Religious Housing in Rome
Choose Hotel-Like Stays or a Convent in Italy
Driven by the pricey upgrading of our favorite pensiones in Rome, my husband and I decided to turn to religious housing. We found options ranging from guesthouses offering something close to the independence of hotel living
to working convents, which can be more restrictive. The experience has changed the way we travel, allowing us to go more often and stay longer. Last time we paid $800 for nine nights—a savings of $1,200 over what we might have paid had
we stayed in the Rome 1-stars we usually patronize at around $135 a night.
The Casa per Ferie S. Maria Alle Fornaci, a religious guesthouse two blocks from St. Peter’s Square, is an incredible find (€80 per night for a double). With its 54 modern rooms with bath, this
remodeled Trinitarian monastery is more like a small hotel than a religious house. It is easily the equivalent or better than oft-recommended 1-and 2-star hotels in central Rome. Breakfast is extravagant—cereal, yogurt, sweet rolls—if
impersonally served. There is no curfew.
And we didn’t regret straying from our usual Centro Storico location; a bus got us to Piazza Navona and the center of things in five minutes. The Vatican neighborhood is virtually tourist free at night and offers cappuccinos
for €1 to offset those pricey ones across the Tiber.
In contrast, Nostra Signore di Lourdes, a convent two blocks from the Spanish Steps, has more of an Old World feel. As the tall wooden entrance doors closed behind us, leaving glamorous Via Sistina a world
away, we felt a shiver of sympathy for those operatic heroines banished behind convent doors for life. And true to the libretto, it required some intrigue on our part to make our escape.
This working convent houses mostly elderly sisters. Our clean double room overlooking the interior cloisters was amazingly remote from the noise of Rome, although the overall effect was a little disheartening: acoustical-tile
dropped ceilings, tiny bathrooms, and badly-worn terrazzo floors. A sparse breakfast is served, somewhat grimly, in a narrow high-ceilinged room. The chapel at one end of the cloister is serenely beautiful and peaceful.
The 10:30 curfew enforced “senza eccecione” made us nervous in a city where dinnertime is 9 p.m. To get a 5 a.m. cab to the airport for our flight home, we had to persuade one sister (who swore us to a vow of
silence) to sneak downstairs and open the convent door.
Little English is spoken—no small consideration if you, like us, find yourself needing to talk your way out. Still, the price (€70 for a double and an incredible €33 for a single) and central location is
unbeatable for those who can live with or even relish a somewhat faded, musty feel.
Lastly, don’t shy away from religious houses because of the supposed difficulty of communicating with them. Several have websites and e-mail. Faxes have worked well for us. As Rick Steve advises, if you don’t
get a fax back, the answer is probably no.