- Walking or hiking
Notre-Dame abbey of Orval, founded in 1132, one of the most beautiful Cistercian abbeys in Belgium, is the departure point of this cross-border route of roughly 11 kilometres (3-4 hours).
The history of the abbey
Even though it is not possible to visit the famous brewery and the abbey itself, the ruins of the ancient site are a major tourist attraction. The uniformity of the ruins (worthy of the title ‘prestigious monument’) dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries, and the more modern additions of the rebuilt abbey adjoining them, are especially worth the detour.
Reconstruction of the abbey began in 1926, on the foundations of the old structure that was destroyed during the French Revolution. The spring, the secular rosettes and the magnificent medicinal herb gardens are the highlights of a visit to the ruins.
The museum traces the history of the abbey and displays some old wrought-iron works of art, a mock-up of the abbey and some 18th century paintings.
Route/Points of Interest
At the back of the abbey, take the forest track to the right above the access road and after a small hill turn left at the fork towards the N88.
- Cross this road, pass the Hostellerie d’Orval and continue to the big car park (1), where the light blue signage ‘Gaume buissonière’ appears for the first time. This trans-border trek extends for more than 200 kilometres from southern Belgium to France (http://gaumebuissoniere.host22.com).
- Follow the waymarkers towards the right into the forest in the direction of Chameleux as far as a lovely rest area (2). The trail then describes a small loop before turning right at a fork.
- Continue straight ahead following the signs for about 5 kilometres until you approach the hamlet of Chameleux. Don’t miss the hook by the little French village of Williers. With only 36 inhabitants, it’s ranked among the most beautiful villages in France. To get there, leave the waymarked trail and turn left into the small lane going uphill.
- At the top turn left to cross the historic centre (3). To the right of the church, a small footpath (marked by dark blue rectangles) leads you across meadows into the valley, where you turn left to return to Chameleux.
- Behind Le Chameleux café, which tempts you with its delicious regional specialities, you’ll find a beautiful excavated site from the Gallic-Roman era (4) on the old road from Reims to Trèves, and some buildings from the 1st to the 5th century AD.
- From there, the trail follows the lane to the right towards Orval. At a bend to the left behind the holiday centre, a forest track goes off to the right to return to the picturesque valley. The track soon becomes a quiet, rarely used path.
- As soon as you see the meadows on the right, go downhill on the track along the edge of the forest.
- At the following fork, the dark blue waymarkers reappear to lead you to the edge of the valley and take you back to Orval abbey.
Prepare your walk
Make sure you wear good hiking boots and comfortable walking shoes.
Always take some snacks and water with you.
Don’t even think of visiting Orval Abbey without a decent glass of Trappist beer of the same name! You’ll find places to eat as soon as you arrive at the abbey (the new Hostellerie d’Orval) as well as the friendly, traditional Bistrot ‘Le Chameleux’ (www.lechameleux.be) midway through the walk.
NEW! The GR long-distance walk named the Trappist Abbeys of Wallonia links the three abbeys in two sections: Orval-Rochefort (116km) and Rochefort-Chimay (174km): lawalloniegourmande.be/sat.
In the downloadable brochure below, we have selected one of the best walks per province: natural gems, family friendly paths, memorable views along the way, trails sprinkled with history… One even will introduce you to the iconic abbey beers.
A walker's guide to Wallonia