Being from Belgium and loving beer, I should have written this post much earlier! But better late than never, right? When I was back in my home country in the fall last year, I took the time to visit the Abbey of Tongerlo, a centuries-old abbey located literally 10 kilometers from where I grew up. That abbey happens to have produced the world’s best beer in 2014—Tongerlo Blond.
Although the production of the beer has moved to a more modern facility, it is the very place where the beer originated and where a gift store still sells it, alongside other artisan products such as cakes, cookies, honey and cheeses.
Visiting Tongerlo Abbey
This gorgeous abbey still operates as it used to—it’s still a place of worship, inhabited by Norbertine monks. The abbey dates back to 1130, when monks moved from Antwerp to this site in the rural town of Westerlo. The Norbertine monks dedicate their lives to religion, charity and hospitality.
Visiting Tongerlo Abbey is completely free. Visitors are allowed to stroll the abbey grounds and can learn about the lifestyle and history of this order of monks in a small museum.
The abbey is, however, also home to a pay-for museum, the so-called Leonardo da Vinci Museum, which houses an exact canvas copy of da Vinci’s “Last Supper” that dates from the 16th century. This is one of only a few copies of that iconic fresco still in existence today. Moreover, it is so well-preserved that it features details that can no longer be seen in the original fresco. The entrance fee is only 3 euros.
Sampling Tongerlo Blond, the World’s Best Beer
While that’s an undeniably great attraction, I visited the abbey and its beautiful natural surroundings mainly because I wanted to sample the Tongerlo Blond ale. That beer was voted as the world’s best beer in 2014.
While I could have bought a glass in most bars in this part of Belgium, I wanted to sample it in the very area where it originated—at a tavern just across the road from the Abbey of Tongerlo.
Anyone who wants an alternative destination when visiting Flanders, Belgium’s Dutch-speaking northern half, is encouraged to try visiting this wonderful abbey. There are also several other beer-brewing abbeys in the region, including those in Westmalle, Achel, Averbode and Brecht.