Design + Architecture

Hotels With A Past

by Cathay Che

THE HOUSE OF MODESTY: Hotel El Convento
Where: San Juan, Puerto Rico
What it is: Old San Juan's most luxurious hotel
What it was: A Carmelite convent

The story: Get thee to a nunnery. Then roll around naughtily on its sumptuous beds. El Convento was built in 1651 and housed the Carmelite Sisters for over 250 years; for modesty's sake, they'd use underground tunnels to reach the nearby cathedral. The last 11 nuns moved out in 1903, and the old Colonial building fell from grace, doing stints as a dance hall, a flophouse, even a parking facility for garbage trucks. Fortunately, Robert Woolworth rescued the building and turned it into a hotel in 1962. An extreme makeover in 1997 transformed it into a luxury property, retaining elements the nuns would have appreciated (Spanish-style furniture, terra-cotta tiles, mahogany beams) and adding a few that would have mystified them (a tapas bar, double-glazed windows to keep out the noise). Ask for room 307, Gloria Vanderbilt's restored suite, a two-bedroom corner unit with its own dining room and panoramic views of the city and the bay beyond. And imagine the Mother Superior at the window, keeping her sharp eye on the sheep and sinners below.

Be sure to check out: The Salon Campeche, the former chapel, whose 48-foot vaulted ceilings and original stained-glass windows make it popular for weddings.

El Convento
Tel: 800 468 2779
Doubles from $366

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Information may have changed since date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.

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