No kidding. A stay in a monastery might be just the change of pace you need. Monasteries come in all sizes and shapes, from the cosmopolitan and luxurious to the stern and severe...
Monasteries come in all sizes and shapes, but they have some things in common:
In one stay in a monastery, in Thessaloniki in Greece, the evening meal - prepared lovingly by the resident nuns - consisted of fresh fruit and vegetables from the garden, freshly baked bread, homemade cheese and wine from the monastery's vineyards. The down side was compulsory attendance at a three-hour religious service starting an hour before dawn... (This monastery, by the way, no longer provides accommodation).
This may be what you're looking for, but religion is not a necessary part of a stay in a monastery.
On the contrary, hundreds of monasteries have turned themselves into monastery guesthouses, often in an effort to earn additional income.
Even so, you'll be expected to respect the faith of the monastery, whatever yours might be.
Yes, there are sometimes a few differences between a hotel and a monastery... and that can be (at least sometimes!) part of their charm. Here are a few of them:
Remember, these are ultimately religious communities and even if they do provide monastery accommodation, you are not in a normal commercial environment.
So why stay in a monastery?
Most monastery accommodation may have one or two of these requirements, rarely more. And there are plenty of great reasons to stay in a monastery hotel - some are obvious, some less so: they are cheaper than hotels; you'll get a welcome break for the hustle of the road; they're peaceful - and you'll leave more serene; you'll be part of a community, if you want to be; and your surroundings will probably be cleaner than you're used to.
For more than 1500 years monasteries have been providing hospitality to travelers and pilgrims, most of them male. Today's institutions - especially those in Europe - are more like a monastery bed and breakfast than a place of prayer and retirement. They tend to welcome everyone, whatever your gender, faith, race or beliefs.
Equally, many monastery stays require meditation or prayer as a condition of residence. In one stay in a monastery on the Brazilian coast - at that time the only Zen Buddhist monastery in South America - I was asked to take part in silent meditation. It was not only silent, but immobile, and all guests were expected to sit still for hours sitting on a small pillow. I had no practice in sitting still but to those who did, it was heaven. I, on the other hand, needed help to get up.
If you want to stay in a monastery, you'll be able to do so pretty much anywhere, although some parts of the world have developed this option more than others. Where no list is available, just find a large monastery or two when you get into town and phone. Or write or call ahead. Each one is managed differently and while some will welcome you, others will send you on your way.
Just don't confuse a stay in a monastery with a former monastery that's turned into a hotel - or you'll be awfully surprised when the bill comes! The following are a few selected resources - by no means comprehensive, but a start.
Monastery Stays helps you book a monastery room in Italy
Church of Santa Susanna has plenty of suggestions for convent stays in Italy's main cities
This article lists some French options for monastery stays, as does this book
Top Tour of Spain lists monastery lodgings that accept women
Dharma Dreaming lists monasteries in Sarnath, India
Monastery stays near Kathmandu
Throughout Asia, monasteries are often open to lay persons. Mostly accommodation is for those who want to practice meditation.
Several books have also been written about lodging in monasteries. Good Night and God Bless, by Trish Clark, gives great rundowns of monasteries in Austria, Italy and the Czech Republic. Volume Two, due soon, will cover France, England and Ireland. Trish lays it out simply: history, prices, contacts, directions, nearby sights - in short, everything you need to plan your monastery stay. It's a beautifully produced book and if you're planning a trip to any of the countries she covers, this is essential reading.
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