Religious hospitality and cheap lodgings (from $20) in Paris

The famed Bascilia of Sacre-Coeur affords you the chance to stay in the heart of the storied Montmartre district of Paris for the pittance of around $15 a night, staying in the famed basilica's Ephrem Guesthouse. 'Course curfew is 9pm.
The famed Basilica of Sacre-Coeur (www.sacre-coeur-montmartre.com) affords you the chance to stay in the heart of Paris' Montemarte district for €15.

You don't have to take vows of chastity and poverty or wear those itchy woolen robes to shack up in a French convent for as little as $20. You don't even have to be particularly religious.

Many convents run guest houses, set up and administered something like a bare-bones hotel.

Not only is a convent stay one of the ultimate budget lodging options, it's also a great cultural experience—and a chance to get yourself out of your own head for a day or two, no matter what your religious affiliation or beliefs.

Three excellent convent hotels in Paris
  • Basilica of Sacre-Coeur (www.sacre-coeur-montmartre.com, Tel. +33-(0)1-53-41-89-09) affords you the chance to stay in the heart of the storied Montmartre district for the pittance of less than €15 per person per night, lodging in the basilica's Ephrem Guesthouse (Maison d'Accueil de la Basilique) at 33 rue du Chevalier-de-la-Barre. Cheap meals, too. Drawback: curfew is 9pm. E-mail inquires: adoremus@sacre-coeur-montmartre.com
  • Hospitel Hôtel-Dieu (Tel. +33-(0)1-44-32-01-00) is a guesthouse right across the square from Notre-Dame, on the 6th floor of Paris's oldest hospital on the île de la Cité (1 place du Parvis Notre Dame). Wake up to the bells of Notre Dame each morning—from some rooms you can even see the cathedral's spires. All that and rates start at €55 per person.
  • Auberge de Jeunesse Adveniat (www.adveniat-paris.org, Tel. +33-(0)1-77-45-89-10) is less a convent guesthouse than a youth hostel with a religious component—and a killer location just off the Champs Elysées in the heart of Paris at 10 place Francois in the 1er (plus: no curfew). Rates start at €26 per person, including breakfast. Closed Novmeber.
What is a convent guest room like?

Expect small rooms, battered functional furnishings, and a décor that, at its most lavish, includes both a tiny print of the Virgin and a crucifix nailed to the wall above your bed. Amenities will be similarly spare: a TV or telephone in your room will be rare—though private bathrooms are surprisingly common, though not guaranteed.

As to the sleeping arrangements, the Brady Bunch bedroom revolution hasn't hit convents. Like a 50s sitcom, the beds are narrow twins with a healthy, holy amount of space between them. Double beds are only occasionally an option, and even then only for married couples (in fact, many convents will not allow an unmarried couple to share a room).

How much does cost to stay in a convent?
These religious guesthouses charge rates from $15 in shared dorms or single cell arrangements, or anywhere from $50 to $210 for two people in a private room—prayers for your immortal soul included.
Are there any rules for staying in a convent?

Nuns are like anybody else. Some are kindly; some are sourpusses.

The best strategy is to treat them with respect and a smile, and accept with good grace their many rules, like curfew (usually falls between 9pm and midnight), early checkout (often by 10am), and keeping relatively quiet (24/7).

Absent any specific rules, convent guesthouses simply expect you to respect the community and its values—be quiet, attend major masses, avoid throwing keg parties, that sort of thing. Also, don't blow in and out overnight basically just using them as a free crash pad.

Why should I consider staying in a convent?

For the faithful, a convent stay holds many rewards, not least of which is getting a chance to commune with your spiritual siblings from other lands. Also, they're cheap.

However, here I'm going to speak to my fellow non-believers out there for a moment. You don't have to have faith to find a convent stay fascinating.

Aside from the (generally) low prices, convents offer an interesting cultural experience in France, where they've been part of the fabled fabric of local communities since the Middle Ages.

After all, you spend much of your time in Europe admiring frescoes in historic churches, and paintings in museums, filled with nuns and monks scurrying about, observing their daily devotions, witnessing major historical events, or simply kneeling in adoration of the central saint. These works of art are a window into a tradition that's remained largely unchanged for centuries. Staying at a convent is like stepping through that window and into the fresco for a day or two. Pretty cool, huh?

Even if you aren't jazzed by the anthropological experience of it all, you can always use this is as an excuse to take a day or two to empty your mind and cleanse your soul. Wander the gardens. Sniff the flowers.

If invited, eat in the refectory with the residents (picture filling, simple, family-style meals served by smiling lay sisters).

Contemplate the places you've been visiting, your life, God, that itchy rash that developed since you stopped washing out your clothes every night, whatever.

Resources for finding convent & monastery guesthouses

How do you find convents that offer lodging? Tricky. Do lots of Googling. Use these books and online resources:

Guidebooks to religious lodgings

Online convent resources

There are also several good online resources:

  • Good Night and God Bless (www.goodnightandgodbless.com) - Trisha Clark, author of the trio of guidebooks described above, also runs a website with links to hundreds of monasteries and convents that take in guests—including several in France.
  • Several major monastic and conventual orders list retreat programs and guesthouses online, including the Benedictines (www.osb.org) and Dominicans (www.op.org).

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