Staying in a Monastery in Rome, Italy
February 10, 2020
A Review of My Stay in a Monastery
I was a little nervous at the thought of staying at a convent. I am not Catholic and wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. But, after reading all of the enormously positive reviews of the Domus Helena guest house, it seemed like it was the right option for me as a solo traveler on a budget. And even more significantly, as a traveler it is incredibly important to me to open myself up to as many people and as many cultures and religions as possible.
Psst: I’ll be using the term monastery and convent interchangeably throughout this article. I am no expert, but through a bit of research, I have discovered that traditionally the word “monastery” is used to describe a community of men and women tend to denote their dwelling as a “convent.” However, when it comes to accommodation in Europe, both terms can be used.
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The nuns who ran the monastery could not have been more welcoming and wonderful to me that first night after a long travel journey from Los Angeles. I arrived after dark, hungry and tired. There was a smooth check-in process and I was recommended a couple of nearby restaurants for a quick bite before I returned, my head hit the pillow, and I was out cold until that 4AM jet lag woke me up.
So why did I stay in a monastery? I never even knew it was a possibility until a friend suggested it. I had traveled to Italy on two prior occasions, but in my early and mid 20s, I was looking for the social experience of a hostel because it was important for me to have the opportunity to meet other travelers to explore the sights with. This trip to Rome was different. I needed a place to stay to bookend my visit to Puglia in the South. I wanted something affordable as I would be staying on my own, but also comfortable and private.
I ended up staying at Domus Helena, a convent guest house, which I HIGHLY recommend to anyone and everyone. This particular convent has more of a hotel vibe as it has a 24-hour reception. One of the biggest downsides I saw to staying in other more traditional, monasteries was that there was a curfew that varied from anywhere between 10:30PM and midnight. I didn’t have any plans to party, but what if my flight had been delayed and I arrived there at 10PM instead of 9PM? I wouldn’t have been able to grab a bite to eat.
Furthermore, the location of Domus Helena was much better suited for me as opposed to many of the other monasteries which were located near to the Vatican. Many of these convents are farther away from a metro or train line than I would like. Domus Helena is situated just a couple of blocks from Termini station which made it incredibly easy to catch the train. I was able to take the train from the airport to Termini, walk about a half a mile to the guest house, and then walk to the train station again the following afternoon and ride a train to Bari in the South of Italy.
The most obvious downside to a guest house like Domus Helena is that it doesn’t boast the grounds that most of the more traditional monasteries do. Many of these convents have beautiful courtyards and the buildings date back centuries, so you’ll be staying in a historical monument. If the style of the property is more important to you than convenience, I would suggest staying in a more traditional style convent.
But that’s not to say that Domus Helena doesn’t have charm or a quiet respite for a cup of coffee and a good book. The guest house has multiple outdoor terraces where you can sit and relax. The property also has amenities like free wifi, air conditioning, daily housekeeping, and free breakfast each morning. All of this will only cost you about 50 euros for a single room which is such an affordable rate for Rome!
Keep in mind that although the exteriors might be grandiose, the rooms themselves will most likely be simple, even spartan at times.
Most of the more traditional monasteries can be researched and booked on monasterystays.com. Simply click the region — in this case Rome — and a large map of the city will populate dotted with all the various monasteries. Prices will be posted for each convent as well as the various curfew times, ratings, and available amenities for each of the monasteries.
I don’t love the Monastery Stays website because your booking is essentially non-refundable — one of the many reasons why you should purchase travel insurance — but for many of the monasteries, it is the only way to book a stay. Before you do, I recommend checking if you can book directly with the property or through another booking engine like Booking.com which has a cancellation policy. Just as an FYI, Domus Helena is listed on Booking.com!
As far as the religiosity aspect is concerned, that doesn’t have to be a part of your experience during your stay, although it is important to respect the faith and community at the monastery. There was a cross over my bed, and some of the nuns were dressed in tunics, but there isn’t attendance required at religious services.
Have you spent any time staying in a monastery in Italy or throughout Europe? Please share your experience in the comments below!