Dispatches: El Convento, San Juan

Full disclosure: I'm far from angelic, and not very religious. And, I'll admit, I often covet material things such as high-thread-count sheets, plush towels, and good wine. So I'd seem like an unlikely candidate to spend time in a convent. And, yet, the thought of staying within quiet, centuries-old walls filled with history and ghosts of the past was something I always wanted to do. Which is how I came to stay at Hotel El Convento in Old San Juan, a 17th century Carmelite monastery. What did I find? Well, nary a cross, but lots of romance and charm, plus 21st-century creature comforts in droves, at the 350 year old property in heart of vibrant old San Juan.

Although the Spanish nuns who called the building home from 1646 to 1903 might not have had time to appreciate its amazing style, the building is truly a tribute to the masonry of the Conquistadors (also seen in the forts and walls from the same period that surround the old town). Rooms with rough-hewn bricks, hand laid tiles, and high-vaulted ceilings naturally keep cool in the midday heat, and the antiques and wood furnishings transported me back in time. (Although I'm also pretty sure the nuns didn't have the luxe chrome and marble bathrooms found here today).

Another modern plus that probably wasn't enjoyed by the sisters is the complimentary evening wine and cheese reception out on the balcony, which, coincidentally, overlooks the neighboring San Juan Cathedral, the oldest church in the Western Hemisphere. I also had views of the church from the fourth floor plunge pool and hot tub – a bit sacreligious, maybe, but it makes for a great hotel stay.

Other highlights included the palm tree-lined courtyard café, Patio del Nespero, and tapas at the second floor El Picoteo restaurant. In fact, it's so cozy here, that the honeymooners and couples that make up the core audience at El Convento never seemed to leave the small property. Cloistered indeed.