When it comes to historical hotels, former castles and palaces turned luxe accommodations tend to get a lot of attention. But equally as glamorous in a restrained yet supremely elegant way are an unexpected type of storied structure: the monastery. Built as early as the 12th century, or as late as the early 1900s, these one-of-a-kind spaces share a sense of serenity as well as style, with common themes such as dramatic vaulted ceilings, arching cloisters, hand-carved wood, and columns. Essentially, things that work well in hotels. Italy is, understandably, filled with them. Emanating from Vatican City are former monasteries that are now five-star hotels and resorts, from Florence (Villa San Michele) and Sicily (San Domenico Palace) to Chianti (Badia a Coltibuono), Sorrento (Grand Hotel Cocumella) and Siena (Castel Monastero). Convents, too, make beautiful and tranquil boltholes, and many converted former nunneries are now ultra-glamorous hotels as well. Here, a collection of the most spectacular modern incarnations of these consecrated grounds.
Augustine, A Luxury Collection Hotel, Prague
A sensitive renovation, meant to retain the original ethereal atmosphere of Prague’s 1284 Augustinian monastery, helped turn this location into the most innovative and grand hotel in the UNESCO World Heritage city. Its seven buildings retain their original vaulted ceilings, frescoes, and wood beams, and rooms and spaces—like the cloistered restaurant serving, among other evocative cuisines, St. Thomas Beer, based off the monks’ secret ancient recipe—are updated with Czech Cubist furnishings and papal-inspired color palettes. There are even signature suites featuring original frescoes and one located in the former astrological tower, with panoramic views of the city
Four Seasons Hotel Milan, Italy
Centuries-old frescoes, columns, an 18th-century fireplace and, best of all, gorgeous vaulted ceilings mark this former convent as a place of peace. The 15th-century former nuns’ home—purchased in the 1450s for its rich soil that was perfect for farming spices—is now at the heart of Milan’s fashion district, and was the Four Seasons brand’s second European hotel when it opened in 1993, after extensive restoration. Today the central garden, which remains from the original intention, is a laid-back yet glamorous place to dine, while the rooms around it feel heavenly in their lightness.
Abadia Retuerta LeDomaine, Spain
With a foundation dating to 1146, the Santa Maria de Retuerta monastery in Valladolid, Spain, is one of the most important Romanesque works in the winemaking province, its abbey restored in 2008 in order to convert it into a five-star hotel where art and history play a major role. The Italian architect Marco Serra non-invasively transitioned the spaces while preserving their architectural integrity and paying homage to how the monks used them, resulting in a restaurant (where they dined), a lounge (where they gathered at night), and guest rooms (where they slept). Also adding to the sacred ambiance are works by Joan Miro, Giovanni Paolo Panini, a 16th-century Buddha from Thailand (in the yoga and meditation room, appropriately; there’s also a state-of-the-art spa), and an early fresco of “The Last Supper,” in the hotel's restaurant, Refectorio.
Hotel El Convento, San Juan
Formerly a Carmelite convent, the 350-year-old structure, housing 48 rooms, excels in both refinement and friendliness. The rooftop features a plunge pool, but the casually elegant building still incorporates bright high ceilings, mahogany beams, handcrafted tiles and antique chests harking to its hallowed first use. There are plenty of other holy places for church aficionados to visit in the heart of San Juan, or view from the prime vistas on the rooftop terrace.
San Clemente Palace Kempinski, Venice
Not many resorts can claim an authentic 12th-century church, but it’s at the heart of the super-luxe Kempinski property on the island of San Clemente in the Venetian lagoon (first settled in 1131), opened in 2016. The history of the island along with its ancient church-within-a-church and monastery—home to Augustine canons early on—is rich, and surely contributes to the feeling of tranquility and peace it oozes.
Park Hotel al Cappuccini, Umbria, Italy
Its background is monastic, but since the renovation that changed the 17th-century monastery into a luxury hotel in the ‘90s, it feels decidedly contemporary chic. Still, the diverse collection of artwork throughout mixes modern sculptures and posters with Renaissance paintings, Flemish tapestries and 15th-century frescoes for a singular feel.
Sofitel Legend Santa Clara, Cartagena, Colombia
Cartagena is best known for its vibrancy when it comes to food, color, and music. But the 1621 former cloister of the Poor Clare Sisters (the Convent of Saint Clare of Assisi) represents another very Catholic side. Of course at the Sofitel resort today, which gave new life to the nunnery when it opened in 1995, guests are not expected to act holy. They are invited to explore the imposing colonial structure’s secrets and historical details, such as crypts, wells, confessionals, hidden windows and other expressions of art. The Presidential Suite is an ode to Colombian culture, designed by acclaimed artist and native son Fernando Botero’s daughter, Lisa Botero.
Belmond Hotel Monasterio, Cusco, Peru
At this Belmond property, not even two of the 122 rooms and suites featuring original architecture of the restored 16th-century monastery—set around a courtyard with a 300-year-old cedar—are alike, each reflecting their use as bedrooms for Jesuit seminarians. The former refractory is the setting for the formal dining restaurant, where opera is staged several nights a week and the notes reverberate off the hallowed archways. Evocative design features timbered ceilings, terra-cotta floors, antique furniture and a collection of centuries-old religious paintings from the Cusquenian School of Art.
Geneva on The Lake, Finger Lakes, New York
Though built as an estate, the romantic villa on the Finger Lakes was used as a monastery by Franciscan Capuchins from 1949 to 1974, adding wings when they arrived. Now, with 10 bucolic acres including original formal gardens, a boathouse, and long pool, it’s kept its unexpectedly holy personality.
The Marlborough Lodge, New Zealand
More commonly associated with Sauvignon Blanc than nuns, Marlborough is actually home to a Victorian-styled former Sisters of Mercy convent–turned–luxury lodge. Built in 1901, the property sprawls on 16 acres of parkland featuring hundreds of unique types of vegetation and, of course, grapes. The just-completed second stage of renovation comprised fine-tuning the design to pay homage to its history and character (think an original hand-carved Kauri wood staircase), including the beautiful Kingfisher Suite, originally a nun’s chapel, with arched windows, vaulted ceiling and stained glass.