September 14, Saturday
Maureen’s wish that we end our trip in sunshine was granted today. We headed out at ten o’clock, our first stop being the home of Monique, who met us on our first day. Pam and I went to her door just to give her the key to Marie-France’s home. We caught her still in her dressing gown and, as she told us, before she’d had her coffee and breakfast, so she was struggling to find English words so early in the morning. She wanted us all to come in for coffee anyway, but we declined the kind invitation.
We then headed for the Abbaye du Val Dieu, a restaurant, brewery and fromagerie on the site of an abbey that began in the 13th century. The abbey has been destroyed and rebuilt four times in the course of the centuries, the last restoration being in the middle of the 19th century. On our way, we stopped in Frelon to visit a Leonidas chocolate shop, which the internet told us was the chocolatier of choice for Belgian citizens, because it produced good quality chocolate at reasonable prices. We haven’t really found any Belgian products that struck us as good presents for the folks at home; for example, beer’s not very portable and lace is old-fashioned. We’d decided that Belgian chocolate was the way to go, so we stocked up at Leonidas. One of Marilynn’s important criteria for buying an overseas gift is that it doesn’t weigh much, so if anyone is hoping for a glass jar of chocolate spread, they are going to be disappointed. Jars are heavy and breakable.
We carried on through lovely little towns and green countryside to the abbey, planning to eat at a highly recommended restaurant there. The restaurant and brewery are located in the old buildings of the abbey. Unfortunately, the restaurant was closed because of a private wedding function. However, just across the street stood the basilica and a complex of old stone buildings, the former abbey farm house and outbuildings, arranged around a courtyard. In the former stables, there was a self-serve style restaurant. Even if there hadn’t been a sign explaining that the restaurant was the former stables, we would have known because the hay mangers along the side were still in place. Meatballs, vol-au-vent and tomato soup (which left the soup-eater room for a large slice of Black Forest cake) were chosen from the menu and all were good. The menu recommended which of the Val Dieu beers should accompany each entree, so we of course complied with the recommendation.
After lunch, we toured the basilica, which was relatively unadorned compared to many we’ve seen but still interesting. Behind the basilica was a large expanse of grass, trees and flower beds, so we wandered down the gravel paths as far as the duck pond, enjoying the sunshine. We saw the bride and groom and some of the wedding party from the private function walking back towards the restaurant. The train of the bride’s lovely white dress trailed in the gravel and a woman turned to us and said something in Dutch that obviously meant, “What a shame to see that dress get dirty.” Marilynn smiled and nodded her agreement.
We set out for home after that with a small detour in Chaudfontaine to visit a Galler chocolate shop. This is a long-standing family-run business that does not export its products, so its chocolate is only available in Belgium. Despite the haul of chocolate already in the trunk of the car, more chocolate was bought. Now we were almost done. Off to the Intermarche we went to buy just enough supplies to see us through dinner and breakfast, as well as a few Belgian specialty goodies to throw into the suitcases.
Back home, there was enough heat in the sun, despite the cool breeze (it is the beginning of autumn, after all) to sit on the terrace.