It is only possible to visit the ruins of the old abbey, but after entering the gardens via the shop it is possible to gain a fine view of the new monastery.
During their flight from Paris Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette had the fortress of Montmédy (just inside France) as their initial destination and then Orval.
As Austrian troops had been billeted on the monks and had received a warm welcome the marauding French revolutionaries burnt the abbey down in 1739. The destruction lasted ten days and the French officer in charge of the operation was later promoted.
The history of the area is highly intricate and only a hundred years or so beforehand had been part of the Holy Roman Empire (Austria-Hungary)
Just after entering the ruins there is a viewing point offering a chance to see the grounds of the new abbey.
There is a video presentation (French/Flemish) in the old guest house which gives an insight into the life of the modern day monk.
The film lasts 15 minutes, and even if you cannot understand much of the dialogue it is still possible to follow the general flow of the descriptions.
As I have already mentioned, the setting for the monastery is impressive, both for its setting and seclusion. The old ruins are quite interesting and you are provided with a short guide, setting out in words and pictures the locations and a little of the history attached to them.
Fortunately there are also panels to guide you around the buildings with explanatory information about their function and the monastic way of life.
There is a fairly good museum underneath part of the modern monastery which can be visited, and this was only let down by the lack (for me) of some better explanation in English for some of the exhibits.
At certain times it is also possible to climb up to a vantage point looking into the new church.
So, here is where legend would have it that Mathilde de Toscane (1046 - 1115) managed to drop her gold ring whilst visiting Orval on a hunting party. The legend says that when the fish returned the ring to her, she exclaimed: This is truly a Val d'or.
On the way out again through the shop pick up some of the monastery beer and cheese, or biscuits from other orders in the locality. There is also a fine range of giftware and religious articles ti suit most pockets.
The beer itself is available to try in either the Ange Gardien brasserie which is along the parking area, or at the hostelry up at the junction.