Eat and Drink at Monasteries Around the World

Ruins of the original Orval Abbey. Hannes De Geest
By Madeline Scherb

Take one part Sound of Music, add a dash of medieval mysticism, mix in some of the best chocolate, cheese, beer and wine this side of heaven -- and what do you get? A recipe for some of the more unique travel destinations on earth: monasteries that make food and drink. From the French Alps to Kentucky bourbon country , monks and nuns have been making delicious things to eat and drink for more than a thousand years. They used to sell surplus cheese and beer to medieval pilgrims. These days, pilgrims of a culinary sort are beating a path to the door of monasteries like Bonneval in France, where the nuns make chocolate from scratch. And in a nod to modern times, armchair travelers can shop online for many monastery products.

A Taste of Heaven is a guide to monasteries that make food and drink. Author Madeline Scherb is also founder of the Compassionate Consumer Guild, a volunteer group that helps abbeys with site improvement projects. Visit hungrypilgrimshow.com for more information.

Photo Caption: Ruins of the original Orval Abbey. Photo by Hannes De Geest/Flickr.com
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Abbey Sainte Madeleine near Beaumes-de-Venise in Vaucluse, France. Jean-Louis Zimmermann
What: A bounty of good beer and cheese calls for some hearty bread, so head for the abbey of Sainte Madeleine in the Vaucluse -- a hilly region of France know for its vineyards and biking trails. Highlights include the beautiful abbey church which was built to look Romanesque but is in fact new, and the lovely gift shop where you can stock up on large loaves of crusty bread baked by the monks and a bottle of the abbey's wine.

Where: Near Beaumes-de-Venise in Vaucluse, France

Who: Artisanal bread lovers, Romanesque aficionados and bikers will think they have found paradise.

Price: Abbeys have suggested donations that typically range from $30-75 a night. Three meals a day are included.

More Info: tel. +33 (0)4 90 62 56 31; www.barroux.org

Photo Caption: Abbey Sainte Madeleine near Beaumes-de-Venise in Vaucluse, France. Photo by Jean-Louis Zimmermann/Flickr.com
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Tamie Abbey near Albertville in Savoy, France. will_cyclist
What: Arriving at Tamie Abbey is truly like stepping into a scene from The Sound of Music. The abbey is perched in a halcyon valley in the French Alps and the only approach is via a long, winding mountain road that keeps the abbey secluded from the outside world. Highlights include a guest house that feels like a Swiss chalet, the abbey's delicious cheese that still tastes of alpine meadows and the cinematic scenery. Hiking opportunities are limited on the grounds but a national park is just a short drive away.

Where: Near Albertville in Savoy, France

Who: Cheese lovers, artists, writers and music lovers will wish they never had to leave.

Price: Abbeys have suggested donations that typically range from $30-75 a night. Three meals a day are included.

More Info: tel. +33 (0)4 79 31 15 52; www.abbaye-tamie.com

Photo Caption: Tamie Abbey near Albertville in Savoy, France. Photo by will_cyclist/Flickr.com
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Abbey of Bonneval near Espalion in Aveyron, France. Bruno Conquet
What: The Abbey of Bonneval has been making chocolate from scratch ever since the nuns reclaimed the ruins of the original abbey and built a new church after the French Revolution. Choose from chocolate bars in dark, milk and coffee flavors or try the heavenly liqueur-filled chocolates. Highlights include meeting locals who drop by to gather chestnuts and wild mushrooms, sipping hot cocoa in the guest house and long walks in the woods.

Where: Near Espalion in Aveyron, France

Who: This abbey is a must-see for chocaholics, foodies, hikers and contemplatives.

Price: Abbeys have suggested donations that typically range from $30-75 a night. Three meals a day are included.

More Info: tel. +33 (0)5 65 44 01 22; www.abbaye-bonneval.com

Photo Caption: Abbey of Bonneval near Espalion in Aveyron, France. Photo by Bruno Conquet/Flickr.com
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Orval Abbey, near Florenville, Belgium. Alexandre Dulaunoy
What: Orval Abbey has it all: a legend about a damsel in distress and the magic trout who came to her rescue, a world-class beer, and the ruins of a medieval monastery that lie in the shadow of a stunningly beautiful new one. Highlights include the famous spring where the legendary trout once roamed, the abbey's brew pub, a zen rock garden maintained by a monk and a rose window in the ruins of the old abbey that now frames only a forlorn patch of sky.

Where: Near Florenville, Belgium

Who: Beer lovers, architecture fans, and history buffs will find Orval enchanting.

Price: Abbeys have suggested donations that typically range from $30-75 a night. Three meals a day are included.

More Info: tel. +32 61 31 10 60; www.orval.be

Photo Caption: Orval Abbey, near Florenville, Belgium. Photo by Alexandre Dulaunoy/Flickr.com
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The Abbey of Gethsemani near Bardstown, Kentucky. Bryan Sherwood
What: The Abbey of Gethsemani is famous for being home to monk Thomas Merton, who was a prolific writer and a builder of spiritual bridges between East and West; both the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hahn visited Merton here. This is also bourbon country and the monks make a mean bourbon fudge. Other highlights include the abbey's cheese, which comes in innovative flavors like pesto.

Where: Near Bardstown, Kentucky

Who: Bourbon connoisseurs, cheese lovers, and spiritual seekers will feel right at home.

Price: Abbeys have suggested donations that typically range from $30-75 a night. Three meals a day are included.

More Info: tel. 502/549-4133; www.monks.org

Photo Caption: The Abbey of Gethsemani near Bardstown, Kentucky. Photo by Bryan Sherwood/Flickr.com
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Abbey of Saint Hildegard near Rudesheim, Germany. Leonieke Aalders
What: In vino veritas, and there's no better place to take stock of one's blessings and one's sins than at the Abbey of Saint Hildegard. Highlights include the nuns' divine Rieslings and fire-breathing eau de vie, an unusual line of spelt products, vineyards that stretch as far as the eye can see, the abbey's joyful bells and plenty of restaurants within walking distance where you can fill up on German staples like weiner schnitzel and sauerkraut.

Where: Near Rudesheim, Germany

Who: Wine enthusiasts, fans of Gregorian chant and art history buffs flock to the abbey.

Price: Abbeys have suggested donations that typically range from $30-75 a night. Three meals a day are included.

More Info: tel. +49 (0)6722/499-0; www.abtei-st-hildegard.de

Photo Caption: Abbey of Saint Hildegard near Rudesheim, Germany. Photo by Leonieke Aalders/Flickr.com
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Trails around Our Lady of Guadalupe near Lafayette, Oregon. Samuel M Beebe/Ecotrust
What: Our Lady of Guadalupe may have a southwestern name but it is nestled in the hills of Oregon wine country, where the monks run a brisk business storing some of the Willamette Valley's best wines; they also make brandy-soaked fruitcake and date-nut cake. Highlights include one of the best abbey book shops, miles of hiking and charming guest houses that perch like storks next to a serene lake.

Where: Near Lafayette, Oregon.

Who: Pinot connoisseurs, hikers, J.R.R. Tolkien fans and anyone who loves fruitcake (you know who you are).

Price: Abbeys have suggested donations that typically range from $30-75 a night. Three meals a day are included.

More Info: tel. 800/294-0105; www.trappistabbey.org

Photo Caption: Trails around Our Lady of Guadalupe near Lafayette, Oregon. Photo by Samuel M Beebe/Ecotrust/Flickr.com
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