A few weeks ago, cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio checked in at the Domus Internationalis Paulus VI, a clerics’ hotel in Rome, before the launching of the secret electoral conclave that would lead to the Papal election. A few days later, now the new Pope, Padre Bergoglio religiously paid his bill while checking out.
The final price averaged about €60 per night, an amount that was in keeping with Bergoglio’s reputation for frugality and his attachment to an austere life.
The event was widely reported by the world press and motivated participants in several travel forums to comment on how convenient and economic that lodging sounded, and to wonder if the residence was available to “lay” travelers. Of course it was not, as was promptly disclosed to the general disappointment of many prospective budget-conscious travelers.
However, there are dozens of other properties of the same type in Rome that do take lay tourists, in contrast to the rank-selective Domus Internationalis.
Rome is one of the great cities of religious pilgrimage in the world. The presence of the Papacy in Rome, plus the magnificent Church-related patrimony of the ancient city, attracts swarms of travelers every year. Many of these tourists come for faith-based reasons, either for religious tourism proper or religious “business.”
The Vatican’s numerous “dicasteries” (ministries) and their networks of offices, as well as the headquarters of dozens of Catholic congregations are scattered all over the city. This means that each and every ecclesiastical traveler, from the humblest green seminarian and junior novice nun to the über-VIP visiting cardinals, must have a suitable kind of lodging as his/her Roman pied-à-terre.
All of these reasons help to explain why Rome is filled with “Case per Ferie:” residences run by religious orders, offering affordable accommodation.
My experience in Rome could not have been better. Several years ago, advised by a Jesuit friend who happens to come from my home town (a combination that guarantees sure wisdom), I stayed at the Istituto Santa Giuliana Falconieri, located in Rome’s historical center, a mere steps from Piazza Navona and close to everything.
The place was extremely welcoming and the price, consistent with a “classic cheapo.” The room was somehow Spartan but spacious and cozy (a winning combination) with an en-suite bathroom. The ample buffet-type continental breakfast was included in the price. The curfew was at midnight, which was okay with me. The sisters, whose superior hailed from the U.S., were extremely friendly. They did their best to talk to me in English, and I duly reciprocated, by digging out my best self-taught Italian (none of them our native languages).
My sojourn there was memorable, but, alas! some of the best things in life do not last and this friendly and convenient convent-cum-pension closed not long ago.
A few options for religious accommodations in Rome can be found in EuroCheapo’s Rome guide. These include the Suore di Santa Elisabetta (run by friendly nuns near Santa Maria Maggiore) and the Casa per Ferie Santa Maria Alle Fornace (a former convent near St. Peter’s).
Paris, however, does not have this reputation for religious pilgrimage. Despite the many unique monuments dedicated to religion and revered by tourists, the hordes that descend on the city throughout the year are mainly those who come to take part in fashion weeks. These travelers take their duties with a fervor bordering on the religious, but are centered on a practical and materialistic vision.
This goes in keeping with a city that, while boasting an ancient Catholic tradition, has become the Mecca of international tourism and of the fashion world, while also being a paragon of secularism. On the other hand, the Italian capital, with its baroque sensuousness, has served as the catwalk of the surrealist-like religious fashion show orchestrated by film director Federico Fellini in his eccentric and appropriately titled “Rome.”
Again, the weight of the church is felt here even in the most mundane events (or is it vice versa?).
A traveler recently wrote in a forum: “Unlike Rome, Paris is not exactly overflowing with half empty convents with rooms to rent at a reasonable price.” While some religious guesthouses in the French capital welcome individuals or groups that come to Paris to conduct a process of prayer and pilgrimage (e.g. “Ephrem Guesthouse”, la Maison d’accueil de la Basilique du Sacré-Cœur), the dearth of religious institutions offering lodging for general travelers is noticeable.
Recently the Auberge Adveniat, a residence affiliated to a religious group, has opened in the 8th arrondissement. It is obvious that in this type of accommodation there should be a curfew and that the hotel will have to do its best to keep at bay night owls, party animals and girls in fishnets. Therefore, this new residence enforces some strict regulations. Prices are indeed very cheap: Singles start at €36-46, and doubles at €30 per person.
Another religious house, Maison Eymard, also in the 8th, is available exclusively to members of the “Association Maison Eymard.” However, you can pay the membership (€7) when you arrive. Prices are €36 for a single and €60 for a double, with breakfast included. Some restrictions apply (e.g. no smoking, no reception during the weekend, minimum stay: 5 days).
A great lodging, which is not precisely a religious house but has a lot of associations with the Church, is the Hôtel-Dieu Hôpital. There is not a better position for an accommodation in Paris than this hotel located within a hospital—the Hôtel Dieu—and next to the Cathédrale Notre-Dame, on the Île de la Cité. The striking proximity to this illustrious building, the hospital’s centuries-long relation with the Church (hence its very name), and the fact that the profits are handed over to charity make this affordable hotel the closest thing to a religious residence in central Paris. As a bonus you can wake to the chimes of the bells of Notre-Dame and have your breakfast in your room. Needless to say, this is a coveted location for tourists. It charges a reasonable €139 for one person and €150 for two.
Not far from there, the Hotel Saint Merry is a beautiful property, sporting a vintage Gothic facade and an enviable location in the Marais. Nowadays, the Merry is a genuine three-star hotel, although this building has more than tenuous connections with the church, as it used to be the parish house of the Saint-Merry church.
Have you stayed in religious accommodations when visiting Paris or Rome? Tell us about your experience in the comments section!