In Italy, From Monastery to Mystic Motel
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because where else will you find Jacuzzis, martinis and penance all in one stop?
As we settle into the Jubilee Year of Mercy, people are looking not just to reset their diets but also their moral compasses. What better place to do that than in Italy, the cradle of Christianity, where churches and monasteries dot the landscape? And now tourists can join the monks to rest their heads in mystical houses of worship.
The latest trend in accommodations, at least partly inspired by the holy anniversary that kicked off in December, has convents, ashrams and crypts being restyled into boutique resorts. Or for those seeking a more austere experience, there are sanctuaries run by monks and nuns rather than hoteliers that have opened their doors to pilgrims. In one of these sorts, such as the Farfa Abbey just north of Rome, guests might find priests selling herbs, potions or honey. They might also be invited to pray at dusk.
While these renovations began several years ago, with the Jubilee, which comes around every 25 years, the timing is perfect to go exploring the stone hallways and ancient pools of some of the country’s oldest religious sites. And if you decide to indulge a little too much, you can stop by the Vatican on the way home to ask Pope Francis for some leniency. To help guide your pious journey, we’ve picked three of our top mystical stays, which range from around $150 to $300 a night.
- The Grand Hotel Santa Domitilla, on the island of Ponza, off Rome’s coast, features a one-of-a-kind spa. Imagine swimming in a labyrinth of Roman grottoes right next to where St. Flavia Domitilla, one of the early Christian martyrs, was imprisoned and tortured. The water tunnels, pools and Jacuzzis are cut deep into the volcanic rock of the isle and surrounded by lush vegetation. And this spa doesn’t just revitalize the skin; it cleanses your soul. “These ancient pools have a magic appeal,” says resort owner Gennaro Greca.
- If you’re looking to unplug — no Wi-Fi or mobile coverage here — then the Eremito Hotelito del Alma is your destination. “Silence is a luxury today: Modern man seems unable to stay still, relax and meditate,” says Marcello Murzilli, a designer famous in the 1990s who decided to give up fashion for the divine. This “modern” monastery is close to St. Francis’ pilgrimage routes in Umbria, also known as Italy’s ”Little Tibet.” It offers only single cells, each named after famous saints. I slept in St. Martin’s room — the hero who took off his cloak to cover a poor peasant. Talking is forbidden during dinner, which is accompanied by Gregorian chants and typically includes simple dishes, like bean soup. At the end of the meal, guests gather on a carpet and read psalms.
- Prefer to sip a martini under the altar of a rock crypt while listening to Chopin? Sextantio le Grotte Della Civita, overlooking the stone precipice of Matera’s Sassi district, has deluxe grotto suites that were once home to fleeing hermits and monks in the Middle Ages. A fresco of a Madonna and Child greets visitors at the entrance. The candle-lit bathroom is another cave where niches formerly used for sacred statues now hold toilet paper tied with an elegant ribbon.