For my entire career as a Catholic schoolgirl, the nuns have wanted me to check into a convent on a permanent basis. They’ve finally succeeded with their plan by opening their nunneries in Rome to visitors, including myself.
Standing in the marble foyer of the Convent Guesthouse of the Suore di San Giuseppe, just outside the walls of Vatican City, I had recovered enough from the post-traumatic stress of my Catholic education to check in. As long as I could check out.
Staying at the Convent Guesthouse
And what a bargain I got for my 56 Euro (US$72) – single room, including breakfast and morning Mass. In the safe Prati area, the sisters offered a happy alternative to a US$600 room at a pedestrian tourist hotel, sometimes decorated with Roman prostitutes at the entrance. Best of all, I didn’t even have a curfew. Perfetta!
By choosing lodging in a welcoming Roman convent, visitors get a simple, clean room that’s surprisingly not cell-like at all and a continental breakfast. Some offer lunch or dinner for an extra fee. And this lodging alternative can offer great locations and luxury – the sisters of Saint Bridget live off the Campo di Fiori in roomy old world comfort and antiques and run a fine restaurant.
Upstairs, I found a simple, clean room, not cell-like at all, and a squeaky clean private bath. The furniture, while bare bones, was well maintained. I knew not to expect high thread count sheets and a pillow top mattress but my single bed was comfy and I slept well. Every room at this convent has a private bath; other convent guesthouses offer a choice of private or shared baths. I found a television in a downstairs dayroom… but I knew not to ask about wifi.
In the morning, a scent of fresh espresso lured me downstairs to a light-filled breakfast room with white tablecloths for a straightforward breakfast of juice and rolls with butter and jam.
Born from a centuries-long Roman tradition of offering shelter to pilgrims, a convent guesthouse can offer travelers amenities such as quiet gardens, a chapel, a library, or clean common areas with a TV, refrigerator or microwave. You may find yourself lodging in a grand palazzo or a terracotta townhouse. Many have excellent locations for the Roman visitor, often in the heart of a historic piazza or convenient to Vatican City. While accepting pilgrims and secular tourists alike, the sisters give you a glimpse into often-unseen spiritual lives of monastic simplicity. I experienced firsthand the serene quiet the sisters created beyond the whine of traffic outside the heavy door. Religious art adorned marble hallways as I caught a glimpse of a nun silently heading to early morning Mass. Working unhurriedly at reception’s front desk, a sister patiently answered my questions with a Buddhist calm. Perhaps the sisters have the right idea, living of lives of true peace, and I felt all the better for getting a brief taste of their way of living.
And, with the Euros you’ll save, you can spring for the important things Rome provides, such as gelato.
Once fed by the sisters, I set off into an Italian morning on Viale Vaticano along the walls of Vatican City, passing Swiss Guards, to St. Peter’s Square. The Metro stop, Ottaviano, was close by and I found the great shopping street called Cola di Rienzo a block away. I spent my Roman days exploring the Vatican Museums and climbing to the top of St. Peter Basilica’s cupola for a panoramic view of The Eternal City. I explored Gucci on the Via Condotti, ate gelato next to the Pantheon and shot photos of the Colosseum.
The sisters had given me a key to their grand townhouse to come and go as I pleased. Happily, they didn’t set a curfew and I didn’t even have to go to Mass in the mornings. Boy, have they come far!
What to expect
If you have overcome your sphiscophobia (fear of nuns), as I have, and wish to experience a stay in a Roman convent guesthouse, here’s what to expect:
- Convent accommodations are mostly a single bed in a private room, sometimes with a private bath for an extra charge. Dormitory accommodations are often available for groups and single travelers at a lower rate. You can also inquire about attached bathrooms and double rooms with two single beds. Some may even offer triple and quad accommodations.
- This being Italy, always confirm reception times before your arrival; often visitors are only accepted during certain hours of the day, say, from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m.
- Upon arriving, don’t be surprised if you have to ring or knock for a while before a sister opens the door. Nuns have other duties and prayer sessions so they may not be able to answer the door promptly.
- Ask about what forms of payment are accepted; some only accept cash.
- Many convents do not instill curfews, but ask if you plan late nights out. Curfews can begin from 10:00 p.m. up to midnight.
- Be respectful of the nuns’ privacy and defer to any areas off-limits to guests.
- Convents always welcome female guests; make sure they allow male guests as well – most do.
- Note that air-conditioning is rare although your room may have a fan.
- Accessibility for the disabled may not be available.
- Although the sisters are very gracious often little English is spoken. You may find yourself in a convent full of Italian- or French-speaking nuns; it helps to learn a few helpful Italian phrases or use a translation app. But these convent guesthouses usually have one sister fluent in English.
- Don’t be afraid to ask the sisters about getting around Rome; they are extremely helpful with travel information. However, do not expect them to make travel arrangements for you.
- Most convents, like Italian buildings, do not have rooms on the first floor. Some have elevators but don’t be surprised if you have to lug your bags up marble steps to your room.
What’s generally included and average prices
The reasonable rates of a Roman convent guesthouse can range from:
- Single: 50 – 70 Euros (US$64 – US$91)
- Double: 80 – 120 Euros (US$103 – US$155)
- Triple: 120 – 140 Euros (US$103 – US$181)
- Dormitory bed: 22 Euros (US$28)
Rome’s hotel room tax will add another 2 Euros to your rate per person per night.
Simple continental breakfasts of juice, rolls and coffee are usually included, served in a communal breakfast room where you’ll meet travelers from the world over. If not included, breakfast usually costs around US$4. Besides breakfast, some sisters will pack a bag lunch for you or serve lunch or dinner for an extra charge, usually around US$20.
Download our Insider’s Guide to Rome
A Couple of Standout Convents
If you are interested in staying with my hostesses in one of their 17 rooms, contact the Sisters of San Guiseppe at:
Instituto San Giuseppe della Montagna
Viale Vaticano, 88
Or make a booking with:
Viale Regina Margherita, 192
If you’d prefer staying with English-speaking Irish Dominican nuns in the historic center at the Circus Maximus, conveniently near a metro station, contact:
Suore Domenicana Villa Rosa
Via Terme Deciane, 5
The Ritz of Roman convents, the sisters of Saint Bridget boast a luxurious (and costlier) guesthouse and restaurant on the Michelangelo-designed Palazzo Farnese near the Campo de’ Fiori:
Casa Di Santa Brigida
Piazza Farnese 96
Located on the Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore where one of Rome’s major basilicas, the stately Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, stands:
Casa Per Ferie
Via dell’Olmata, 9
Not a convent, per se, this safe, budget hostel is run by the International Catholic Society for Girls in a Vatican-owned building. This women-only lodging has an early curfew and offers a budget-busting dormitory rate of only 22 Euros (US$28), including breakfast:
Casa S. Pudenziana
Via Urbana 158
How to make a prenotazione, or booking
Often a fax or an email requesting accommodation will elicit a response in English for booking your stay. Or you can telephone directly. Many convents have Italian websites, which usually offer English translation. Or use Google Chrome’s translation option. These websites can assist you with your search in Rome as well as in other areas of Italy:
- SantaSusanna.org – Offers an extensive list of Roman convent guesthouses as well as others throughout Italy that accepts guests.
- MonasteryStays.com – Use this site to book stays in Rome and in monasteries and convents operated by monks and nuns all over Italy, including Venice, La Spezia, San Gimignano, Assisi, Florence and Biella in the Piedmont Region.
- RomeGuide.it – A comprehensive Italian site of all religious guesthouses in Rome with contact information. Click a listing for an English translation.
- TripAdvisor.com – Yes, the sisters are even on TripAdvisor! Search under Bed and Breakfasts to find them.
– Lenore Greiner