Because it is hilly and remote, Abruzzo has always been favored by monks, hermits and saints, who built their sanctuaries in the most spectacular spots they could find. Many are still beautifully preserved, and some offer hospitality to guests.
When he wasn't off converting thousands and spurring on soldiers all over Europe, St. John of Capestrano lived in the Convent of San Giuliano, which overlooks the city of L'Aquila. Today it is home to only seven friars, who run a small natural history museum, a library with hundreds of ancient manuscripts, volumes and illuminated works, and the Baroque church, with its vast 18th-century fresco of the Three Kings. There's also a lovely 15th-century cloister.
|It's not an easy drive to Fossa, but the Convent of Sant'Angelo d'Ocre is worth the effort. Founded by Benedictine monks in 1242, it has a lovely romanesque cloister and an interesting refectory, both bearing frescoes by local artists. Set on a silent, panoramic hillside, it makes a perfect place for a short retreat.|
Near Chieti, the abbey of San Giovanni in Venere is perched like a hillside balcony overlooking the sea. This very ancient Benedictine retreat has a richly decorated façade and a lovely cloister with slender sculpted marble columns. The medieval church, with three soaring naves separated by graceful arches, was frescoed in the 12th century by a local artist.
In the same area, both the Santuario del Volto Santo and the Convento dell'Osservanza offer hospitality to guests. Neither is an artistic treasure of the level of San Giovanni in Venere, but the Convento dell'Osservanza has a beautiful setting in a thick hillside forest, and the Santuario del Volto Santo boasts a venerated image of Christ that is neither painted nor woven, and is identical on both sides.
In Teramo province, the Convento di Santa Maria in Colleromano is also in an idyllic spot, on a slope overlooking the beautiful hill town of Penne. In the early 1300s, this was an important Benedictine abbey, and you can visit its Gothic church, which harbors several lovely 15th-century frescoes and paintings and a Baroque altar. There's also a medieval cloister and an excellent library.
Staying in a monastery can be a low-cost, unique way to experience Italy. There are some rules to follow, however. Start the "booking" process well in advance. You can try writing, but telephoning is always more effective (and if you know a priest or bishop, don't hesitate to mention him). Be very clear about what kind of accommodation you will receive: some monasteries have private or even double cells, while others have only dormitory rooms. Ask whether you need to bring your own bedding and towels (Devo portare la biancheria?). Also, find out if there's a set fee or merely a voluntary donation.
Once you are there, remember that you are in a house of God. Assume nothing, as many places have very strict rules about speaking, fraternizing and attending Mass. The best rule of thumb for a convent stay is to approach it as a spiritual experience. If you do, your expectations will not fail you.
Click here for a complete listing of convents and monasteries that offer hospitality to non-religious travelers.