Bread! One of man’s simple dietary staples. However, sadly not for me as recently I’ve been forced to admit to myself that I am in fact, allergic to bread. So when Peter suggested that we should try the legendary monk bread baked at the Spanish influenced monastery of New Norcia, I thought it might be worth ignoring my allergy to drive the two hours north from Perth to satisfy my insatiable bread cravings. Not that the Monks claim their bread has any miracle cures, but I was desperate and bread deprived enough to convince myself that maybe monk bread was different… crazy things women do for a slice of bread hey?
Steeped in history, New Norcia is the only remaining monastery town in Australia. The site was originally developed in 1846 by Spanish Benedictine monks to introduce their catholic religion to the locals, including many of the Aboriginal community. The site is a collection of about sixty five well preserved buildings exhibiting beautiful Spanish architecture that had been built by the monks and craftsmen over the past 160 years. The buildings include countless chapels, segregated schools, a hotel, flour mill, apiary, art gallery as well as the impressive monastery itself.
My search for monk bread would begin with a step back in time as the only way to visit the monastery is by a walking tour (run daily at 11am and 1.30pm) which guides visitors through the various buildings remaining on the site, many of which have been fully restored to their former glory. Wandering through the brick archways and past the mural painted walls instantly took me back to visiting the monastery of Montserrat in Spain. The gardens serenaded by church bells chiming are dotted with large olive trees and rustic vineyards which are used to produce port and wine.
I still hadn’t come across the Bakery though, of which our tour guide informed us still uses stone ovens that are over one hundred years old. This elusive miracle bread just kept getting better and better! We had had the opportunity to see intricately crafted chapels and priceless paintings all before concluding at the museum and gift shop two hours later. The tour of town provided a glimpse of life devoted to god and houses one of the biggest collections of religious art in the Southern Hemisphere, with some pieces sent to the monks as gifts from the Vatican. But at the end of the tour I looked at Peter feeling cheated with one eyebrow raised looked pleadingly at him. Where was the bread? He responded “oh yeah, I forgot to mention, the bakery doesn’t open to public!” The look I then gave him silenced him as he looked into the eyes of a crazed woman deprived of bread and full of false hopes.
So giving into defeat, I decided we should visit the last building remaining, the gift store. And then after casting my eyes over one too many monk figurines, Australiana souvenirs and religious paraphernalia, I saw it. It was a miracle! There it was, a stack of golden baked loaves surrounded by an aura that must have been sent from the man himself. They were what I had come to all this way to find, crusty loaves of goodness! I snatched up a big loaf of fresh white bread infused with rosemary, semi dried tomato and olives.
Purchasing the bread, Peter and I finished off our perfect day with a picnic sharing a cheeky splash of vintage port, gourmet chutney and of course my monk bread under the lingering shade of an ancient gum tree before heading home to Perth. New Norcia is a relaxing and idyllic town to stop in on. Whether it’s a planned visit from Perth, or you’re just passing by on the Great Northern Highway, it’s well worth the effort to stop and experience the tranquil pace of life and to learn about some of Western Australia’s remarkable history.
By the way if you’re in Perth and want to get your hands on some monk bread, check out their local store in Mount Hawthorn. Oh, and as yummy as that special monk bread is, I was still allergic to it – oh well back to spelt!