THE PILGRIM’S WAY
THERE seems to be no end of unusual accommodation these days. You name the style of building and chances are it has been converted into a hotel. DepartureLounge has bedded down in a lighthouse, a piggery (well scoured and sty lishly refurbished, thankfully), stables, maharajas’ palaces, an adapted desert fort and a Japanese temple.
But not at a monastery, which seems an oversight given that three volumes have landed on Lounge ’ s desk devoted respectively to religious houses in France, Italy and Spain. Arizona-based Eileen Barish, who produces the chunky guides, says most of the properties are about $40 a night; resident monks and nuns, according to Barish, offer a warm welcome. Security is a given and while guests need not be religious, it would seem most are attracted by the intrinsic history and sense of spirituality, as well as the budget prices.
At the Foyer du Sacre-Coeur, a former seminary in Paray-le-Monial, Burgundy, mentioned in TheGuidetoLodgingin France’sMonasteries , guests bedding down in room four are in the wake of good company; this is where Pope John Paul II stayed in 1986, although the basic lodging fee was no doubt waived for his holiness. Pilgrims pay j24 (about $40) a night for basic board.
Barish includes specific religious retreats in the simply produced guides published by Anacapa Press (mono pictures, sometimes blurry; no maps). Despite a lack of glossy images and promotional budget, multiple updated editions of Barish’s books have been produced since 1999; the cover price is $US22.95 ($28), but the titles can be ordered online with additional postage. www.monasteriesoffrance.com (links to Italy and Spain). ■ AUSTRALIA-BASED Angela Hoban has a different take on monastery stays, at least in Italy. While Barish’s books put booking into the hands of travellers (the contact listed at various lodgings invariably is ‘‘ whoever answers the phone’’), Hoban’s small company, Monastery Stays, acts as a centralised reservations system. There is no need to speak Italian, she says, or ‘‘ deal with the vagaries of the Italian banking system’’. Hoban has more than 170 venues on the site, with emphasis on Rome, Florence, Venice and Assisi. A room in the capital, for example, at a monastery with a rooftop terrace (heavenly view of the city, Lounge presumes) and within a stroll of the Vatican, starts at j65, breakfast included. (Curfew is midnight: such places are not for night owls.) www.monasterystays.com.
FROM Jaki Arthur at Hachette Australia comes a taste of Alexander McCall Smith’s
HOW wonderful that an Australian-based author has won the Dolman Best First Travel Book Award. Claire Scobie’s account of her travels in Tibet, LastSeenin Lhasa (Random House, $24.95), has taken out the honours in the British award, which has been in place for two years. The inaugural winning book, in 2006, was The PresterQuest by inveterate traveller Nicholas Jubber. Both books embody a quest and neither mentions renovating a Frenchman or marrying an Italian farmhouse, which Lounge considers a small miracle. latest newsletter. The prolific author of the Botswana-set TheNo.1Ladies’Detective Agency arrives in Australia this weekend for the literary festival circuit. He has been travelling recently in his beloved Botswana — surely a destination that must thank McCall Smith for an upsurge in tourism as fans of lady detective Precious Ramotswe head there in droves — and his choice of safari digs were three properties run by the Orient-Express group. Looks like Khwai River Lodge, Eagle Island Lodge, and Savute Elephant Camp can put up the Alexander McCall Smith Slept Here signs. He also travelled to Gaborone, where the filming of TheNo.1Ladies’Detective Agency , directed by Anthony Minghella, is ‘‘ in full swing’’. McCall Smith assures us Minghella is ‘‘ a magnificent director’’ and ‘‘ Ramotswe and her story are in good hands’’. Fans worried that the lady detective has run out of crimes to solve can rest easy. McCall Smith was also doing research for volume nine of the series. www.alexandermccallsmith.co.uk.
TRAVEL&Indulgence ’ s Family Holidays issue (August 11-12) has received great feedback; Christine McCabe’s cover feature on children’s clubs resulted in a wave of extra info from hotels and resorts proud of their facilities for junior guests. But here’s one that takes the concept a stride further: Fiji’s Treasure Island Resort gives kids the opportunity to go to a local school for a day. When Lounge ’ s two sons were young, it would have been a shock to suggest to either that their vacations be interrupted by study. But Treasure Island Resort reports ‘‘ a high number of takers’’, though it’s not revealed if the little ones have to be dragged along by the tails of their tiny bula shirts. The school is in the village of Viseisei on Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu, a 15-minute boat ride from the resort. After all that hard work, kids can hare back to the resort for watersports, mini-golf and even spear-throwing, though hopefully not at parents. www.fijitreasure.com.
FIND of the week: Billed as Australia’s newest accommodation operator, Mint Resorts & Apartments has a great deal at its six properties: stay four nights and pay for three (valid to December 20), starting at $99 at the Beach Retreat at Coolum Beach on the Queensland Sunshine Coast. Coolum has long been overshadowed by Noosa, but lots of new accommodation, cafes and restaurants have meant an injection of style for this oceanfront suburb. The Mint group has two properties at Coolum, one at nearby Caloundra, two on the Gold Coast and, in Sydney, the CBD’s Napoleon on Kent. Mint’s studios and apartments include self-contained facilities, generally at rates well below hotels (in Sydney, from $149, a revelation by Emerald City standards). www.staymint.com. ■ LOUNGE loves: The cheeky Provocateur package at Hilton Sydney, including five seduction tips from Madame Lash. www.hiltonsydney.com.au. ■ LOUNGE loathes: Federal immigration and Customs arrival forms. Why are they printed in such a pale yellow that the boxes one is meant to tick are barely visible?