Where to Stay in Assisi
St. Anthony’s Guest House – Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement
Via Galeazzo Alessi – 10, 06081 Assisi, Prov. Perugia, Italy
Phone: 011-390-75-812542 Fax: 011-390-75-813723
Read about an experience with religious/convent stays, including St. Anthony’s.
The loveliest convent on my itinerary was St Anthony’s Guesthouse in Assisi – home of St Francis and St Clare – where I spent two weeks. The convent is a former villa dating back to the 12th century, 100 years after the famous saints were alive. It perches on a high point of Assisi, in the central Italian region of Umbria. Umbria is sometimes referred to as the poor person’s Tuscany, but its lack of fame means it still has many of the qualities long lost in its illustrious neighbour. An hour’s drive from Cortona, where Francis Mayes’s Under the Tuscan Sun was based, Assisi is Umbria’s best-known medieval hilltown. Sitting high on Mount Subasio and facing west, the town is bathed in light and has a mystical quality. Nuns and monks move in shoals around the town. Attractions include the atmospheric Gothic Basilica of St Francis with Giotto and Cimabue’s famous frescoes, which have been restored after the earthquakes in 1997. One Sunday morning a friend and I caught an amazing flag-throwing display by handsome local youths with black ringlets and goatees. They dressed like Robin Hood and expertly flung their huge flags into the bright blue sky to cries of “Bravo!” from the crowd. When I wasn’t improving my fitness navigating the township hills, St Anthony’s convent was an enticing place to relax. It had a library and study stocked with the classics and books on history, travel and spirituality in English and Italian and offered views of the valley below. The Franciscan Sisters who run St Anthony’s hail from a New York-based order so most speak English and put it to good use giving directions to the best restaurants in town. I tried the specialty Umbrian dish of truffled stingozza (spaghetti with truffles), which was so rich and aromatic I needed gulps of fresh air between mouthfuls. St Anthony’s also offered a full home-cooked Italian lunch prepared daily by a local cook, Bruna. The other option was to pick up some bread, mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes and olives from the sensational Bottega del Bongustaio Alimentari a few doors down from the main piazza, add a bottle of local Chianti, and picnic in the olive groves. On one of many picnics I watched local men and women standing on handmade ladders and harvesting the olives with giant red combs so they fell into gold-coloured nets lying on the grass. One evening as I stood admiring the harvest, an elderly man in a three-piece suit who was chatting to the farmers leaned over and chucked me under the chin. I felt about five years old. As I did when the nuns kissed me lightly on both cheeks and blessed me in Italian by way of good-bye. There are conditions to staying in convents. The nuns mean business with curfew (usually between 10.30 and midnight) and a certain decorous behaviour is expected, given that you are staying in a house of God. But in return you experience a soulful slice of Italian life. And the blessings are nice.
WHERE THE AUTHOR STAYED
Nostra Signora di Lourdes, Via Sistina 113, Rome; phone (06) 474 5324.
Casa Carbulotto, Santa Croce,
Fondamenta Rizzi 316, Venice; (041) 710 877.
St Anthony’s Guesthouse, Via G Alessi 10, Assisi; (075) 812 542.
Bed and Blessings: A Guide to Convents and Monasteries Available for Overnight Lodging by June and Anne Walsh (Paulist Press) and The Guide to Lodging in Italian Monasteries by Eileen Barish (Anacapa Press) have maps, pictures and descriptions of guesthouses as well as sample reservation forms in English and Italian. They are available in travel bookshops or on the Web. Try www.monasteriesofitaly.com or key “Italian convents and monasteries” into your Internet search engine.
Italian Journey by the German poet/philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Under the Tuscan Sun by Francis Mayes give perspectives on Italy written three centuries apart.
WHAT YOU GET
A simply furnished room, often with spectacular views, in a prime location that’s easy to find on arrival. Most guesthouses are close to trains, buses and taxis and the locals always know where the convents are. Many have a TV room, communal lounge and garden. Most offer half-board (breakfast and lunch) or at least breakfast. Religious activities such as prayer and mass take place behind closed doors and guests are not expected to participate. Both little and not-so-little children are welcome