October 10, 2008 / 2:42 AM / in 9 years

Nun's cell with a view: book details holy stays

SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - If you're keen to add a holy dimension to your holiday, a new book by Australian author Trish Clark details the best religious accommodation in Europe.

Clark, a first-time author, has spent the past 30 years traveling around the world staying in monasteries and convents, sipping holy wine and even singing a few notes of the hymn "Avia Maria" in an Italian restaurant run by Carmelite nuns.

Her book, "Good Night and God Bless" which was published in August, is described as a guide to alternative tourist accommodation, focusing on monastic stays, mainly in Italy and the Czech Republic. A second volume is due out next year.

She spoke to Reuters about her experiences.

Q. What prompted you to choose this style of accommodation?

A. "I was booked into a youth hostel in Rome and when I got there my bed had been sold. The gentleman behind the counter said 'Don't worry I've booked you into a convent up the road'. I nearly died because I'd just left school and the nuns. The last thing I wanted was to spend my holiday with them. It turned out to be a really remarkable experience."

Q. Has accommodation with religious orders been available for a long time?

A. "Yes, hospitality has always been one of the big things with religious orders, but in the past, it's been mainly to pilgrims on a donation basis. Over the years, these communities have shrunk in size and in some cases they are left with hundreds of empty bedrooms. If they take in guests they can afford to keep the places running."

Q. How different was the experience of a religious house?

A. "I don't think religion has much to do with it. It's like staying in someone's house. I liken it to a guest house experience. There are two types of convents, those that accommodate tourists and those that accommodate pilgrims. The trick is not to get them mixed up or you could spend your holidays in silence."

Q. So, have you ever stayed in a bishop's bedchamber?

A. "I could have, or I could have stayed in a cardinal's bed, but I don't know because they don't advertise them as that."

Q. Who are you gearing your book toward?

A. "Well, I suppose it's not for young people because if I was 20, I wouldn't really want to stay in a convent, so it probably appeals to women over 35. They're just the perfect place to stay because they are cheap, clean and safe. Churches always knew how to buy real estate, so they're always in fantastic positions."

Q. What has been your most memorable experience?

A. "I visited a French restaurant called L'eau Vive in Rome. It's run by a French order of the Carmelite nuns. At nine o'clock each night, the nuns all down tools and all stand in a row in the main dining room. They say a short prayer and then hand out hymn cards to all the guests, most of whom look pretty stunned! Everyone's invited to sing "Avia Maria." Every time I've been there Avia Maria has been sung with some gusto, so I think the red wine might have something to do with it. It's so unusual and unique. I think the last Pope ate there."

Q. Will there be a sequel?

A. "We are in to reprint and I'm in negotiations with a publishing house in America. I plan to launch volume two next year on England, Ireland and France."

Q. What's your advice to travelers staying in religious accommodation?

A. "Don't treat these places like hotels and have respect for the people who live there. Even if you don't see them, remember they are not hotels, they are welcoming guest houses, sort of like staying in someone's home. And book early because Europeans know all about them."

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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