Stay in a monastery in Italy

You can stay at the medieval Tuscan Santuario della Verna, where St. Francis received the stigmata, Monasteries, Italy, Italy (Photo courtesy of La Verna)
You can stay at the medieval Tuscan Santuario della Verna, where St. Francis received the stigmata

Sleep in a religious guesthouse or retreat at monasteries abbeys across Italy from just €17

I've stayed in Roman convents with friendly nuns, shared grappa with the monks at medieval Tuscany monasteries, and slept in a Venetian hospice slathered in Renaissance frescoes—and it has always been a memorable (and cheap!) experience.

Many religious orders take "hospitality" as one of their rules, along with their vows of poverty and charity and the like.

That has led many of the to run guest houses—sometimes since the middle ages—which are set up and administered something like a bare-bones hotel.

Not only is a monastery, abbey, or convent stay one of the ultimate budget lodging options, it's also a great cultural experience—and a chance to get yourself out of your own head for a day or two, no matter what your religious affiliation or beliefs.

What are the guest rooms in an Italian monastery like?

Monks live in simple cells, and you should expect the same: battered functional furnishings, narrow beds, and a decorative scheme heavy on Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

Amenities will be similarly spare: a TV or telephone in your room will be rare—though private bathrooms are surprisingly common, though not guaranteed.

Accommodations may be in a special wing of the monastery complex set aside for visitors, or in a dorm-like room of bunks, or even an unused monk's cell.

How much does cost to stay in a monastery in Italy?

Though most religious hospices charge a modest fee of €20 ($22) to €60 ($67) per person (but note that that fee usually includes at least two meals, breakfast and dinner, and often lunch as well), many monasteries will take in travelers absolutely free of charge.

This is because several monastic orders take "hospitality" as one of their rules, along with their vows of poverty and charity and the like.

What is a monastery stay in Italy like?

Though pilgrims predominate, guests of all faiths (or none) are welcome. You are usually invited, though not required, to attend services and the calls to hours in the chapel.

There are plenty of rules: respect the monks, be fairly quiet, arrive for meals promptly, check in and out at the appointed times, and be back in your room (or at least in the guest wing) by curfew, which may be as early as 9:30pm.

Some have a minimum-stay requirement (usually two or three nights; a few require you to stay a "week," which may mean anywhere from five to seven nights)

In exchange for all this, you get a cultural exchange program at bargain-basement prices. Regardless of your own religious persuasion, this is an unparalleled opportunity to sample a bit of the monastic life and experience the quiet, reflective solitude of strolling the cloisters and gardens.

If nothing else, a monastery stay can be a welcome break from the hurly-burly of touring endless museums and cathedrals.

Are there any rules for staying in a monastery in Italy?

Nuns, monks, friars, ministers, and priests are like anybody else. Some are kindly; some are sourpusses.

The best strategy is to treat them with respect and a smile, and accept with good grace their many rules, like curfew (usually falls between 10pm and midnight), early checkout (often by 10am), and keeping relatively quiet (24/7).

Absent any specific rules, religious guesthouses simply expect you to respect the community and its values—be quiet, attend major masses, avoid throwing keg parties, that sort of thing. Also, don't blow in and out overnight basically just using them as a cheap place to crash.

Where can I find monasteries in Italy?

Monasteries are rarely found in the big cities—unlike their sister pilgrim lodgings, convents, which are often in towns (especially Rome and Assisi). They tend to be tend to be isolated out in the countryside, in mountainous or rural areas more suited to a monk's life of contemplation.

This can add to the triple benefit: a cheap (or free place to sleep, a unique cultural experience, and a chance to get off the tourist treadmill of Europe's major capitals and into the woods or small town to which the monks have retreated.

Why should I consider staying in a monastery or abbey in Italy?

For the faithful, a religious hospice stay holds many rewards, not least of which is getting a chance to commune with your spiritual siblings from other lands.

Also, they're cheap.

However, here I'm going to speak to my fellow non-believers out there for a moment. You don't have to have faith to find a religious stay fascinating.

Aside from the (generally) low prices, convents and monasteries offer an interesting cultural experience—particularly in Europe, where they've been part of the fabled fabric of local communities since the Middle Ages.

After all, you spend much of your time in Europe admiring frescoes in historic churches, and paintings in museums, filled with monks scurrying about, observing their daily devotions, witnessing major historical events, or simply kneeling in adoration of the central saint. These works of art are a window into a tradition that's remained largely unchanged for centuries. Staying at a convent is like stepping through that window and into the fresco for a day or two. Pretty cool, huh?

Even if you aren't jazzed by the anthropological experience of it all, you can always use this is as an excuse to take a day or two to empty your mind and cleanse your soul. Wander the gardens. Sniff the flowers.

If invited, eat in the refectory with the residents (picture filling, simple, family-style meals served by smiling lay brothers).

Contemplate the country you've been visiting, your life, God, that itchy rash that developed since you stopped washing out your clothes every night, whatever.

 
 
Monasteries & convents links

Tips

Why I love alternative accommodations

First of all, I have nothing against hotels. They are reliable, widespread throughout Italy, and you know what you're going to get (or at least you will once you read all about how typical Italian hotels operate, and how they differ from American ones).

However, hotels aren't the be-all and end-all of lodging options in Italy.They are usually among the more expensive options available, and yet are rarely the most fun or remarkable.

In fact, to ensure the most memorable trip, you might want to make them your fallback choice when it comes to looking for a place to stay for the night.

Put it this way:

  • I've parked my RV in a campground with a million-dollar view over Florence and camped in a tent by the beach in Venice.
  • I've rented an ancient damusso house on the island of Pantelleria where I made friends with the neighbors.
  • I've rented apartments in Venice around the corner from St. Mark's Cathedral where I was soon recognized as a local at the area shops.
  • I set up housekeeping in a rented prehistoric trullo in Apulia where I became the "local color" that the other tourists were taking pictures of.
  • At an agriturismo (farm stay) in Piemonte I sat on a patio overlooking moonlit grape vines, sipping wine that had came from them and chatting with the vintner about the life of an Italian winemaker.
  • At a B&B in Ferrara the owner lent me a free bike and told me about recently discovered frescoes in a nearby palazzo, a hidden garden I could bike to, and a convent where the nuns made delicious cookies—none of them mentioned in any guidebook or by the local tourist office.
  • At the medeival monastery in Tuscany built on the site where St. Francis received the stigmata, I shared a dinner table with pilgrims and transcendental spiritualists, attended vespers with the monks, and tossed back shots of their homemade herbal liqueur alongside one of the friars at the monastery bar (no, really).
  • Within an hour of meeting my Couchsurfing host in Rome, I was riding in his car to pick up a friend and take her to her surprise party at a Roman home (my arrival was an integral part of the ruse).
  • At a rental room on a Sicilian island I was regaled with stories of the tuna fishing industry by the widow of the former tuna factory foreman.
  • And at a residence hotel in Rome in 1993 I met my wife.

None of that ever happens at a hotel, no matter how friendly the staff.

And every single one of those experiences cost less than the local hotels.(Heck, the Couchsurfing was free).

Even if you follow my own standard advice and consider your lodging to be just the cheapest comfortable place you can find to lay your weary head for the night, if you could get a bed that's both cheaper and in a more interesting setting, why not go for it?

I'll leave that decision up to you. But to help you make it, on the pages in thsi section, you'll find more than two dozen of the most popular alternative accommodations in Italy, including resources on how to find them and book them.

About the lodging star ratings (☆☆☆ to ★★★)

You will notice that all hotels, B&Bs, and other lodgingds (as well as sights and restaurants) on this site have a ReidsItaly.com star designation from ☆☆☆ to ★★★.

This merely indicates that I feel these accommodations offer a little something that makes them special (or extra-special, or extra-extra special, etc.).

These star ratings are entirely based on personal opinion, and have nothing to do with the official Italian hotel ratings—which have more to do with quantifiable amenities such as minibars, and not the intangibles that make a hotel truly stand out, like a combination of great location, friendly owners, nice style, and low prices.

In general, a pricier place to stay has to impress me that it is worth the added expense.

This is why I give ★★★ to some (official) "two-star" hotels or B&Bs that happen to provide amazing value for the money—and similarly have ranked a few (official) "four-star" properties just (★★☆).

About the lodging price brackets (€–€€€)

Accommodations rates vary wildly—even at the same hotel or B&B—depending on type of room, number of people in it, and the season.

That's why here at ReidsItaly.com we simply provde a general price range indicating the rough rate you should expect to pay for a standard double room in mid-season.

There are three price ranges, giving you a sense of which lodgings are budget, which are moderate, and which are splurges:

under €100
€€ €100–€200
€€€ over €200
Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for lodging

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...a hotel un albergo oon al-BEAR-go
...a B&B un bed-and-breakfast oon bet hand BREK-fust
...a rental room un'affittacamera oon ah-feet-ah-CAH-mair-ra
...an apartment for rent un appartamento oon ah-part-tah-MENT-toh
...a farm stay un agriturismo oon ah-gree-tour-EES-moh
...a hostel un ostello oon oh-STEHL-loh
     
How much is...? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
a single room una singola OO-nah SEEN-go-la
double room for single use [will often be offered if singles are unavailable] doppia uso singola DOPE-pee-ya OO-so SEEN-go-la
a double room with two beds una doppia con due letti OO-nah DOPE-pee-ya cone DOO-way LET-tee
a double room with one big bed una matrimoniale OO-nah mat-tree-moan-nee-YAAL-lay
triple room una tripla OO-nah TREE-plah
with private bathroom con bagno cone BAHN-yoh
without private bathroom senza bagno [they might say con bagno in comune—"with a communal bath"] SEN-zah BAHN-yoh
for one night per una notte pair OO-nah NOH-tay
for two nights per due notti pair DOO-way NOH-tee
for three nights per tre notti pair tray NOH-tee
Is breakfast included? É incluso la prima colazione? ay in-CLOO-soh lah PREE-mah coal-laht-zee-YOAN-nay
Is there WiFi? C'é WiFi? chay WHY-fy?
May I see the room? Posso vedere la camera? POH-soh veh-DAIR-eh lah CAH-mair-rah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Is there a cheaper one? C'é una più economica? chay OO-nah pew eh-ko-NO-mee-kah


 

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
     
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
     
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
     
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
     
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
     
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
     
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah


* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).

 
 

Related

A frescoed room at Venice's Foresteria Valdese, a religious hospice (Photo courtesy of the property)

You don't have to take vows of chastity and poverty or wear those itchy woolen robes to shack up in an Italian convent for as little as $30. You don't even have to be particularly religious.