MONASTERIES: THE LATEST BOUTIQUE HOTELS

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<p>In the first of a new<em> Intelligent Life</em> series on inspiring places to stay (&quot;This quarter's quarters&quot;), Rosanna de Lisle checks into monastic hotels ...</p><!--break--><p>From INTELLIGENT LIFE Magazine, Spring 2009</p><p>&ldquo;Get thee to a nunnery,&rdquo; Hamlet told Ophelia, urging her to chastity; but were he to make the same demand today, the chances are he&rsquo;d be packing her off to a five-star hotel where she could spend the night with her lover in a king-size bed. <br /> <br /> While monasteries have always been hospitable, obliged by the Rule of St Benedict to open their doors to whomever the Lord might send their way, in secular times that hospitality has reached another level. In a wave of recent conversions, cells have been knocked together to create large and light bedrooms, modern plumbing has been installed, and refectories have been turned into gourmet restaurants.</p><p>Such earthly delights are persuasive, but the most compelling thing about monastic hotels is their serenity. As well as being physically beautiful, ex-monasteries are often strikingly spiritual, as if centuries of prayer and plainchant have seeped into their massive walls. A stay in a cloister seems to incline one to contemplation, reading, sleeping well and turning off the mobile. <br /> <br /> There are now hundreds of monastic hotels in Europe and Latin America&mdash;all across the Catholic world, for Napoleon dissolved monasteries with a lighter touch than Henry VIII. These five seem particularly to have their spirit intact.</p><p><strong><br /> </strong><a href="http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/puglia-rustica"><strong>Il Convento di Santa Maria di Constantinopoli</strong></a><strong>, Puglia, Italy</strong></p><p>Alistair McAlpine gave this 16th-century Franciscan monastery, in the heel of Italy, to his wife, Athena, as a wedding present. Together they have filled it with his fantastic collections of tribal art, textiles, carvings and cacti and opened eight rooms to paying guests. More house party than hotel&mdash;B&amp;B includes lunch, tea, wine, grappa, even laundry; the only extra is dinner (&euro;40 a head)&mdash;the Convento is steeped in its own past. &ldquo;It has some kind of reverberation on the rhythm that our day takes,&rdquo; Athena explains. &ldquo;Every morning we sweep our courtyard, a bell sounds for lunch and supper, everyone eats the same food, together, and in the evening we light candles and fires.&rdquo; <br /> <em>Double room, B&amp;B, &euro;350; open March-Nov. +44 (0)7736 362328 (UK contact number)</em></p><p><br /> <img hspace="20" align="right" width="250" vspace="20" src="/files/quarters certosa.jpg" alt="" /><a href="http://www.certosadimaggiano.com/"><strong>Certosa di Maggiano</strong></a>, <strong>Tuscany, Italy</strong></p><p>Built on the edge of Siena in 1314, the Certosa di Maggiano was an important Carthusian monastery until the Grand Duke of Tuscany turfed out the monks in 1792. It was rescued from ruin in the 1970s by Anna Grossi Recordati, who turned the cells into 17 sunny and chintzy rooms. The Carthusians were vegetarians (the swimming pool occupies the spot where they grew lettuces), but the kitchen caters to gastronomes of all persuasions, serving dinner in the cloister in summer. <br /> <em>Double room from &euro;300; open April-Oct. +39 (0)577 288180</em></p><p><strong><br /> </strong><a href="http://www.abbaye-dela-bussiere.com/home.shtml"><strong>Abbaye de la Bussi&egrave;re</strong></a><strong>, Burgundy, France</strong></p><p>This 12th-century Cistercian abbey (above) was founded by Stephen Harding, third Abbot of C&icirc;teaux, and is once again in the hands of an Englishman, <a href="http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/travel/destinations/france/article38605... Cummings</a>, who with his wife Tanith persuaded the Archbishop of Dijon to sell in 2005. Their plan to turn a frumpy retreat house into a swish hotel and restaurant met local resistance, but their chef, Olivier Elzer, has already picked up a Michelin star. Set in 15 acres of parkland, the abbey has 16 rooms, ranging from tassled suites to attic rooms decorated in Toile de Jouy. &nbsp;<br /> <em>Double room from &euro;175. + 33 (0)3 80 49 02 29</em></p><p><strong><img hspace="20" align="right" width="225" vspace="20" alt="" src="/files/quartersaugustine.jpg" /> </strong><a href="http://www.theaugustine.com/"><strong>The Augustine</strong></a><strong>, Prague, Czech Republic</strong></p><p>Opening on May 1st, the latest hotel from Rocco Forte and his sister and designer, <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2005/dec/18/observerescapesection1">Olga Polizzi</a>, occupies seven historic buildings in Prague, including St Thomas&rsquo;s Monastery, founded in 1285 by King Wenceslas II. Or rather, part of the monastery, since the Augustinian friars will stay on when the guests arrive in May. Those on the profane side of the wall get Gothic-to-modern architecture&mdash;barrel-vaulted halls, stone stalactites, a courtyard glassed over as a restaurant&mdash;and 101 funkily plush bedrooms (burnt-orange and lime-green fabrics, Bang &amp; Olufsen technology, marble bathrooms, heated floors).<br /> <em>Double room from &euro;379. +42 (0)266 11 22 33</em></p><p><br /> <img hspace="20" align="right" width="250" vspace="20" alt="" src="/files/quartersmonasterio1.jpg" /><a href="http://www.monasterio.orient-express.com/web/ocus/ocus_a2a_home.jsp"><st... Monasterio</strong></a><strong>, Cuzco, Peru</strong></p><p>The Jesuit Seminary of San Antonio Abad was built in 1598 in the centre of Cuzco, South America&rsquo;s oldest living city and, at 3,300 metres, one of its highest. It became a hotel in 1965 and is now run by Orient-Express. Thanks to rebuilding after an earthquake in the 17th century, much of the architecture is extravagantly baroque, but the two-storey cloister is a picture of blessed restraint. There are 126 richly upholstered rooms, which can be oxygen-enriched to relieve altitude sickness. <br /> <em>Double room, B&amp;B from $528; oxygen, $50 per day. +44 (0)845 077 2222</em><br /> &nbsp;</p><p>(Rosanna de Lisle writes on travel for the <em>Daily Telegraph</em>. She is a former arts editor of the <em>Independent on Sunday</em>.)</p>