January, 2012

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The Allure of the Ligurian Coast is its history and beautiful cities (Part One)

Friday, January 27th, 2012

In 1954, the monks purchased an abandoned 19th century castle that was adjacent to the monastery and its 12th century church. The complex is ensconced in a huge park with wonderful views of the sea.

Italy is one of my favorite countries to visit. The welcoming ambience of the Italian people, the ease of getting around and the charms of the hilltop villages and sophisticated cities always make for a memorable trip. But, of course, there are always favorites to be visited again and again. And certainly, high on my list is the Ligurian Coast.

A few years ago I elected to spend two weeks traveling this particularly beautiful coastline. I stayed in Camogli, a delightful city with beautiful views. My reasons for choosing a monastery are many, among them are the fact that they are architecturally beautiful structures, inexpensive, well tended and  safe.

Camogli occupies a pine-covered slope on the western side of the Portofino promontory. A distinctive and picturesque seaside town of narrow cobblestoned lanes and porticoes, Camogli has retained its atmospheric medieval center, highlighted by very tall, pastel-colored houses. The charm of the houses is accentuated by trompe l’oeil artwork, an artistic feature that can be seen all along the coast. And when you’re talking about “fooling the eye,” this area can’t be beat.

For an outstanding day trip, the famous Abbey of San Fruttuoso is a monumental Benedictine compound that can be accessed by ferry or by a dramatic and inspiring cliff side walk that takes about 5 hours roundtrip. The majestic white abbey buildings are sheltered in a setting of pines and olives trees. Built in the 10th century, the medieval church reveals three naves, a Byzantine cupola and a romantic two-tiered cloister ornamented with columns and carved capitals.

If you’re into walking (as I am), the fishing hamlet of San Rocco can be reached via a pretty walk of 5 km through olive trees and citrus groves. It is home to the Romanesque church of San Nicolo Recco. According to legend, the church was founded by Erice, son of Venere, who built a temple dedicated to his mother.

For more information on Ligura’s monasteries: monasteriesofitaly.com

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Lodging in France’s Monasteries

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

Lodge in a monastery in a castle

Spend a night or a week as a guest at a working monastery and come away filled with the essence of France, its history, art, architecture and local traditions.

There are hundreds of monasteries, maisons and convents throughout France where travelers can enjoy a holiday touring France, including its perched villages and ancient walled towns.  You’ll get a chance to mingle with the locals at the daily market or enjoy a glass of Bordeaux or hot chocolate in a friendly café. Perhaps you’d prefer to people watch from an atmospheric plaza or stroll the medieval quarters and cobblestone streets of a quiet hamlet. Engross yourself in France’s idiosyncratic timber-framed houses and royal castles, as charming today as they were hundreds of years ago or visit a bastide, a town layout unique to France.

Monastery travel represents a singular experience, a travel experience that Europeans have enjoyed for centuries.  Each institution is open to all regardless of religious denomination and without any religious obligation. Whether you prefer the sophistication of a city, the allure of the countryside or the simplicity of a tiny walled village, each offers an experience that will linger long after you’re returned home.

For more information: MonasteriesOfFrance.com