Hiking to La Trappe brewery
I once had the idea to publish a booklet: The Best Beer Hikes in the Benelux. With hikes in the 20 kilometer range, and one or more craft beer breweries included in the route.
When the printed version of that booklet will be published remains an open question. But untill that day I’m going to publish the hikes one by one as a blog post. And there is no better destination imaginable for the first episode than Koningshoeven Abbey. It’s the place where the most famous Dutch Trappist beer is brewed: La Trappe.
So on a beautiful Saturday in October I traveled south for the research, in the company of travel companion A. For those who want to follow in our footsteps, the map below may be useful. The route runs counter-clockwise. The length of the walk is 23.1 kilometers, the abbey is at 18.2 kilometers. You can zoom in on the map.
The abbey is located near Tilburg, a city that is traditionally not known as the most popular tourist destination in the province of Brabant. But that may well change, because Tilburg has become a lot more interesting in recent years. This is partly due to the development of the Spoorzone (Railway Zone), where the hike starts. The Foodhall and the Loc-Hal library are worth taking a look inside. And of course the monumental hyppar roof of the railway station from the sixties is also worth seeing.
From the Spoorzone, the route runs straight through the center of town, past the bizarre palace of Willem II; not the football club but the king who had his military headquarters here during the Ten Days Campaign. We cross two beautiful pieces of urban nature: the Muzentuin and the Stadspark Oudedijk. We leave the city via green suburbs, cross the highway and scrape the edge of Tilburg’s suburb Goirle.
We then walk for miles through the beautiful and varied Brabant landscape, largely on sandy (and sometimes muddy) roads, between fields, meadows and Christmas tree nurseries. We walk around the Beekse Bergen theme parc in a wide arc, but the only thing that points to this is an occasional no-entry sign. Near a trout farm we cross Wilhelmina Canal. We walk along the canal for a while and then through a nice quiet forest area.
When we leave the forest we catch the first glance of the Abbey of Our Lady of Koningshoeven. But we still have to detour a bit before we actually get there. Perhaps, if the abbey is still looking for good works to spend the profits from the beer sales on, it is a suggestion to create a nice walking route from the forest across the monastery grounds.
But that is only a minor point for improvement, because otherwise I can only be enthousiastic about the reception at La Trappe. There is a shop, a terrace in the cloister garden and a beautifully designed Proeflokaal (tasting room) with a thatched roof that, fittingly, is somewhat reminiscent of a church space inside. And all this against the backdrop of the impressive abbey.
The history of the Trappist community of Koningshoeven (literally: the King’s Farms) goes back almost a century and a half. The monastery was founded in 1881 by monks from northern France who no longer felt at ease in their own country due to the political situation. They found refuge in a number of farms that had been owned by King William II (there he is again…). Because the agriculture yielded too little due to the poor soil, the monks started a brewery and that became a success story.
In 1999 the monks entered into a partnership with Bavaria. This caused some uncertainty about the status of their brewery: if you do business with such a commercial party, can you still speak of Trappist beer? But after an adjustment of the contract with Bavaria, La Trappe could once again carry the Authentic Trappist Product quality mark because the conditions are met: the beer is brewed within the walls of the abbey, by or under the supervision of the monks and a share of the profits goes to good works.
Guided tours are also given through the brewery, but in terms of time that’s a bit hard to combine with a 23 kilometer hike, so we’ll save that for another time. The tours are popular, by the way: they are fully booked weeks in advance.
The Proeflokaal offers a choice of about eight beers and the temptation is very great to taste a substantial part of them. The advice is, however, to limit the tasting to two glasses this time, because from the abbey it’s a five kilometer hike back to the station. That is not an unpleasant walk, by the way, because we pass the Piushaven, an urban redevelopment area with a nice mix of historical heritage and modern architecture. And a little further on, the Piusplein square is strategically located for a closing drink. Although unfortunately we didn’t find any La Trappe here, because of the clustering of the Dutch catering landscape by the large breweries. Too bad.