Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Where to Stay; Italy & France

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~IMG_4712 Or this~IMG_4721In 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~  IMG_4133 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~IMG_4130

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~


Many outbuildings~


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~


IMG_4901The tasting room, sort of an orangerie~IMG_4905iIn 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!!!


  1. Great tips here Andrea - we would be a good team with my Blogger Getaways I do. Wishing you and Laura safe travels. I'm really bummed that I won't be able to meet you both. If things change I will email!!
    Be carefeul, all the Frenchies have Spring Fever!
    à beintôt,

  2. Je suis une ancienne élève du Sacré-Cœur! I attended a Sacred Heart Academy near Chicago. I honestly never thought about staying at one of their houses. That's genius! $45 a night in ROME? Is that per room or per person? Even pp, that's not a bad deal.
    Too bad the one in Paris was full. We're thinking of going to Paris in the fall, and I'll have to check that out.
    Have a wonderful journey!

  3. Hi Andrea, You and I could definitely travel together. I see no reason to pay for expensive hotels when we only sleep there. I would rather spend my money on a few nice antiques. We have a trip planned to Italy and the Greek islands in September. I'll look into the convents. Thanks for the info.

  4. Oh your sister's hotel is sumptuous!
    But I must say I adore the charm of yours. $45 WITH breakfast. Yes.

    That wise woman "L" is right. They both looked the same with the lights off. :)

  5. I think you are a very savy and wise girl! What wonderful advice.
    And staying at places like the convent give you a true taste of the country.
    Your trip sounds like a dream come true.

  6. Hi!!

    Have a wonderful trip!!

    My beautiful hat arrived today & I absolutely LOVE IT!!! I cannot wait to unleash it on the greater Philadelphia area--watch out!!

    Bon voyage!


  7. Oh Andrea, you have been working so much before your trip! However all of these tips are perfect. Of course I would love to travel with you! The convent really speaks to my heart and how lovely!

    Art by Karena

  8. Andrea: You are brilliant!! I wish I had read this last week, as Mary went to Rome from Nice for the weekend and I had no clue. I will be visiting her in Paris this fall, so I intend to try to stay at one of the convents. In fact they are such a deal, I am going to get me to a nunnery! Like I haven't spent enough time in them already!

  9. Your blog is a wealth of information. Those convents look like such a lovely place to stay in...I'm definately going to use this information next year.

  10. I am going to keep you in mind when I book my next trip to these beautiful countries.

    Also, I visited your shop and love your baskets. So fun, colorful and stylish.

    New follower!


  11. I love every image, what a dream trip and thank you for sharing all the beautiful images and details!
    My girlfriends and I have decided how fun it would be to go as a group and leave the hubbies at home.
    this was my first stop and I will be back, just lovely!

  12. Amazing again I can't wait for more!

  13. I am living my dream through you! I have always wanted to go to Italy and I feel like I was just there. (my real dream is to just go live there for a year and immerse myself in the culture) thanks so much for sharing I am so glad I found your blog!!