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Monks and nuns become hoteliers in economically challenging times: monastic doors open for travelers in Europe


By WcP.Story.Teller - Posted on 20 October 2008

those staying at the Monasterium Poortackere in Ghent, Belgium, can choose between luxe and the spartan

(quote)

When Kathleen Mazzocco was researching places for an affordable family vacation in Italy back in 2002, booking a room in a convent was “like shooting in the dark.” The guidebook to religious lodgings that Ms. Mazzocco used had no photographs, and she wasn’t sure the information was up-to-date. But by the time Ms. Mazzocco, a public relations consultant from Lake Oswego, Ore., returned to Italy last year, making a reservation at a monastery was not so different from booking a regular hotel. She found the cliffside Monastero S. Croce, in Liguria, on the Internet, viewed photos of it on the monastery’s own Web site, sent an e-mail message asking about availability, heard back promptly, and, at the end of her stay, paid with a credit card. “They’d entered the modern age,” she said.

Friar Fausto tends Monastero S. Croce's bar

For centuries Europe’s convents and monasteries have quietly provided inexpensive lodging to itinerants and in-the-know travelers, but now they’re increasingly throwing open their iron-bound doors to overnight visitors. They’ve begun Web sites - many with English translations and detailed information about sampling monastic life for a night - and signed on with Internet booking services. Some have even added spa offerings. Occupancy has shot up at many places, and some of the more centrally located are often fully booked.

And while some of the people staying at such holy spots are among the 300,000 religious travelers fueling the booming $18 billion faith-tourism industry, others are simply ordinary vacationers seeking a more authentic alternative to an anonymous hotel. “Twenty years ago, nobody was going to monasteries unless they were into religious tourism,” said Andrea Moretti, a travel consultant at the Italian Government Tourist Board, who estimates that between 1 and 5 percent of Italy’s 93 million annual visitors stay in religious lodgings, with Americans particularly attracted to them. “Now even if they’re not interested in religion, people consider a monastery because they like the pace and feeling.”

guests in the garden at Monastero S. Croce

Not to mention the price. While peaceful interior courtyards and the chance to hear nuns singing Vespers are certainly part of the allure, religious lodgings are almost always cheaper than hotels - often considerably cheaper. And with the dollar remaining weak, more and more travelers are looking at convents and monasteries as a way to beat the euro. So what if they don’t have mini bars and room service? “We spent less than half what we would have in a comparable hotel,” said Marilyn Henderson, a retired accountant from Lakewood, Wash., of the Opera della Divina Provvidenza, in Venice, where she and her husband stayed in July. The Hendersons paid 136 euros a night ($189 at $1.39 to the euro) for a double room with a private bath in the church-owned guesthouse, which has ceiling frescoes by Tintoretto and Tiepolo and is a 15-minute walk from San Marco. “It was easily equivalent to a three-star accommodation,” she said. More spartan convents and monasteries, or places in less central spots, can cost less than hostels. “You CAN Afford Europe This Year!” shouted the headline of a recent article on the Web site Slowtrav.com, which cites convents and monasteries as “a great value.”

a couple dining at Monastero S. Croce, Italy

And if it’s disconcerting to think of men and women of the cloth chasing after tourist dollars, for some orders it’s a matter of economic survival, according to the Association of Superiors of German Orders, whose German-language site, www.orden.de, lists 311 cloisters in Germany that offer room and board (and, in some cases, housemade beer and marzipan). “The income from overnight guests is a necessity,” Arnulf Salmen, a spokesman for the organization, wrote in an e-mail message.

The tradition of religious houses offering lodging dates back to the sixth-century Rule of St. Benedict, the document laying out the ways of monastic life, which includes a chapter on extending hospitality. Over the ages monasteries have sheltered individual travelers and those seeking solace, as well as church groups on organized retreats. But in recent decades, as farming and other sources of income have fallen off, religious orders have embraced the role of innkeeper.

Mother Superior suite at Monasterium Poortackere

The Bridgettine Sisters - named for the 14th-century St. Bridget of Sweden - operate guesthouses in 11 European countries (Italy, Britain, Sweden, Poland, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Estonia, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Norway), not to mention Mexico and India and in Darien, Conn. (A full list can be found at www.brigidine.org.) At Casa di Santa Brigida, in Rome, on lovely Piazza Farnese, prettily decorated rooms off marble halls have private baths, plus needle-pointed Madonnas over the single beds, and there’s a common room with a flat-screen TV and a roof terrace. In between prayers, the nuns, whose black habits are topped by little crowns of crossed white bands, cheerfully issue room keys at the front desk and wait on tables at breakfast.

Other religious communities operate in a more informal way, offering only two or three guest rooms and relying on donations rather than a set daily rate. “They might give you an envelope and ask you to put in it whatever you’d like,” said Kevin J. Wright, author of “Europe’s Monastery and Convent Guesthouses,” which is geared to the Christian traveler.

Monasterium Poortackere offers communal dining

Certain restrictions may apply. Although religious houses generally welcome visitors of all faiths, some monasteries allow only men on the premises (Monasterio de Santo Domingo de Silos in Burgos, Spain; 35 euros)), and some convents only women (Monasterio de San Benito, in Navarra; 30 euros including meals). Some enforce curfews or have daytime lockouts so that the sisters can make the beds. Silence may be required after a certain hour.

(unquote)

Photos courtesy of Chris Warde-Jones and Massimo Sciacco / The New York Times

Original Source: NY Times

This article is great as it lists lots of places to stay. I'm planning a trip to Italy and I found the same website about convents - www.monasterystays.com. They have places all over Italy and look to be very reasonably priced. Good feedback on website so check it out.

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