Monasteries can certainly vary a lot so take this blog post as a guideline rather than a rule, but that is also true of hostels – all depends on how much you are willing to pay. But if you’re like me and have spent a lot of time wandering Europe in youth hostels, it might be a cool experience to try the “original” hostel system: a monastery.
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 that religious or even a member of the religious persuasion of the monastery, it can still be an exciting and exploratory aspect of your trip. Many 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.
Hostels are not typically known for their luxurious amenities; many times, you’re sharing your sleeping and bathing space with total strangers. Monasteries can be along the same lines so the amenities in terms of sleeping, eating, and bathing can be similar between the two.
The one major amenity difference I have noticed in monasteries versus hostels is the common area experience. Part of what is so fun about staying in hostels is that they are literally designed for you to intermingle with the other strangers. Therefore, many will have cool common areas with couches, movies, tables, board games, bars, you name it! But not a monastery. Not that monasteries do not want you to interact with others, it’s just that they are more interested in you interacting with the divine than the other guests. Instead of a bar, expect a chapel. 🙂
Depending on how “all inclusive” your monastery stay is, the cost can be about the same of a hostel (again, price can vary wildly here!). Our monastery stay in Assisi cost us about $90/night for the two of us. In this case, we had a private room with a queen-sized bed, cold breakfast, a balcony, and private bathroom. I understand that this is more on par with a hotel, not a hostel, but many monasteries are built more on the hostel model. Cost can be the roughly same for a monastery in comparison to a hostel so if you are on a budget consider widening your search to include monasteries.
I said in the beginning of the post that 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 at first consider. However, surprisingly, they are not that different than many hostels I have encountered over the years:
- Couples may not be allowed to cohabitate in a private room if they are not married. However, this is similar to the fact that many hostels do not officially allow mixed genders in the same bunk beds while staying in a common room. The only way this is different from a hostel is if you get a private room.
- 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. But many hostels, especially youth hostels, have age minimums AND maximus so this isn’t really that different either.
- There may be gender restrictions if you are sleeping in a common room while at a monastery, however many hostels also have options for singled gendered rooms.
My last point isn’t a guest restriction necessarily placed on by the monastery, more on the type of guest who gravitates towards staying in a monastery: there will be no party animals puking at 1am in your monastery unless they are sick with a stomach flu. It seems to be the guiding principle that all hostels have that party group that comes back late, pukes and misses the toilet (or pees on you from the top bunk…), and wakes you up at an ungodly hour. These types of people do not stay at monasteries. So, if you are the person I described above, a monastery is not for you, but if you are trying to avoid the aforementioned person, then a monastery may be the answer to your prayers (ha! get it…prayers because it’s a religious institution).
All in all, even if a hostel and a monastery may look similar in terms of their accommodations and amenities, you cannot (and should not) expect the same experience out of the two. We love mixing you our travel with apartments and hostels and now we can add monasteries to the mix!