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Many years ago while in Rome, I stayed in a convent which was surprisingly comfortable, had a huge communal kitchen and was centrally located. It was also very affordable in a city where even a one-star hotel can set you back up to $200 a night. The only down sides were you couldn't share a room with someone of the opposite sex, (even if you are married) and there was a strict 11pm curfew. If you missed curfew, (which I did a few times) you were locked out for the night and no amount of pounding on the 12th century wooden doors made a difference.

Religious institutions make great alternative accommodation options, and often where you lay your head will be a tourist attraction in itself. If you plan to stay at one, it is important to remember that it is, above all, a religious institution and although the convent may be subsidizing its income by allowing visitors to stay, you will have to adhere to certain restrictive rules. You may also have to share a bathroom and sleep in a small single bed. Put your cell phones away and other modern conveniences like a television probably won't be available. On the plus side, many convents offer communal meals as part of the accommodation costs or for a small additional fee so this can be another way to save money while traveling. Some convents and monasteries only really offer accommodation as part of a religious retreat so there will be an expectation that you participate in prayer or other group activities.

Traveling locally? St Meinrad Monastery (tel. 800/581-6905; www.saintmeinrad.edu/monastery_guest.aspx) in Meinrad, Indiana offers a guest house accommodation service. The Guest House features 31 air-conditioned guest rooms with private baths, a chapel, conference rooms, reading rooms, a dining room and a welcome center. A quiet environment, beautiful surroundings and convenient parking will enhance your retreat experience. Rates are $39 for a single room and $60 for a double. Room reservations are guaranteed with a $20 non-refundable deposit. Three meals per day run at approximately $18.

The Holy Trinity Monastery (www.holytrinitymonastery.org) in St. David, Arizona is a semi-contemplative monastery. In keeping with the tradition of monastic hospitality, guest house facilities are offered for monastic retreats. All retreatants, coming either singly or in a group, are expected to participate in the monastic exercises of silence, solitude, simple living, community and personal prayer.

Guests are requested to remain on the property during their stay and to cooperate fully with the monastery's policy so as to afford an opportunity for a fruitful monastic retreat. No use of radios or TV is permitted, breakfast and supper must be eaten in silence and a grand silence is imposed extending from the conclusion of Compline (night prayer) until after breakfast.¿ Suggested donations for a private retreat are $40 for singles or $70 for married couples. Three meals per day is $15, Sunday and Feast Days is $10, main meals are $7 and light meals are $5.

You have to hand it to those Benedictines -- they sure now how to be hospitable, but then again they have had centuries to perfect their welcoming nature. The Monastery of the Holy Cross (tel. 888/539-4261; www.chicagomonk.org) offers bed and breakfast accommodations at its Benedictine B & B, with a spacious, private suite of rooms within the grounds of a real urban monastery. Accommodation is provided in a completely private seven room loft apartment which includes two double bedrooms, kitchenette, dining room, living room, bath, study, air conditioning, TV/VCR, private entrance, free off-street parking in the Monastery's lot and free breakfasts prepared fresh by the monks each morning.

Located just south of the Loop the old Chicago neighborhood of Bridgeport, this Monastery is very much in the 21st century - it offers complimentary morning newspaper, telephone with data port, free local calling, a stand-alone fax machine and you can pay with credit cards. Rates are $145 per night for one or two guests or $185 per night, for three or four guests.

The Saint Benedict Center (www.sbcenter.org/accommodations.htm) in Madison, Wisconsin offers monastery accommodations. Private guest bedrooms in the monastery provide the perfect setting for a quiet, contemplative experience. All rooms (single, double or queen) feature comfortable bed with linens, private bathrooms, a built-in closet and a desk. The day-only guest bedroom rate is $28 for a single or double. Overnight rates are $41 for a single and $46 for a double. Homemade meals including fresh bread and produce from their gardens can be included. Lunch is $8, dinner is $9.50 and the continental breakfast is complimentary.

Italy is well known for its multitude of religious institutions offering accommodation. Some convents only admit women and many monasteries only admit men. For concise listings of accommodation options (in English) including monasteries and convents in Italy visit www.hospites.it.

The Church of Santa Susanna, the American Catholic Church in Rome's (www.santasusanna.org) website is a great resource featuring recommendations for convent stays in Rome, Assisi, Florence and Venice. Although individual convents may not have websites, most have email addresses and you can email your accommodation requests. It is advisable to do so well in advance, especially during peak periods like spring and summer. Prices range from approximately $39 to $128 per night for a single room and some offer double rooms.

A few examples include:

  • Suore Sacra Famiglia (tel. +39/6-3909-1411) in Rome has single rooms for $38, doubles for $67, $90 for a triple and $106 for four people sharing. Curfew is at 12am.
  • Instituto Sacro Cuore (tel. +39/6-6880-6032; e-mail villalante@libero.it) in Rome charges $45 for a single and $82 for a double (shared bathrooms) with breakfast. Other meals are available on request. Curfew is at 11pm.
  • St Anthony Guest House (tel. + 39/7581-2542; e-mail atoneassisi@tiscalinet.it) in Assisi is run by the American Atonement Sisters. This lovely retreat house takes in pilgrims and tourists alike, and overlooks the Basilica of St. Claire. They offer parking, a chapel, a library and a conference room. Rooms have private bath and breakfast is included. Rates start at $42 for a single room, $68 for a double room and $94 for a triple room.
  • Casea Santo Nome di Gesu (tel. +39/5521-3856; e-mail infor@fmmfirenze.it) in Florence is located across the Arno near the church of Santa Maria del Carmine. The rooms are large shuttered windows, some with private baths. Breakfast is included and prices are $77 Euro for a single room with bath, $103 for a double room and $150 for a triple room. Curfew is at 11:30pm.

When traveling in the holy land, Sisters of Sion Convent (tel +972/2641-5738; www.sistersofsion.org/index.htm) is located in the village of Ein Kerem, about half an hour outside Jerusalem, Israel. Rates start at approximately $80 a night for a double room ¿ some rooms have private bathrooms. It's a peaceful and tranquil oasis with terraced gardens and orchards. Rates are slightly higher on weekends and reservations are essential. Home-made meals are served on the premises and full board can be arranged.

The Rosary Convent Guesthouse (tel. +972/2625-8529) has rooms from $60 for a single and $70 for a double including breakfast. It is centrally located but has a 10pm curfew.

A comprehensive list of Christian-based accommodation centers in Israel including monasteries and convents is available at http://198.62.75.1/www1/ofm/cic/CICguest.html.

Although all the above properties are still owned and operated by religious orders, there are dozens if not hundreds of former convents and monasteries that have been converted into hotels. Many are luxurious and expensive boutique style properties, while others are affordable bed and breakfasts so if you are after the experience of staying in one of these historic buildings rather than trying to save money during your travels, you may wish to indulge in one of these accommodation options.

I have been fortunate enough to stay at a couple of these stand-out examples:

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