In this week’s Travel SOS, Kay O’Sullivan looks at the divine idea of staying in convents and monasteries across Europe for Ivan, who is looking for something different.
I am thinking of travelling in Italy and I have been told that there is great accommodation in some of the disused convents at a reasonable price. Do you know of this and is it only in Italy?
A. You’re right – there are hundreds of convents and monasteries offering accommodation in Europe. Most are in Italy naturally, as well as the Catholic countries of Spain and France, but you will also find them right across the Europe.
Generally, they fall into two categories; those that are still run by religious orders as a way of supplementing the order’s income, and disused ones that have been taken over and converted. There are options to suit all budgets, but generally those that are still run by the religious orders are more budget friendly, while the converted properties tend towards the luxury end of the market.
Perhaps the best are going is the Monastero Santa Rosa, once a 17th-century convent, but now a luxury boutique hotel surrounded by lush, tiered gardens near the tiny village of Conca dei Marini on Italy’s spectacular Amalfi Coast. It has won lots of international awards and was most recently cited for having the most beautiful pool in the world by Travel+Leisure magazine.
But vast numbers of more modest options are available that are comfortable, clean, pleasant and in terrific locations as well. The website Monasterystays.com is a good place to start your search.
Because I believe you can’t beat on-the-ground knowledge, I contacted ex-pat journalist Jo McKenna, who has lived in Rome for a decade, about the pros and cons of convent and monastery stays. Jo has done a lot of travelling throughout her time in Italy, and has stayed in this kind of accommodation many times.
“One of the reasons I enjoy them is that they provide an insight into history and times gone by that you wouldn’t get in a normal tourist hotel,” says Jo. “There is often a sense of calm or quiet – call it spirit if you will – that you don’t get in a normal hotel. And in the middle of big noisy cities, such as Rome, that can be a blessed relief”, she says.
She points to the Hotel Donna Camilla Savelli in the heart of Rome’s liveliest quarter, Trastevere, an area that buzzes with activity into the wee hours. “But inside the beautiful former monastery, which has 78 rooms set around a lovely garden cloister, you feel completely removed (in the best possible way) from the madding crowds.
“Fraterna Domus is a convent for you if the tourists and traffic congestion in Rome gets too much. You can stroll along the tree-lined river at dusk or cross one of its glorious bridges and gaze at the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.”
Her advice is to look carefully at what’s offered, what the rooms are like – and how many stairs you will have to climb to get to it – and if there’s a curfew as well as the time it kicks in. “Most of the places run by religious orders impose a curfew that kicks in just when the rest of the city comes alive.
“But don’t worry; you don’t have to be a church-going traveller to book a room, and while they invite guests to religious services, the nuns won’t try to convert you if you’re simply looking for a bed. All accept singles, couples and families with children.”
Further afield, Goodnightandgodbless.com covers religious accommodation and retreats around the world, including here in Australia. Not surprising since the site’s developer is Australian. Trish Clark, born in Toowoomba and educated by nuns, stumbled upon a convent open to tourists when she was backpacking as a youngster many moons ago. She was converted (pardon the pun) there and then and after a lifetime in the travel business, she segued into writing books and created her website.
Hope these links help … and god speed!
Do you have a travel question for Kay? If so, email your Travel SOS to [email protected]
Kay O’Sullivan is no accidental tourist. More than a decade ago, she decided to combine two of her favourite things – journalism and travel – and become a travel writer. Since then, she has worked for numerous papers, and magazines, both here and internationally, and on the internet.