Convents Are Italy's Clean, Cheap Hotels

Article excerpt

Byline: FRANCES D'EMILIO

ROME (AP) - In these jittery times, when travelling might seem to come down to a wing and a prayer, a few prayers as perks with bed and breakfast can be a welcome extra.

So what if these B&B's also have strict curfews in this Eternal City? Motherly innkeepers, spick-and-span bathrooms, some of the cheapest room rates in town plus an ambiance of spirituality, more than compensate for any inconvenience, make convents an attractive lodging option for travellers in Italy.

''We feel very, very secure here, which is very important when you are in a strange country,'' said Joan Shoti, a middle-aged woman from Sydney, Australia, staying at Fraterna Domus, a hotel run by nuns whose religious mission is hospitality.

The hotel is ''the most spotless place you can imagine, but the most important thing is the caring you get from these nuns,'' said Shoti. ''Of course, nowadays you feel very insecure travelling, but when one stops in a place like this, one feels totally safe.''

Sister Milena, who helps run the 40-guest Fraterna Domus inn a few blocks from Piazza Navona, said the Missionaries of the Fraterna Domus (Latin for ''brotherly house'') was among the first to have lodgings for tourists and pilgrims.

Many of the convents started opening their doors to paying guests in the run-up to the Holy Year in 2000, when the religious and millennium celebrations drew 25 million visitors to Rome.

Worried about a shortage of hotel rooms, the government offered low-cost mortgages and remodeling loans to convents and monasteries.

THE CHARISMA OF HOSPITALITY

Massimiliano Vavassori, a researcher for the Milan-based Touring Club Italiano, which monitors tourist trends in the country and publishes a guide to convent lodgings, said there are no firm figures on how many convents are now in the lodging business or how much revenue the guests generate.

''More than 50 percent of the religious places aren't registered'' as lodgings, Vavassori said. In some cases, ''it's a case of a friend lending help. You can (just) leave an offering since the hospitality is offered for charity, not for business,'' he said in a telephone interview.

Sister Milena said the nuns occasionally take in ''desperate'' travelers whom the police find wandering around Rome in the night with nowhere to sleep.

Those guests aren't charged, she said. But paying guests at convents get a good deal in Rome, where modest hotels can charge upwards of euro150 (US$190) a night for a double and hostels are rare. …