Cheap Stays in Italy: Convents and Monastaries

The author with her daughter, Laurien, in the convent gardens.
The author with her daughter, Laurien, in the convent gardens.

With the Euro strong against the dollar, finding a clean, safe place to stay that doesn’t require you to take out a second mortgage is getting more challenging, especially if you want to stay in the center of a major city. Fortunately, travelers have thousands of such rooms to choose from if they look beyond traditional hotels and consider staying in a convent or monastery.

Convents and monasteries abound in Italy. In modern times, the budgets required to maintain such large establishments are inversely proportionate to the number of men and women choosing to enter holy orders. Enterprising monks and nuns have turned this problem into a solution that benefits both the religious community and the budget-minded tourist. Many convents and monasteries are opening their doors to paying guests – and the price is right.

Dozens of convents and monasteries throughout Italy are listed in Bed and Blessings: Italy, a paperback written by the mother and daughter team of June and Anne Walsh, published by Paulist Press (US$ 16.95). The properties are listed by region to ease planning your next vacation in Italy.

Each property is briefly described, and the contact information and times of operation are listed. Many operate only during part of the year, generally Easter through the late fall. Some have curfews. Only rarely do they accept credit cards. English is not always spoken (although Latin probably is).

But what bargains they offer in exchange for these minor inconveniences! I stayed at the Villa Maria Elizabeth on Lake Garda, a playground for the rich and famous.

Expansive grounds in a park-like setting were lavishly planted with flowers. The room was simple, but clean, and the bed was comfortable. A blissful calm pervaded the entire site.

The price included a hearty breakfast and dinner in the dining room where I was served by smiling nuns. What was the price for this slice of heaven on earth?  A mere 40 Euros each night – and this is one of the more expensive properties featured in Bed and Blessings, due to its prime resort location.

Booking ahead is strongly recommended, but easier said than done. I wrote to four convents and monasteries using the Italian phrases in the back of the book. Only one responded — in Italian, of course. I did find a minor error in the book, too. The street number of the convent was muddled.

When I arrived at the listed address, there was no sign of life. I repeatedly pressed the buzzer at the gate. When it finally crackled to life, the “nun” at the other end snarled, “What the h— do you want?”  This was my first clue that I wasn’t at the convent after all. Well, at least she spoke English.

When I got to the real Villa Maria Elizabeth, check in was efficiently processed by a nun behind a counter with all the same amenities as any hotel. The Villa’s other guests were either German tourists or retired Italians who live there year round. I wanted to retire on the spot so I could just stay until the end of my days.

Other than a blessing said before meals and the prevalence of crucifixes and other religious symbols, there was no overt religious aspect to staying at the Villa. The hospitality of these houses is open to Catholics and non-Catholics equally. Please contact the property you’re interested in to confirm whether children and special needs can be accommodated.

The financial value of staying at the Villa was surpassed only by the peace and beauty it offered. Staying anywhere else would be a sin.

If You Go

Italian Tourism