Eat and Drink at Monasteries Around the World

Ruins of the original Orval Abbey in Belgium Hannes De Geest

Monasteries that make food and drink are among the most unique and rewarding travel destinations, combining medieval architecture, monks and nuns, a little mysticism, and some truly divine chocolate, cheese, beer, spirits, and other delicacies. From the French Alps to Kentucky bourbon country, monastic orders have been making delicious things for more than a thousand years—and culinary tourists are often welcome to sample their handiwork or even stay overnight for a suggested donation typically ranging from the price of a hostel to that of an inexpensive hotel (with three daily meals included). Here are some of the tastiest pilgrimage sites in Christendom. 

Photo Caption: Ruins of the original Orval Abbey in Belgium

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Abbey Sainte Madeleine near Beaumes-de-Venise in Vaucluse, France Jean-Louis Zimmermann
Hearty artisanal bread is the specialty at the abbey of Sainte Madeleine in the Vaucluse, a hilly region known for its vineyards and biking trails. Highlights on the grounds 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 the abbey's wine as well as large loaves of crusty bread baked by the monks.

Where: Near Beaumes-de-Venise in Vaucluse, France, about 40 minutes from Avignon or Orange by car   

For more info:  www.barroux.org
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Fruitcake made at the Abbey of Gethsemani near Bardstown, Kentucky Anthony / Flickr
The Abbey of Gethsemani is famous for being home to monk and prolific writer Thomas Merton, a builder of spiritual bridges between East and West. In fact, the Dalai Lama paid a visit to Merton when he lived here (the author died in 1968). This is also bourbon country, and the monks make a mean bourbon fruitcake (pictured above) as well as bourbon fudge made with fair trade chocolate. 

Where: Near Bardstown, Kentucky

For more Info: www.monks.org
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Tamié Abbey near Albertville in Savoy, France will_cyclist
Arriving at Tamié Abbey is truly like stepping into a scene from The Sound of Music. The monastery is perched in a halcyon valley in the French Alps, and the only approach is via a long, winding mountain road that keeps the spot secluded from the outside world. Aside from the cinematic scenery, the abbey offers a guest house that feels like a Swiss chalet and a delicious cheese that still tastes of alpine meadows. For stunning views of the Combe de Savoie and Mont Blanc, drive five minutes south to the historic Tamié Fort, which features a botanical trail in the summer. 

Where: Near Albertville in Savoy, France

For more info: www.abbaye-tamie.com
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Abbey of Saint Hildegard near Rudesheim, Germany Leonieke Aalders
"Gaze upon the beauty of the green earth. Now think." What better place to heed the words of a 12th-century mystic than at the verdant abbey that bears her name? While you're gazing and thinking, you can sip some of the nuns' excellent Riesling or fire-breathing eau de vie and snack on an unusual array of spelt products. Vineyards and hiking trails stretch as far as the eye can see. Plenty of restaurants within walking distance offer the chance to fill up on German staples like wiener schnitzel and sauerkraut.

Where: Near Rudesheim, Germany

For more info: www.abtei-st-hildegard.de
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Abbey of Bonneval near Espalion in Aveyron, France. Bruno Conquet
Nuns at the Abbey of Bonneval have been making chocolate from scratch since just after the French Revolution. Choose from chocolate bars in dark, milk, and coffee flavors, or try the heavenly liqueur-filled sweets. Locals often drop by to gather chestnuts and wild mushrooms. Join them or enjoy a peaceful visit spent sipping hot cocoa in the guest house and taking long walks in the woods.

Where: Near Espalion in Aveyron, France

For more info: www.abbaye-bonneval.com

Photo Caption: Abbey of Bonneval near Espalion in Aveyron, France. Photo by Bruno Conquet/Flickr.com
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Our Lady of Guadalupe abbey in Oregon Sam Beebe / Flickr
Our Lady of Guadalupe may have a southwestern name, but it's 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. Miles of hiking trails criscross the property, which also has a top-notch book shop and charming guest houses perched like storks next to a serene lake.

Where: Near Lafayette, Oregon 

For more info: www.trappistabbey.org
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Brewery museum exhibit at Orval Abbey in Belgium Bernt Rostad / Flickr
Orval Abbey has it all: a rich history (including a legend about a damsel in distress and the magic trout who came to her rescue), a world-class beer, an onsite cheese factory, and the ruins of a medieval monastery that lie in the shadow of a stunningly beautiful new one. Beer fanatics can tour the abbey's brewery museum (pictured above) while other visitors pop into the pub, zen out in the rock garden, or peer through a rose window in the ruins of the old abbey that now frames only a forlorn patch of sky.

Where: Near Florenville, Belgium 

For more Info: www.orval.be
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Spencer bottle on monks' dinner table in Spencer, Massachusetts Spencer Brewery
From a hilltop overlooking the forests and pastures of central Massachusetts, the monks of St. Joseph's Abbey have been making and selling preserves since 1954, when a surplus of mint in their garden prompted their first stove-top batch of mint jelly. Today, visitors can buy jars of homemade preserves in dozens of flavors, ranging from traditional raspberry jam to elderberry or sherry-wine jelly. The completion of a state-of-the-art brewery in 2014 allowed the monks to craft the first and only certified Trappist beers brewed outside of Europe. Spent grain is given to local farmers for animal feed and compost—just one of the abbey's sustainable agricultural practices deserving a toast.  

Where: Spencer, Massachusetts, about a 15-minute drive from Worcester  

For more info: www.spencerabbey.org
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