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Dear visitor!

Welcome to Westmalle! Although visiting the abbey or the brewery is not possible, we would like to invite you to take a short walk around the abbey. On this walk, you will come across several numbered signposts where you can find out not only more about the monks’ way of life and the abbey’s history, but also about the origins of the Dubbel and Tripel Trappist beers.

The walk will take you about 50 minutes. Please note that the path between signposts 7 and 9 is rather sandy, and may be less accessible to persons with limited mobility.

We hope you enjoy the walk!

50 minutes
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Café Trappisten

This building has been owned by the abbey since 1841. It was formerly a grocery by the name of ‘Huis ten Halve’ (in English: ‘Midway House’) because it was exactly halfway between Antwerp and Turnhout. In 1923 the grocery was transformed into a pub. By way of rent, the owners of the pub paid the monks a sum of money, two carts of manure, and a bottle of jenever. For many years it was also possible to lodge there overnight. In 2008 the current pub, Café Trappisten, with its cosy interior, a lively terrace and fun children’s playground opened its doors.

The waiter brings a Dubbel and Tripel of Westmalle

Be careful when crossing Antwerpsesteenweg at the pedestrian crossing, and head onto the path in the direction of the abbey. After a dozen or so metres, you will see a chapel to the left, just a stone’s throw away from your path.

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Saint Bernard’s Chapel

During the Second World War, two British bombers crashed near the abbey. The outcome? Thirteen deaths and one survivor. In 1947 the fathers erected a chapel to commemorate the soldiers who died here, and in gratitude of the abbey having been spared during the War. The chapel is dedicated to Saint Bernard.

A Lancaster bomber crashed close to the Abbey of Westmalle

Further along, at the crossroads, turn right onto the path that runs parallel to the stream and the long abbey wall.

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In 1794 ten French members of Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance built the ‘Nooitrust’ farm (in English: ‘Never any rest’), where the abbey currently stands. ‘Trappists’ is the more the term for this Order that is more familiar, and derives from the Norman La Trappe monastery, where the order originated.

Trappist monks resting on the field after the harvest

The Trappists live according to the Rule of Saint Benedict and his motto of ora et labora: prayer and work. It’s also the reason for, among others, its farm, bakery, cheese dairy and brewery.

The abbey library contains hundreds of ancient manuscripts

The abbey also houses a beautiful library. The monks use the over 50,000 books stored here for study, which is also part of their daily routine in addition to contemplation, work and prayer.

Abbey Gate at the beginning of the twentieth century

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Becoming a monk

Walking along the abbey wall, you will notice a section with several glass windows. This is the novitiate, where aspiring monks - or novices - are trained in the life of a Cistercian. This training takes two years, after which the novices takes temporary vows. They must then wait another three years before they can ask the abbot for permission to take solemn vows. These vows establish his permanent membership in the abbey community.

View on the court from the cloister

Little chapel

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Starting in 1836, according to the rules of their order, Trappist monks were permitted to drink the same beverages as the local populace: water, milk and beer. And it was for that reason that the monks decided to start a brewery, with the fathers Bonaventura Hermans and Albericus Kemps acting as master brewer and brewer’s apprentice, respectively.

Employee inspects a bottle of Westmalle Dubbel during bottling process

At first, they only brewed beer for their own consumption. It was not until 1865 that the first kegs of beer were sold. The growth of sales, which was quite slow going, was purposefully aligned to the abbey’s actual needs. In 1933 the chapter assented to the construction of a completely new brewery, that was quite modern for its time. Even today, the monks continue to innovate and invest in order to keep up with the latest developments in brewing technology.

The golden yellow Tripel and dark reddish Dubbel of Westmalle served in the typical goblet

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Trappist beer

Westmalle brews two types of Trappist beer: a reddish-brown Dubbel (7%) and a golden yellow Tripel (9.5%). When the monks doubled the ingredients of the first beer they produced - Single Brown - they obtained a new type of beer, which they called Dubbel (in English: ‘Double’). The same method applies to the Tripel. The names Dubbel and Tripel therefore originated in Westmalle, and were later adopted by other breweries.

The golden yellow Tripel and dark reddish Dubbel of Westmalle served in the typical goblet

Genuine Trappist beer is brewed in a Trappist monastery, either by the monks themselves or under their supervision. The brewery is subordinate to the monastery and a significant portion of the proceeds go to charity. If a beer satisfies these criteria, the International Association of Trappists www.trappist.com will confer the Authentic Trappist Product hallmark on it.

The hexagonal 'Authentic Trappist Product' trademark

Proceed to the crossroads where this dirt road meets a paved road. Turn left. From here, you will have a splendid view over the entire abbey complex.

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Ageing and storage

Beneath the courtyard with its empty crates, there is a large cellar where the beer matures and ferments for a few weeks more. The temperature here is 20°C. The fermentation process causes the beer to develop its bubbles, giving it its full flavour and alcohol content.

The trappist beer of Westmalle ripens and ferments in the cellar

Westmalle is best stored in a dark place at temperatures between 9 and 14°C. The bottles should be stored upright. This way, the yeast will remain on the bottom and the beer you pour into your glass will be nice and clear. Leave approximately 1 cm in the bottle. The yeast at the bottom is good to taste separately.

Walk on to the next crossroads and turn left off of the paved road onto the sandy path, in the direction of the abbey.

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From spring to late autumn you will see cows - particularly Groningse Blaarkop and Brown Swiss - grazing in the meadows surrounding the abbey. The monks are vegetarians, and keep these animals exclusively for their milk. The stable has enough place for 400 animals, and fully satisfies the requirements of a modern dairy farm. A lot is done automatically, but the cows are milked by hand because contact between humans and animals is important.

Grazing cattle in the meadows around the Abbey of Westmalle

Brown Swiss cows awaiting milking

Cows eating in the modern barn of the abbey of Westmalle

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Trappist cheese

Monk fills a cheese mold with fresh curds

The monks make cheese out of the milk produced by these cows. This is done in the traditional manner, without any colouring agents or preservatives. The semi-hard cheese has a low salt content: less than 1%. There are three varieties: 2+, 6+ and 12+. These cheeses have been allowed to ripen at least two, six and 12 months, respectively.

The cheeses are prepared for the brine

The cheese can be bought at the abbey gates (no. 11) between 8 a.m. and 4:45 p.m., except for Sundays and holidays, or at Café Trappisten (no. 1). There are also a dozen or so cheese speciality shops and butchers offering this cheese. The sales points near you can be found on [www.trappistwestmalle.be](http://www.trappistwestmalle.be]

Westmalle cheese aging on wooden boards for months

Continue along the abbey wall. You will pass two fenced-in meadows on the right. With a bit of luck, you’ll catch a glimpse of a large herd of sheep there. At the end of the wall, turn left onto the path.

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Church tower

Originally, the church tower had a pointed spire. However, at the beginning of World War I the tower was blown up by the Belgian Army to prevent the enemy from using it as a location from which to study the Antwerp forts.

The pointed church tower of the Abbey of Westmalle before WW1

To protect what was left of the tower, a temporary, simple saddle roof was built.

The church tower of the Abbey of Westmalle with saddle roof during the war

After the War, the tower was rebuilt to resemble an Italian campanile tower, an idea that orginated with abbot Herman Jozef Smets. This may well have been the result of his then frequent trips to Rome, first as an Abbot-vicar and later as the Abbot General of the Trappist Order.

The church tower of the Abbey of Westmalle in campanile style after the first world war

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Abbey life

The monks gather in the church for prayer and singing up to six times a day. The rest of their time is spent in study and meditation, performing their chores and working in the cheese dairy or the bakery.

Monks praying in the church of Westmalle Abbey

Although the Abbey is not open to visitors, the guest accommodations are open to visitors seeking rest and contemplation. You are also welcome at the prayer services and for the celebration of the Eucharist.

In addition to Westmalle cheese, you can also buy other Trappist products, such as soap, at the abbey gates. There is also a book for sale about the abbey in Dutch, French and English.

Monk sells trappist cheese at the abbey gate

Additional activities

In the distance, you will see Café Trappisten, where this walk ends.

Enjoy yourself afterwards in Café Trappisten

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Enjoy yourself afterwards in Café Trappisten

After this walk you still have a chance to enjoy a Westmalle Dubbel or a Westmalle Tripel on tap, or a combination of the two: a Trip-Trap or Half-om-half. And if you’re hungry, how about a sandwich made from the abbey’s own bread and cheese? Don’t pass up a chance to try the Trappist cheese croquettes either!

Café Trappisten regularly organises activities highlighting life and work at the abbey and brewery. Feel free to ask for the activities calendar.

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