In the southern part of Wallonia lies a village that represents the good stuff Belgium has to offer. A beautiful medieval castle, a monastery, excellent cheese and one of the most famous trappist beers. Welcome to Chimay.
The Notre-Dame de Scourmont abbey… also known as the Chimay abbey
The story of Chimay begins in the Notre Dame de Scourmont abbey, and so did our daytrip. In 1850, a small group of monks settled here and spent their days alternating between prayer, labor and rest. Somehow their prayers did pay off, as they were rewarded by a divine recipe for beer and cheese. These divinely inspired products were soon found to be among the most popular ones in Belgium. Today, it is still possible to visit the place where this miracle once happened. Although the brewery itself is off-limits, we were free to visit the beautiful garden of the abbey as well as the imposing church. And we were lucky, as we also got the opportunity to chat with one of the monks.
We happened to visit right after the monks had finished their prayers and some of them remained in the church for a while. One of them welcomed us personally and explained us a thing or two about the abbey. With great pride, he also opened and showed us the shrine containing sacred relics.
The Chimay Experience
It’s only a stone’s throw away to Espace Chimay where we visited the ‘Chimay Expérience’. This interactive exposition unravels the secrets of the Chimay beer and cheese production. At the end of the visit, we were treated to a tasting of Chimay beer on draught in the adjoining brasserie Auberge de Poteaupré.
Note: If you want to go straight to business and proceed to the tasting immediately without visiting the Chimay Experience, that’s possible too. The Quadruple degustation, for example, allows you to try four different beers for 9 EUR: Chimay Rouge, Chimay Bleu, Chimay Dorée and Chimay Triple. Cheese platters are available too.
Still hungry? Stay around for lunch and try one of the dishes that have been prepared with Chimay beer and/or cheese. The colored beer cap next to each course on the menu indicates the recommended beer to go along with your dish. We had the Vitoulet Poteaupré: meatloaf stuffed with Chimay cheese and wrapped with bacon, which goes well with Chimay Rouge.
The Chimay castle
After finishing our beers, we continued our visit by exploring the nearby castle, some 10 kilometers away. This imposing keep towers over the bluestone and brick houses of the Chimay village. Since 1804, it belongs to the noble family de Riquet de Caraman-Chimay. The castle has been destroyed and reconstructed various times. In 1935 it’s been struck by a serious fire, after which it has been thoroughly restored in renaissance style.
Although the castle looks quite sober from the outside, this isn’t the case on the inside. It is possible to enter and visit the great hall, the guard room, the portrait gallery and the chapel. The various rooms are decorated with antique furniture, classical portraits and imposing chandeliers. The real jewel though is the pocket-sized opera theater, modeled to the Louis XV theatre in Fontainebleau. Despite its miniature size, it comes with a box, two galleries and wealthy stucco in white and gold, which stands in sharp contrast with the red velvet of the seats and curtains.
Lady luck smiled at us when we visited, because princess Elisabeth de Chimay was home, along with her lovely dog and parrot. Although she doesn’t do the guided tours herself anymore, she was definitely up for a chat. We were also invited for tea and cake by one of her assistants. We’ve never felt so much at home in a big castle. I think I could get used to it…