aulne beer which is brewed onsite at the Brasserie de l’Abbaye d’Aulne. There is also a B&B should anyone be interested in spending the night. Interesting beer-related fact. The Trappists famous for their beer are actually a split off branch of the Cistercians. While Cistercians were promoters of self-sufficiency, they also put a lot of effort in the pursuit of education and academics. The Trappists, however, wanted to live more simple lives, so they broke off and went their separate ways. The rest is beer history.
La Sambre River Path
Abbaye de Bonne-Espérance
Bonne-Espérance is another abbey destroyed by the French in the 1790’s. It was not inhabited by monks but by canons who were more active in the role of preaching to local communities rather than living a quiet secluded life in the abbey. Other abbeys of this type are especially well-known in the beer world. Tongerlo, Averbode, Leffe, and Grimbergen to name a few. Today the abbey has been rebuilt into a seminary.
As opposed to the Abbaye d’Aulne beer which is brewed in the abbey complex, Bonne-Espérance beer is brewed by Brasserie La Binchoise in Binche. There is a cafe next to the abbey where the beer can be enjoyed along with some light snacks, cheese, and desserts. There seems to be three styles of beer made for the abbey. The triple is the most common. A saison is available in 75cl bottles. The brune seems to be recently introduced.
Brasserie La Binchoise
Situated just across the fortificated walls of Queen Mary of Hungary’s former palace is this city brewery of Binche. La Binchoise makes several varities of beer including the standards Blonde, Brune, and Triple. They also have a honey version, a fruit version, and a couple barrel aged. I have had a few and have not yet been disappointed.
This ride really has a lot to offer. The beautiful landscape of Wallonia with some moderately challenging hills, a scenic riverside section, a relaxing Ravel, and three top-notch beer pilgrimages. Truly the epitome of what you want in a Beer & Bike.