When I said I was going to Italy this spring, I got a lot of comments about this being “a trip of a lifetime” and “very expensive.” I believe strongly in budgeting and spending where it counts. Europe need not be expensive, after the airfare. The pillow on which I lay my head is not generally where I want to spend my money. As my friend L says, “all hotel rooms look the same when the lights are out.” It must be clean, I must not fear for my safety, but after that, I am not too into “fancy.” I would rather spend my money on food and gifts and antiques, not necessarily in that order. I’d rather have a ton of these~
Or perhaps twenty scoops of this~ Or this~In Rome, there are many fantastic hotels; the Hassler, or the Napoleon III; just check out that link for the NIII and tell me you would not love to stay there! But I wondered…. who has better real estate than the religious in Rome? Who?? So I called Sister Francine, and she put me in touch with another Nun friend and former teacher of mine who lives now in Rome, and she connected me with the American Church in Rome, Santa Susanna. Through this website, I found a wide range of lodging through the Catholic Church. There is one right opposite the Vatican, but I chose to stay at the Sacred Heart Convent, a short walk from the Vatican; the order is French in origin; and I have many friends who have gone to Sacred Heart; the Villa is beautiful~ There are other “budget” and former-religious places to stay, like this one, endorsed by Rick Steves, but these rates are not really “budget” to me. I don’t know if it’s the U.S. Dollar or lodging in general, but this place wants minimum $130 per night for a single occupancy room; wow that adds up fast.
You will likely not have a TV in your room at Sacred Heart, but you will find a crucifix. I had a full and very modern bath, bidet and WC in my room; better than most hotels. And the view from my room, looking down on the complex of buildings, was very pleasant~
Breakfast was included for the $45 per night. They have single, double and even rooms for four. Here is the refectory; the first day I was the only one lodging, so they set the place setting just for me~
The adjacent kitchen has mostly marble counters; I could not help but think of the meals which have been prepared here, over the decades~
The Sacred Heart of Jesus and Sacred Heart of Mary is over the gate. There is a bell to ring for entry. But just as I got my finger close to that bell,even at 11pm, I heard “Qui est?” on the buzzer…”who is there?” The nuns were right on it, though there is a police station a few doors up and this is a totally secure neighborhood, with fantastic restaurants and shops nearby, not to mention the Vatican.
As with most religious orders, the order is facing declining numbers. They have a second residence not far away, for the novitiates and others. Not long ago, this would be full~
The two story chapel with groined and painted ceiling is simply beautiful, though they “go out” now for mass~
Most of the nuns spoke just Italian, but I was helped greatly by the very dear Sister Elisabetta, “Soeur Elisa,” who spoke perfect French. She invited me to see the gardens, including the grottos~
The ochre façade was hand applied, not just painted; bell tower on top~
So many beautiful terraces and grounds, a green house where I imagine they grew all they needed to eat, a short time ago.
Arbors and calm….peace, right in the heart of Rome~
Even a few cats along the walk, though they did not want to be approached~
And then, get ready, I went back to Florence, where I camped out at my sister’s hotel room at one of the best hotels in town. Check out the loo in the lobby. I have never taken a lobby loo pic, til now. Look at all the marble~~
The lobby was equally sumptuous, very old school with the mail slots; I met a wonderful woman from Newport Beach here; Evie, I hope to see you soon~
This was fun cuz I didn’t pay for it; got to use a white terry bath robe and there was marble everywhere~
This was fun after the convent, but it was free! Call me cheap!
In Tuscany, on my next trip, I hope to stay at Villa Spoiano; I have no idea what she will charge, I do not know if she knows what she will charge, but the views were as amazing as the olive oil produced on site~
The tasting room, sort of an orangerie~iIn France, it’s a different story. the French love to stay with friends, and this is definitely the way to go for all of Europe (or the US!) , if you can. In Paris, I usually stay at Francoise’s flat but after some renter issues they are no longer renting; policy change... So I will stay at Carole’s this time. The alternatives were various hotels, all rather dear. Even the Hotel-Dieu was 130 Euros a night! The world has gone mad! I tried this trip to book us for the Sacre Coeur Guesthouse, but it was full, no wonder at 10 Euros a night. If you are brave and can manage a little French, outside of Paris try to book a Gites. This is the best thing, next to friends, all across France. In the South, try the convent of Notre Dame de Laghet. This books up fast; it is right above Nice, so plan ahead. In Provence, I have stayed for 15 years at La Ferme Jamet.
Best bet is to make friends in France. If you can cut that expense you will be ahead!
Email me if you need any help with your travel to France, Rome or Florence! I love to help!!!