Have you ever stayed in a convent? Surprisingly, many of our fellow travel fanatics out there have shared with us that they have, indeed, spent some time staying in converted nunneries or convents. Besides the inherently peaceful aura that seems to surround these modernized convents, many of them are located in absolutely gorgeous locations, and offer the traveller a different perspective. I'd like to share our experience at El Convento, a gorgeous hotel in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Read my abridged version below, or click on the link at the end to read the full review on our website if you wish, which covers many of the must-see sights in Puerto Rico, and more details about the hotel amenities as well.
One of our greatest finds when we travel is finding a hotel that is a combination of serenity and intimacy mixed with a comfortable dose of energy and inspiration – and this is often not an easy task. But El Convento somehow has found a way to combine these very attributes. From the moment you arrive, this former Carmelite Convent built in 1646, once named the “Monastery of Our Lady Carmen of San Jose”, seems to open it’s arms and whisper a warm “welcome” to those who cross the threshold.
The clean lines and pastel tones of the lemon-meringue exterior are accentuated by soaring white pillars, and the classic look of the gleaming black and white checker board floor refreshes the eye, but the heavy, dark wooden doors, stained glass, soaring ceilings and exquisite tapestries makes one appreciate the richness of history here, and imbue this hotel with sheer elegance.
From the moment we pulled up in front of the pretty, sun-baked lemon-yellow walls and walked between the soaring white pillars of the El Convento entrance we knew we were in for a treat.
There was no waiting for service, which we appreciate when we arrive after a long day of travelling. Front desk staff were friendly and smiling, and check-in was quick and courteous. They were aware we were coming and greeted us by name, something that always impresses us.
It wasn’t long before we were being escorted up to our room, emerging from the elevator onto the wide terra-cotta walkway that we had admired in the hotel pictures, which overlooked a lush and airy inner courtyard. We stopped momentarily to admire the immense, 300 year old “Nispero” tree which had been brought over from Spain. Also known as a sapodilla, the fruit of these trees are highly prized for their delicious and nutritious properties.
As we walked we noticed the inviting touches – comfortable armchairs with tables placed along the walkway, an invitation to guests to sit and admire the beautiful courtyard at will, and tropical blooms in clay pots bringing the freshness of the courtyard right to your doorstep.
Our favorite activity every day was walking in the footsteps of Spanish conquistadors, through the blue-cobblestone streets of Old San Juan. This can be addictive for those of us with over-active imaginations; the charming, historic down-town district has something for everyone, and if you are interested in 17th century architecture, you will be in your glory. The cobblestone streets are narrow and winding, and yes, I did say they were blue. Once used as ballasts on the ships that sailed from Spain to Puerto Rico, these centuries-old cobblestones were baked in Spain and are known as “aquinas” for their beautiful bluish tones.
This is the Old San Juan Church, just steps from El Convento, and visible from the sun-drenched terrace of the hotel as you enjoy morning breakfast or the nightly Wine and Cheese Party. It has very beautiful statues inside, and is the centrepiece of many gorgeous Puerto-Rican wedding ceremonies.
href="https://storage.ning.com/topology/rest/1.0/file/get/9008744068?profile=original" target="_self">Sun-dappled buildings line the street like so many pastel-hued crayons neatly assembled in a child’s crayon-box.
Classy boutiques rub elbows with bustling cafes proudly serving a unique Puerto Rican roast, “El Coqui”, named after their national symbol, the tiny coqui tree frog, delicious with a fresh pastry (the coffee not the frog!).
Artists studios drip with exuberant displays of bougainvillea and ivy, the creativity of the native Puerto Rican people make it easy to find some great souvenirs to bring home. If you tire of the eye-candy, you can simply follow your ears to the source of hip-swaying salsa beats, or follow your nose to find the source of the alluring scents emanating from pretty restaurants competing for attention.
We highly recommend the island of Puerto Rico as a great Caribbean escape destination, and we would not hesitate to recommend this gracious, small convent-turned-hotel to anyone who is interested in an unique Puerto Rican experience.
From El Convento, all the delights of Old San Juan are easily accessible; walking to many of the attractions is easy and safe, and for those days when you really just want to sit back, relax and put your feet up, this is a wonderful place to do so. You could easily spend a few days just enjoying the terrace and the beautiful view of the Atlantic in the distance, dipping your toes in the warm swimming pool, soothing your aching muscles in the jacuzzi, or simply reading a book while overlooking the charming inner courtyard. With some great restaurants right in the hotel, you don’t even really need to go any further unless you want to do some exploring, and the staff at El Convento are always happy to assist you in making plans. We fell in love with the sedate pace of Old San Juan, and enjoyed our daytime strolls down the old, cobblestoned streets, shopping and exploring, knowing we such a lovely and convenient hotel to return to. When we return to Puerto Rico one day, as we certainly hope to, we will certainly be booking another stay at El Convento.
I hope you will visit my full review on El Convento here: http://www.newjetsetters.com/portfolioentry/hotel-el-convento-san-juan-a-new-jetsetters-review/, and visit us on Pinterest for more great pictures of Puerto Rico and other wonderful destinations we have been lucky enough to visit and write about. http://pinterest.com/newjetsetters/