Monastery stays can certainly vary a lot so take this blog post as a guideline rather than a rule. If you have always been a “hotel person” (like I know many people are), but you want to branch out then this post can help you discern taking that leap of faith (ha, get it? “leap of faith” because it’s a religious place…)
Religious vs. Secular
A monastery, by default, is a religious location. In some monasteries, you are obligated to participate in religious ceremonies; this can range from morning yoga at a Hindu retreat, a Buddhist puja, or Catholic mass to name a few. If you are looking for a religious or spiritual experience, then this is a great choice for you! Even if you are not thatreligious or even a member of the religious persuasion of the monastery, it can still be an exciting and exploratory aspect of your trip. Monasteries get people from all backgrounds so there will be someone there to help you.
However, if that is just a little too much religion for you, don’t worry, there is a second option: optional practice. While in Assisi this past Christmas Season, Will and I stayed in a Catholic monastery filled with lovely cloistered nuns. I specifically picked a monastery that did not obligate daily practice but each day were many opportunities to pray with the nuns. We happened to pop back into our room a half hour before Vespers so we stuck around to participate with them and I am so glad we did! The whole thing was in French (because I accidently booked us a French monastery while in Italy…lol) so we did understand ANYTHING but that did not affect the absolute beauty of the nuns singing. Especially if you are staying in a Catholic cloister, attending one of the prayers may be your only way to see the nuns or monks who are technically hosting you. I just think that is so cool.
Hotel experiences can range from the super luxurious to the Motel 6 option, therefore the amenities can widely fluctuate with your price point but most middle of the road hotels have a pool or hot tub, big screen TVs, and a gym. You can pretty much guarantee your monastery stay will not include a hot tub; that’s actually quite laughable!
But, instead of the sauna, you can hop into a chapel or meditation room – what a trade off! But in all seriousness, no one in their right mind books a stay in a monastery for the amenities. Expect them to be a little more barebones but that’s all part of the experience. Embrace it.
Depending on how “all inclusive” your monastery stay is the cost can be a heck of a lot cheaper than a hotel, especially a high end one. Now, as I mentioned before you certainly sacrifice a bit on the amenities side that is part of the cost of a hotel stay. Our monastery stay in Assisi costed us about $90/night for a room with a queen-sized bed, cold breakfast, a balcony, and private bathroom. The tiny bathroom you see in the picture is literally all over Italy so not necessarily indicative of a monastery stay. This room totally compares to the quality of a middle of the road European hotel I have stayed at for a slightly cheaper price.
As I said in the beginning of the post, you do not have to be a practicing member of that religion to stay in a monastery but there might be other restrictions to being a guest that you may not consider in hotel:
- Couples may be asked if they are married. We were not asked when we stayed at a monastery in Assisi but our last name probably clued them in. Personally, I think it would have been super inappropriate to stay with my non-married significant other in the same bed while staying at a religious institution. Some monasteries may ask and may not allow you to cohabitate – it’s their place, their rules. In that case, feel free to book a bunk bed style monastery.
- Children may be off limits. Monasteries are typically centers of religious renewal and can act as a retreat from “the world” for many people and kids, especially young ones, may break that precious silence. Be sure to check before you assume you AND your baby can stay.
- Depending on who is living at the monastery there may be gender restrictions. For example a monastery with all monks may require men and women stay in different parts of the monastery to limit their interaction with people of the opposite gender. I have not personally seen this set up but I wouldn’t be surprised in more restricted communities.
All in all, our monastery stay was just perfect. It was exactly what I was looking for during our time in Assisi. I probably won’t stay at a monastery every time (you can’t even find them everywhere) but if we travel to another highly religious area I will certainly be googling for a monastery to stay at to heighten our experience while there!