The claustral life appeals to something deep inside us all. We yearn for a monastic lifestyle away from everyday trivial endeavors. We want to live like holy people, yet eat and drink well and be treated like a god. We want to be able to get our nails done or back rubbed in a spa and slouch around in a fluffy toga rather than a hassock. And we prefer to stay in a suite, not in a cell.
The demand is there for empty monasteries turned into all en-suite staycation destinations. It’s easy to take a vow of silence, be contemplative, and relax when you have the finest accommodations and healthy, delicious food with well-curated wine pairings served in Murano glassware.
A ten-minute pilgrimage to St Mark’s Square, Ca’ di Dio is a former thirteenth-century monastery transformed into a luxury retreat. The 66-room, four-story hotel offers the attainment of Dolce Vita, a calming refuge from the city’s hordes of souvenir shoppers and off-key gondoliers. It boasts 14,000-piece chandeliers, catwalk scriptures, terrazzo Veneziana floors, terrazzo-style wallpaper, signature fragrances by Merchant of Venice, Murano fixtures, and Urquiola interiors. Ca di Dio’s lobby is the old chapel—a former place of contemplation and healing.
Guests staying in the Altana Suite have beautiful views from the rooftop deck of the Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore and, on clear days, the Dolomite mountains. Lagoon-facing, fine-dining is experienced in Raimondo Squeo’s Vero. Breakfast is taken alfresco in the courtyard. Head gardener Gabriele Bisetto proudly introduces guests to his flat-bottomed boat and takes you foraging for your supper around Torcello. To stay here is an opportunity no one can renounce. The only vows taken will be to eat a little less and forsake the sandals.
Prague’s Augustine, Florence’s Belmond Villa San Michele (formally a 15th-century Franciscan monastery in the Fiesole hills), and Belmond’s Palacio Nazarenas, Cusco, Peru, are all converted well into modern hotels. Other exclusive luxury hotels that are former religious residences include Antwerp’s August Hotel, which once belonged to sisters (nuns) and now has five-star status, four restaurants, and a vast eco spa. Its old chapel is now the bar and lounge. Chateau Cordeillan-Bages is a member of Relais & Chateaux, housed in an old Carthusian monastery. Both the Convento do Espinheiro in Evora, Portugal, and Milan’s Four Seasons are former nunneries.
San Clemente Palace Kempinski Venice and the Benedictine Belmond Splendido, Portofino, have religious pasts. Many places of worldly renunciation now have jacuzzis, Hammans, heated swimming pools, same-day laundry, turn-down services, “sensorial showers, gastronomic tasting menus, and afternoon tea. The nightly cost for such upscale properties reflects the amenities provided, but exceptions exist. The Ecce Home Convent overlooks the Dome of the Rock inside Jerusalem’s Old City and near the Damascus Gate. For 30 hours of work a week, you can stay there for free, and there are many religious orders that put up guests for nominal fees. Mount Athos’s monasteries and Caldey Island’s Saint Philomena spiritual retreat guesthouse in South Wales, England, and the one at Pluscarden Abbey in Moray, Scotland, require only a small fee. Eremo della Transfigurazione in Spello, Umbria, lets guests “take part in the monks’ life and help with their toils” while Santuario di Oropa, in Oropa, Piedmont, boasts luxurious rooms complete with antique paintings and furniture, and Baroque, Rococo and Ottocento architecture.
The world’s uber-ultra monastic hostelry was and soon will be again the Couvent Des Minimes in Provence-Luberon. Its past won’t be changed, but the L’Occitane Spa and acclaimed Le Cloistre restaurant will be updated. It is due to reopen in the fall of 2023.