Monastery Stays: A Unique Accommodation Choice in Italy
While traveling, we try to get off the beaten path - both in the areas we travel, and in the foods and accommodations that we like. There's nothing worse than staying at a chain hotel while abroad - looks the same as it does in Chicago. Get out and experience the local culture - that's my motto.
Imagine my surprise when I found out about Monastery Stays, which is an accommodations booking service in Italy, for lodging in authentic Italian monasteries and convent guest houses. They have hundreds of monasteries all over Italy - Rome, Florence, Sicilia, Venice, Umbria - the list goes on and on. When you see these gorgeous, historic monasteries, you will just be so excited that you will actually get to STAY THERE!
To find out more about Monastery Stays for our wandering educators, I contacted John Clayton, the Director of Monastery Stays. Here's what he had to say...
WE: Please tell us a little bit about Monastery Stays.
JC: Monastery Stays is a unique central on-line booking service for monasteries and convent guesthouses in Italy.
We use monastery broadly to cover both monasteries and convents
Monasteries fall into several categories
1 Strictly religious where you are at the monastery for a religious reason. As yet we don't organize accommodation in this type of place.
2 Working monasteries where the nuns and monks look after you as a part of their traditional and rules of the religious order - we make bookings in these places.
3 Guest houses (the best description) where the building is owned by the religious order, or the church but the accommodation is provided by lay people - we make bookings in these places.
Our criteria for inclusion on our website are quite strict.
1 There needs to be a chapel where any traveler can undertake their spiritual requirements. They should be free to join any religious activity within the monastery itself. This doesn't mean you have to be religious to stay, as monasteries don't worry about your particular faith or beliefs.
2 The monastery needs to provide a certain level of comfort and privacy so we insist all rooms have either an en-suite or a private (non shared) bathroom.
Our services eliminate the problems of booking a room in an Italian monastery -
A We are known and trusted by the monasteries and we speak the language.
B You don't need to understand International dialing codes, or the Italian language, or times.
C You get an unequivocal answer - yes you have a booking or no you don't!
D You only pay our fee when we are successful on your behalf.
E We work for our clients on a success fee basis. We don't get any commissions from the monasteries.
F We are reasonably quick. Given monasteries are not plugged into any international booking systems (nor do they want to be) our response time of 2 to 3 days is acceptable to the majority of our clients.
G The room prices are up to date
H We can move any deposit requirements to the monastery via our Italian Bank account.
Our website is easy use and our services are well regarded. We survey our past customers monthly and approximately 85-90% would recommend the monastery at which they stayed and our services (details on our website).
View from Monastery
WE: How did you get started?
JC: Well it started with a conversation over a cup of coffee in a cafe. 2 friends were reminiscing about their past holidays and discovered they had a shared experience. They had both stayed in monasteries on their journeys around the world. They liked the experience and wonder if others could share that experience.
Some Internet research surprised them as nobody was trying to offer this accommodation.
Thus began many months of testing, research and the bringing into the fold of another two people to assist. Much work, late at night resulted in the birth of Monastery Stays, which went live on the Internet on Christmas Day 2006.
Room, in Florence
WE: How popular is staying in monasteries? Do visitors have to make reservations far in advance?
JC: Monasteries are very popular. People forget Rome is the Head Office of a global organization who members are always traveling back and forth. Italians have used monasteries for years and so have those in the "know". Now this experience is open to all.
Yes you do need to book well in advance if possible 4 to 5 months notice is ideal. Obviously some times of the year are busier than others. Winter is a great time to visit parts of Italy. Sicily for example has great winter weather, or the Dolomites for skiing.
WE: Can families stay? How about people with disabilities - are accommodations available?
JC: Families are always welcome at a monastery. Many monasteries have specific rooms for families. These are rooms with 4 to 5 single beds (all monasteries in Italy provide single beds in rooms so a double room has two separate single beds) but still with private bathroom facilities. On our website these are shown as 'multiple' rooms.
If you want a double bed then is has to be ordered specifically - it is known as a "una camera matrimoniale",
Yes, many monasteries have installed rooms specifically adapted for people with disabilities. Where we know about them we include a small icon in the 'Facilities section' which is shown on every monasteries web page.
WE: How can travelers learn more about the history of each monastery, before coming, or while they are there?
JC: Once a person has made a confirmed booking then we provide them with a set of resources to assist them. These consist of information about how to get to the monastery, maps etc and where we have found information about the monastery we include it in a downloadable format.
Obviously people can Google the monastery name and find out more, if it is available. On some monasteries such as PUM101 there are masses of information about it both in English and Italian.
WE: Can travelers give back to the monastery, besides financially by staying there?
JC: Yes. Although accommodation is important to a monastery, it is not their primary purpose. Many monasteries run their accommodation to provide funds for their work around the globe. If a guest expresses any interest then the nuns and monks will speak with sincere pride at the work their order does to alleviate some problem in the world. The people who work and live in monasteries are special people who dedicate their lives to helping others. They will generously share their knowledge and experience with any visitor who asks for information.
WE: Thanks so much, John! I can see that not only is this an inexpensive accommodation, but it is a unique and fascinating one, too. I appreciate your time! I hope to explore many of these monasteries and convents, on our future trips to Italy!
For more information on Monastery Stays, please see: http://monasterystays.com/