The next time you take a sip of a Belgian abbey beer, ponder that the existence of that succulent nectar may be a descendent of a single lightning bolt striking the feet of a horse in 1115. The impact of that single lightning bolt knocked a certain rider to the ground leaving him unconscious for roughly an hour. Upon reviving, Norbert of Xanten would repent his ways and set out to clean up the sorry act that was the Northern European clergy. In the process, Norbert (later St. Norbert) would form the order of Premonstr… Premonstrat… Premonstratensian canons whose abbeys sprung up all over France, Belgium, Germany, and even as far away as Romania.
One of those abbeys was built in 1121 in the village of Floreffe. This abbey was granted by Godfrey Count of Namur to Norbert when he was pleased with relics he brought him. It became the 2nd abbey of that unpronounceable order with the 1st being in Laon, France. In 1138, canons of the Floreffe abbey ventured off and founded Postel Abbey and then in 1152, perhaps the fate of abbey beer was sealed forever when more canons of the Floreffe abbey started up another abbey in Dinant, Belgium. You might know the name.
Yes, this is the same St. Norbert of St. Norbert brewery fame in Prague.
Floreffe Abbey is perched on a hill over-looking the Sambre river valley much like a fortress. But it was however, just an abbey, and during the French Revolution was quickly vanquished. Fortunately for beer tourists, it was not demolished and today actually serves as a school.
During my research for my last blog post about the Postel Abbey, I learned about this link with Floreffe. Interestingly, it is one beer pilgrimage I had yet to experience. So the next hiking destination became quite logical.
The hike that I did was not the original one that I planned. Part of it was blocked due to private property (something not always evident when planning a route with an app like Komoot). And part of it I abbreviated because of the heat. Nevertheless the hike had plenty of scenery and a few historical sites along the way. This also happened to be the first hike I have done since the restaurants and cafes have reopened in Belgium during the COVID crisis.
- Starting Point: Floreffe Abbey parking lot
- Ending Point: Roundtrip
- Distance: 13.6 km
- My Moving Time: 2 hrs 44 mins
- Eating Place: Moulin-Brasserie (Floreffe Abbey)
- Komoot Link: Floreffe Loop
Before you actually embark out of the village of Floreffe, this route takes you up to the Eglise Notre Dame du Rosaire de Floreffe with a provocative cemetery and an interesting pair of urinals.
The first part of the hike takes you up on a plateau through some farmland in the direction of the village of Malonne. It is the tantalizing forest to the north (left of the image) of this route which is off limits.
The hike passes thru part of the village of Malonne and up into an adjacent forest. Here the tree cover is lush and eventually you come around to a rather eerie cement sentinel, marking the gate to Fort de Malonne, a former fort which saw action in both world wars and is today a natural reserve for bats.
The trail loops back into Malonne with it’s reknowned teachers college, St. Berthuin.
Just past Malonne, I opted to climb back up to the plateau and hike back towards Floreffe. Here were many amazing farmland vistas.
Up until this point, I had found it very frustrating finding a good spot to capture a complete view of the Floreffe abbey for my beer photo. But just as I was coming down from the plateau, I finally found the right location on a stone wall.
Arriving back in Floreffe, I took a look around the abbey complex. It is possible to explore the grounds for free, but to go into any of the buildings requires a guided tour. FYI, the tour that was going on as I was walking around was given in English.
After a short walk around the abbey commons, I decided to have a drink at the Brasserie du Moulin which was translated on the sign as the “Moulin Brewery”. On tap were all of the varieties of Floreffe abbey beers. I enjoyed a Floreffe Blanche. Cheers, my friends.
Perhaps my least favorite word in the entire French language is the word brasserie. One might wonder why I would dislike the French word for brewery, being that this is a beer-related blog. Well, it happens to be an irritatingly misleading word. While brasserie literally does translate to brewery, it doesn’t mean that the establishment is a brewery. I spent 13.6 very hot kilometers thirsting for some locally brewed beer from the “Moulin Brewery”, only to find out that they only serve the Floreffe beer. Only. Ok, I don’t really mean that Floreffe beer is bad (it is not!) but… I already knew that Floreffe beer is brewed by Lefebvre Brewery about 75km from the abbey. So in fact, I was expecting something special like a “Moulin Blond”. However, in this case, the “brewery” is not actually a brewery, but a beer pub for Floreffe beer. This misleading nomenclature is the same everywhere you go in France and Wallonia and makes looking up places which actually brew beer to be a sometimes frustrating task.
Nevertheless, despite this small trifle, I thoroughly enjoyed this hike and the Floreffe Abbey was worth spending the effort to visit. I always enjoy seeing how much different the architecture is in the French part of Belgium. And if you hear French being spoken, it also usually means your hike will come with a few calorie burning hills.
And burning those extra calories makes raising a glass of fine Belgian abbey beer more rewarding. And when raising a glass of Belgian abbey beer, remember to give thanks to Mother Nature for sending a bolt of lightning Norbert of Xanten’s way and starting a chain reaction which ultimately led to some of the most delicious beers in existence. With all apologies to the horse.