Guesthouses of the Holy

  • Share
  • Read Later

With their minimal furnishings, natural color palettes and austere finishes, there are plenty of designer hotel rooms these days that do a good job of approximating a monastic cell. But if you're after the real thing, try Quarr (pronounced corr) Abbey,, a Benedictine monastery on England's Isle of Wight. It offers a handful of simply furnished, recently renovated guest rooms where solitude and quiet contemplation prevail.

While there has been an abbey on the site since the 12th century, the monastic buildings of Quarr date back to 1912 and were designed in neo-Gothic style by a monk, Dom Paul Bellot, who used red Flemish bricks to give them their distinctive appearance. The first inhabitants originally came from Solesmes, in northwestern France, at the end of the 19th century, evading a crackdown by French authorities on the power and wealth of the monastic movement. In time their ranks were swelled by English novices, who then took over when confiscation of French monastic property abated and the Solesmes monks felt able to return home.

With monastic life having fallen out of fashion, today a mere eight monks (with one postulant about to join) constitute the community at Quarr. A timetable of prayer is the central feature of its life, with several daily services held beneath the abbey's imposing arches. Attendance by visitors isn't mandatory, but the sense is that it would be discourteous to avoid services entirely. Besides, it allows you to enjoy the uplifting Gregorian chanting for which Benedictines are famous.

Meals are taken at set times in the bare, wood-paneled but not entirely unwelcoming refectory. You eat with the community and apart from the sounds of a monk reading aloud from a chosen book (during my visit it was a work on 17th century England by the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper), meals are conducted in silence. So is most of your stay. Guests are asked not to talk to monks, who seek to maintain a condition of contemplative solitude as far as possible.

Apart from pursuing similar meditations, you can enjoy the beautifully kept grounds of some 180 acres (73 hectares), browse the bookshop, visit the tearoom or explore farther afield (the town of Ryde is nearby). That's about it. But then you surely don't come to a monastery expecting to do very much, and the enforced quietude is, in its own way, as rejuvenating as any stay in a designer spa. Cheaper too: while donations are suggested, accommodation at Quarr is free.