Established in Big Sur over 55 years ago, Benedictine monastery New Camaldoli Hermitage offers the very kind of solitude and quietude that attract travelers to the small mountain town. But nestled in its hiding spot high above the highway, even regular visitors to the area may have no idea such a place of spiritual seclusion exists -- or that it provides affordable lodging with ocean views.
A lone sign on the Pacific Coast Highway informs drivers of New Camaldoli's location two miles along a windy road up the mountain, and though the ride can be treacherous for those passengers prone to car sickness, the arrival at the top is well worth the risk. At an elevation of 1,300 feet, the nearly 900-acre property is literally above the clouds at times, adding to the serenity of the surroundings. On a clear day, a visitor can see forever: swaths of treetops below as the terrain of the Saint Lucia Mountains descends into the seeming endlessness of the Pacific Ocean.
While some travelers may decide to take in the seaside scene just for the afternoon as they walk the grounds and browse the gift shop, the monastery welcomes overnight guests as well. Starting at $115 per night, New Camaldoli's accommodations are an unexpected alternative to Big Sur's more usual rustic resorts with a luxury vibe (and price), and the daily rates even include vegetarian meals prepared by the monks. Men and women of any faith or religious inclination are welcome to stay, though the newest room type, a private cell with a prayer room and bath, is available only to men because of its location in the monastic cloister. There are several guest houses with kitchens and full bathrooms, a couple of which can sleep more than one person, as well as nine private rooms in the retreat house, each named in honor of a saint or major Christian figure, giving the spartan units a special touch. In keeping with the order's commitment to quiet contemplation and silent reflection, pets are not allowed on the property, nor are musical instruments or radios (so keep your laptop and phone on mute, too).
The New Camaldoli monks may keep a low profile, but their services and goods are in high demand, in particular the Holy Granola that they bake weekly and sell (often completely out) in the gift shop as well as their nationally lauded fruitcake. The shop also features the more conventional inventory: books about Christianity, calendars, and music. Around the corner from the gift shop, in the post-and-beam chapel, mass is performed daily and the monks' nightly meditation is also open to visitors who are looking for a getaway of the mind and spirit as well as the body.
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