For many beer lovers, there is no journey more coveted than a pilgrimage to the village of Westvleteren near Belgium's Flanders Fields. There, the Trappist Abbey of St. Sixtus produces very rare beer, arguably the best in the world.
Though most of the monastery is closed to the public, the exhibition room and nearby Cafe In de Vrede make for a great day-trip destination from anywhere in Belgium. The monastery's brewery, founded in 1838, produces just enough ale to support its community; its Westvleteren 12, at a hefty 10.2 percent alcohol, is consistently voted the best beer in the world by connoisseurs. Due to high demand, it can be bought only in limited quantities at the monastery by reservation or in single servings at the cafe.
Though easily accessible by car, a more enjoyable means of visiting the abbey is by renting a bicycle at Ieper's train station and taking advantage of the region's flat terrain and extensive bike paths.
Maps are available at the tourist office, and it is worth taking the extra time to explore Ieper's impressively rebuilt Cloth Hall and Menin Gate World War I Memorial.
After 45 minutes of winding around quiet farms and beautiful fields on the path, you'll arrive at Cafe In de Vrede just in time for lunch and a glass or two of the famed beer. A delicious grilled ham and cheese sandwich with pineapple and a glass of Westvleteren 12 will cost just a little more than 8 euros, or nearly $11.
Depending on availability, you can take home a few unopened bottles of this rare beer, as well as artisanal cheeses, gingerbread and other staples of the region at the monastery shop. Whether a destination in its own right or a lunch break from the nearby poppy fields, a quick trip to the Abbey of St. Sixtus will awaken the beer lover in just about anyone.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun