A stay in a monastery? Maybe you've never thought of it but it might be just the change of pace you need - and from a woman's point of view the safety aspect isn't negligible.
Monasteries come in all sizes and shapes, from the cosmopolitan and luxurious to the stern and downright severe. There's definitely one for you out there!
Every monastery is different.
I once stayed in a monastery in Thessaloniki in Greece, where 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 (lost on me as I don't drink).
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). The seats were quite ingenious: they worked by pressure. When the armrests were pressed, they stayed down. When you let go, they snapped up, trapping you with a great banging noise that echoed throughout the chapel.
Certainly designed to stop you from drifting off!
1. Many monasteries accept women, even those peopled by monks so always check before writing one off.
2. Many are a little traditional and don't have email. To contact them you'll have to use the old-fashioned telephone, or even snail mail. And because communications are so slow, you may have to reserve well in advance.
3. You'll be saving money. They are usually cheaper than hotels and sometimes even cheaper than a hostel dorm room.
4. Monastery rooms will usually be simple, even spartan at times, and most will be furnished with single beds.
5. There may be shared bathrooms, so make sure you find out if this is something you dislike.
6. Peace and quiet are often needed by residents, so many monasteries are far from the crowds, in rural or remote areas. Even if they are in town, they are usually quiet, designed to keep out the sounds of the city.
7. There may be rules about silence, which may be mandatory at some times of the day.
8. There probably won't be a television - or even phones in some cases (and keep your cellphone turned off!)
9. There may be a curfew; miss it and it's a park bench for you because once the doors are locked everyone is asleep and there will be no one to let you in.
10. Most don't take credit cards so bring cash
11. Some communities grow their own food and make their own wine and cheese, so you'll be well fed, with organic produce, and will eat your fill.
12. You may find a communal kitchen in many monasteries so if you don't like the food you can cook your own.
13. Monasteries are usually old, and many of the buildings date back centuries. You may be living inside a historical monument.
14. Monasteries are often working, active religious communities that continue to function whether there are guests or not.
15. Religion doesn't necessarily have to be part of your experience, however. Many monasteries have added guest accommodations to earn additional income but don't expect guests to take part in any religious activities. It depends on the monastery.
While you won't usually have to take part in religious activities (trust me to find the exception), you'll be expected to respect the faith of the monastery, whatever yours might be.
Remember, these are ultimately religious communities and even if they do provide monastery accommodation, you are not in a normal commercial environment.
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 - have evolved. They are more like a monastery bed and breakfast than a place of prayer and retirement. They tend to welcome women too, of any faith, race or world view.
Equally, some 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 on a small pillow. I'm not good at sitting still at the best of times but for those so inclined, it was heaven.
I, on the other hand, needed help to get up.
In some parts of the world monastery stays are more developed than in others.
If you don't want to plan ahead, find a large monastery or two when you get into town and phone. 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 surprised when the bill comes!
The following books are excellent resources to help you find a monastery stay in Europe and North America.
Throughout Asia, monasteries are often open to lay persons but accommodation is mostly for those who want to practice meditation. I'm thinking specifically of one monastery I'm familiar with in Thailand, Suan Mokkh, which welcomes people who want to practice meditation, but it's not just for accommodation.
If you're headed to South Korea you could look into their Templestay program - you'll find it written up here.
While there are great hotels that have taken over and refurbished old monasteries (click here and Search for 'monastery'), staying in a working monastery is a different experience and one that can be empowering, enlightening and a lot of fun.
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