Unconventional Lodgings Convents, Monasteries Opening Up to Tourists in Rome

Article excerpt

IL ROSARIO convent repainted 40 bedrooms, trimmed the palms on the rooftop garden and bought a state-of-the-art cappuccino machine.

Now the convent, around the corner from the Colosseum, doubles as a bed-and-breakfast.

Davide Filippi from Vercelli in northern Italy and his travel companion paid about $32 each per night for a room with twin beds. "Hotels, not even close to Rome, wanted to charge us at least 100,000 lire (about $60) per night," he said. Il Rosario is one of scores of religious homes gearing up to meet Rome's lodging needs for 2000 - when close to 20 million tourists are expected to be drawn to the city by millennium celebrations and the Holy Year declared by Pope John Paul II. The Italian government, concerned about a shortage of hotel rooms, has made it easier for convents and monasteries to house travelers. Low-cost mortgages and home-improvement loans are available to religious institutions that offer lodging, Massimo Serafini said. Serafini is director of Italy's Center for Religious and Cultural Tourism, a private agency that helps convents and monasteries throughout Italy get into the tourism business. Welcoming guests isn't new. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, convents often rented extra rooms to young Italian women studying at Rome's universities. Parents liked the idea of nuns' supervision and evening curfews. But times have changed, and many students now have their own apartments. Some religious institutions still use their space for more traditional purposes - putting up members of their congregations who are making pilgrimages to Rome, housing seminarians or serving as Catholic schools. But Italy's low birth rate has led to the closing of some convent schools. The B&B business is mutually beneficial. Tourists have lodging that is clean, safe and inexpensive, and the order has extra cash to pay the bills. "We expect to be fully booked all year in 2000," Sister Antonia Legnetto of San Francesco convent said. The convent doubles as a 16-room B&B just outside the Vatican walls. "People feel taken care of here," Sister Legnetto said. "For us it's not a hotel, it's ministry." Sister Adelaide Pianta of Il Rosario said the income from renting rooms "helps us run our home, take care of our older nuns and contribute to our congregations." Most overnight visitors learn of the B&B's from other travelers who spread the word about reasonably priced, clean lodging, Serafini said. Guests generally are families, young couples and single travelers who sometimes hear about convents and monasteries through local parishes - although one needn't be Catholic to spend the night. Prices range from 40,000 and 80,000 lire for a single room, often with a private bath. In Rome, it's hard to find a single with private bath in a reputable hotel for less than 120,000 lire. And it's harder to get something much cheaper than convent prices anywhere. There are few youth hostels in Rome. There are drawbacks. Most religious institutions have curfews, and few have televisions and double beds. …

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