The road is pleasant enough – one lane through the countryside. My traveling companions and I lapse into a comfortable silence as we watch the green fields roll by.
The lore of the place is what draws me in. My friends, on a mission to visit all of the Trappist monasteries within comfortable driving distance during their visit, suggested the place. Last night, over cards, we conducted our own little taste test of the beers they purchased along the way so far. I laughed and enjoyed the evening, despite my not winning the game.
The “new building” looks ancient enough. The well-manicured grounds are an enjoyable stroll. There is something about the remaining wall of an old structure that always gets me. It is as if the past is defiant; unwilling to crumble completely. I assign this meaning to them every time and this one is no exception. I love seeing the blue sky peering through the empty window frames and try to imagine the structure that once stood. I notice the lines used. The last remnants of symmetry. There is a dusting of weeds or perhaps moss growing above the doorframe, mother nature’s attempt to reclaim her space.
The original abbey was destroyed during the war, the weathered tourist placard tells me. I, of course, assume World War II; there are many commemorations of WWII in this area. I check my assumption when I discover they mean the French Revolution. Well, you don’t see that every day. And the building that was destroyed in the 1793 attack was built to replace the one destroyed over a hundred years earlier during the Thirty Years War. This more recent time the fighting was for the most part over when it spilled over the border and the building was razed in defiance of the old and the shepherding in of the new.
A line of trees has grown up where the building’s wall used to be. They fit perfectly in the space as if the trees had always been there by design for the half-crumbled wall.
The green foliage visible in the remnants of what was likely once a stained-glass flower. For reasons that are unclear to me, I assume this is the direction from which the destroyers came – under cover of the dense forest behind the sacred ground – but I have no evidence for this.
This isn’t the story that grips me in this place though. It is the older one that sparks interest for me. The one that is thought to have taken place nearly 1500 years before. When the widowed Countess Matilde of Tuscany’s wedding ring fell into a fountain. She prayed for its return and a trout instantly swam to her with the golden ring in its mouth. With that, the alchemy of the place was cast. In gratitude, Matilde established the monastery that would endure many hardships and destruction over the centuries and called it the Val d’Or (golden valley).
As the sun begins to fall in the sky, the light shines on the space bringing out the magic. We take our cue from the setting sun and begin our walk to the nearby tasting room to try the Orval brew.