El Convento in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
Among the earliest conversions from a religious building to a hotel is Puerto Rico's El Convento, which is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its 1962 renovation and rebirth. The first renovation was a project of Frederic Woolworth, heir to the Woolworth family fortune. Upgrades have continued ever since, making the ancient structure comfortable and full of modern conveniences. The 58-room hotel is the oldest property in the Historic Hotels of America collection, its history dating to 1651 as the Monastery of Our Lady of Carmen of San Jose.
Smack in the center of historic Old San Juan, it has elements the nuns could only dream of: swimming pools, a fitness and spa center, three restaurants and a veranda terrace for evening cocktails. "El Convento is designated by the government of Puerto Rico to be the official guest house for visiting heads of state and dignitaries and unofficially for celebrities including Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony and Gloria Vanderbilt, for whom the Vanderbilt Suite is named," hotel representative Amanda Schinder wrote in an e-mail.
Hotel Monasterio in Cuzco, Peru
Among the oldest of the religious buildings in the Americas adapted into a hotel is the Hotel Monasterio, a Spanish former monastery dating from 1592. It sits in the heart of Cuzco, the ancient capital of the Inca empire, off the city's central square.
Now an Orient Express hotel, the 126 rooms are awash in buttery, neutral tones, the walls adorned with religious colonial art. Many of the rooms overlook Cuzco's central square, just steps from other colonial and Inca monuments. At 11,000 feet above sea level, unique to the hotel are oxygen-enriched rooms to help visitors adjust to the thin air. Hotel staff can arrange Orient Express train transport to the Lost City of the Incas, Machu Picchu, where the company's sister property sits at the entrance to the historic ruins.
Hotel Direct: +51 84 60 4000
Sofitel Santa Clara in Cartagena, Colombia
This Sofitel began its life as a monastery in 1621 in the Spanish colonial city of Cartagena de Indias, one of the best-preserved colonial cities on the South American continent. The city was declared a UNESCO monument in 1984. The monastery was part of the setting for Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez's magical realism novel "Of Love and Other Demons."
Today, a new fantasy is born with 119 rooms, 17 of them suites, in the old monastery and the new extension. The décor mixes ancient walls with modern touches and conveniences. The interior courtyard houses an outdoor pool, and the spa is equipped with a hammam, Jacuzzi and solarium. During the renovation of the hotel, many colonial artifacts were uncovered, and they are now on view throughout the hotel. Colonial Cartagena is itself a living museum, all within walking distance of the hotel.
Telephone: (+57)5/6504700 - (+57)5/6648040
Ratna Ling Spiritual Retreat on California's Sonoma Coast
There's no need to leave the United States for a relaxing religious retreat. In Northern California's Sonoma County, you'll find the misty fog-covered Ratna Ling Buddhist retreat tucked away on a redwood-forested ridge just a few miles from the Pacific coast. Though not a monastery, the retreat follows the nyingma traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. All meals are strictly vegetarian.
Guests don't have to be Buddhist but simply seeking out "a quiet natural beautiful place to experience what it is like to be without distraction, and get a sense of your own breath, eating mindfully, applying attention to your own steps, applying attention to your own balance," retreat manager Chelsea Rappel said. With a printing press on site, guests can also learn ancient Tibetan book-binding processes.
The retreat is about a 2½-hour drive from the Golden Gate Bridge. Some visitors come for the day, but overnight visits are encouraged.
Telephone: 510-809-4987 or 510-809-4995
Park Hall Country House in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, England
Medieval mystery and history are part of a vacation at the Park Hall Country House, a former monastery dating to 1360, though it's believed to have been built over an earlier structure. The recorded history of the land dates to 1016. During renovations of the property, false walls were uncovered that led to the discovery of Middle Age paintings, including one of the Virgin Mary surrounded by Latin prayers, seated on a throne. Other treasures on site include urns commissioned by King Henry VIII.
Today, the hotel is surrounded by extensive gardens and farmland, and only a few minutes drive from the Essex seacoast. It's about an hour and a half northeast of central London. Guests can stay in the main house in antique-filled spaces like the romantic Bishop's Room, a favorite of newlyweds, or in scattered cottages and buildings on the grounds. One of these buildings, the Cart Lodge and Hay Barn, features a soaring half-timbered loft space, giving a true medieval feel.
Telephone: +44 (0)1255 820922
Hotel Klosterbräu in Seefeld in Tirol, Austria