Looking for a fun, low-cost alternative to hotels? Consider convents and monasteries.
For a certain type of traveler, lodging at convents and monasteries is a unique, inexpensive alternative to staying in a hotel; and many are even cheaper than hostels. In the past, it took patience, prayer and plenty of research to book accommodations at an abbey, and in many cases, this still holds true. However, some religious orders now let pilgrims and tourists book online, and even accept credit card payments. Monastery Stays, for instance, has carved out a niche by allowing people to make reservations at hundreds of locations across Italy.
When choosing a convent or monastery, travelers should be aware that accommodations vary widely depending on the religious order. According to Transitions Abroad there are essentially two types of lodgings. One can opt for a more traditional experience in which the traveler stays on as a guest of the abbey, living amongst the monks or nuns, eating with them and attending mass. These lodgings are usually quite sparse, often little more than a monastic cell and plank bed.
It is more common, however, for vacationers to stay at a hostel or guesthouse run by an order, and the amenities here are generally more inviting. According to the New York Times, some Italian lodgings are basically three-star hotels in old abbeys, while others are villas that were gifted to the church by ancient nobility. Likewise, the German Kloster Arenberg has a large guesthouse that includes a spa, fitness center and sauna. Abbeys like these actively cultivate tourist business to stay afloat, so they are likely to be welcoming and attentive to their guest's needs.
Even when the lodgings are quite luxurious, the cost of staying at a convent or monastery is competitive when compared to comparable hotels or hostels. Of course, like the lodgings themselves, the price varies. When staying at a true monastery, guests may find they are expected to pay nothing. According to the Orthodox Christian Information Center, one should always leave a donation that amounts to at least half the cost of a stay at a modest hotel, even if the abbot protests.
Such free accommodations are becoming rarer. In Europe, a modest cell with a bathroom down the hall starts at about 50 euros, while the equivalent of a three-star room starts at 115 euros. The fare often includes continental breakfasts and family style dinners, though travelers would do well to check before they book. If it does not serve food, an abbey may allow guests access to a kitchen where they can prepare meals.
Many tourist-oriented convents and monasteries differ little from hotels, in that they allow guests to come and go at will. In some cases, the only difference between a guesthouse run by a religious order and a hotel is that a blessing is offered before meals. Though they extend their hospitality to people of all faiths, many convents and monasteries expect guests to follow certain rules during their stay. Some monasteries do not allow women guests, and likewise some convents do not allow men. Often, certain areas will be off-limits to people of either sex. Curfews are very common, sometimes as early as 8:30 p.m., though many are as late as 11 p.m.