SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA
Galicia | Spain
The Franciscan Monastery was founded in 1214 by St. Francis during his pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago, which concluded in Santiago de Compostela. All that remains from the original construction are five ogee arches in the main cloister. The new cloister was built in 1607 and was arranged on two floors, the lower one with Tuscan pillars holding semi-circular arches and the upper one with narrower pilasters and semi-circular arched windows.
The main facade of the convent was designed by the 18th. century Compostela architect Simón Rodríguez and is one of the best examples of Spain’s theatrical sense of baroque style. It is a massive curtain-facade that hides the cloister.
The adjoining church was built in 1742 from cut stone granite and has a rectangular floor plan outlining a Latin cross. It also features an impressive barrel vault ceiling with a large dome. The facade is topped with a bell-tower at each end and was declared a Historical Artistic Monument in 1986.
Guests that are inclined to learn more about the history of the Monastery and its contributions to the Galician region can visit the Museo de Terra Santa which encompases several rooms arranged chronologically with relics from the Holy Land. There is also a “pilgrim’s mass” held each day at noon for those who wish to worship.
Style & Character
The 18th. century Franciscan monastery has been skillfully renovated into a smooth, contemporary hotel taking full advantage of its majestic historical setting (minus the day-to-day life of monastic rigour). Moodily lit hallways lead to airy rooms, centuries-old cloisters and a heated indoor pool and jacuzzi that was once the convents laundry room.
Throughout the hotel there are various statues and stone remnants on display that were unearthed during the restoration process. There are also two areas that have glass floors exposing elements of the original foundation. These architectural artifacts set against the sleeker features of the hotel make for an interesting cross-historical conversation.
Several dozen window cut-outs in the reception area, meeting rooms and cafeteria that once held original works of religiously inspired stained glass have been replaced with more modern, abstract themes that are left up to the viewer’s interpretation as to their meaning. They are all incredibly well executed.
The fusion of modern comfort with original architecture along with the smart minimalist, chocolate-brown décor throughout was inspired by the Franciscan monks’ habits and designed to respect the building’s history rich character.
The remaking of the Convento de San Francisco de Santiago into the San Francisco Hotel Monumento is the ultimate expression of sensitive architectural restoration.
It all works beautifully and flawlessly.
Rooms & Amenities
The monastic theme emblematic throughout the hotel is also evident in its 82 rooms, where the tranquility and restfulness of the old convent merge, with the comfort of a modern hotel.
The rooms are bright, contemporary and well equipped, possessing a great sense of space. Some rooms occupy old monks’ quarters, albeit now significantly more comfortable than their austere beginnings. High beamed ceilings, wood-panelled floors, exposed-stone walls and original windows and shutters add to the historical charisma, while updated tile-walled bathrooms come with all the amenities one expects from a high caliber hotel. There are three suites, plus two romantic, attic-style rooms with a private lounge and hydromassage bath.
The pool and jacuzzi area is a real treat for those camino weary guests. The low light along with private men’s and women’s changing rooms, complete with showers and lockers are all a thoughtful touch. After 2 days of hiking our time spent in the pool was exactly what we needed.
All rooms at the front of the convent have windows facing the plaza with a view of one of the numerous statues that grace the city along with the boulevard that leads to the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral.
The De Profundis restaurant is tucked beneath an arched ceiling in an antiques-rich room dating from 1730, which functioned as the resident monks dining room. In an attempt to emulate as much of the original spirit of the room as possible all of the furniture was procured from convents and monasteries throughout the region of Galicia. Dark woods with low tables, chairs with velvet cushions and glazed earthenware-style crockery all serve as a reminder of another time.
One of the more interesting pieces of dinnerware on each table is a small cup called a taza, which has no handle and could easily be mistaken for dipping bread in olive oil. Instead it is a true reproduction of the vessel that the monks drank their wine from at dinner each evening. While it may not appeal to a wine connoisseur it is a fun experience to have as it works with the whole theme of the restaurant. To this day tasas are still in use and very popular in some Galician restaurants.
The food served in the dining room specializes in conventual cuisine with a careful selection of seasonal recipes, also taken from various convents and monasteries. It is simple, healthy food prepared and presented in an uncomplicated manner leaving the diner completely satisfied. Each of the three courses on the “Convent-Style Menu” will treat guests to centuries old recipes that, to this day, are still prepared in local restaurants and homes.
There is a second, and much more expansive, dining room which also dates to 1730 where the monks gathered in larger groups. This room is a sight to behold with end-to-end benches on both sides of the room and grand tables occupying the middle of the room. On one wall of the vast hall there is an elevated pulpit where the head priest would hold the pre-meal prayer and announce any special visitors. It is a majestic space rich with history and tradition that is impossible not to feel. Special events are still held in this room.
The hotel cafeteria, named Orfeón Terra A Nosa, was the place where young people once gathered to rehearse sacred songs. It was a personal commitment of a Father Feijóo, the Franciscan friar who led the Age of Enlightenment. Today it is a cozy space that enlightens guests by offering brunch as well as an all-day menu of tapas, salads, cheese boards and grilled veggie platters along with a variety of drinks and cocktails.
Lastly, and as befits most fine hotels, there is room service available from 10:00 am to 11:30 pm. Upon waking should you choose to stay in your bathrobe and enjoy a cup of coffee with breakfast the kitchen staff is more than happy to accommodate your wishes. If putting your feet up over a glass or two of local vino tinto after a long day of exploring the city is your preferred way to end the day dinner will be served at your leisure.
Staff & Service
The multilingual staff of the San Francisco Hotel Monumento are friendly, attentive and accommodating. From recommendations and directions to restaurants to supplying maps that highlight points of historical interest in the hotel as well as in and around the city the staff is at the ready to help you feel like a local. The same level of hospitality extends to the hotel housekeeping staff where no request will go unanswered making your stay all the more pleasant.
With many hotels charging parking fees upwards of $30.00 per day it is refreshing to see a hotel that does not charge for parking. Not only is the parking free but the staff will gladly unload your bags at the entrance and park your car for you. What a novel idea!
It is said the “service is king” in the hotel trade. The San Francisco Hotel Monumento provides it, and more, in an honest and non-pretentious manner which is as comforting as the hotels surroundings.
As long term travellers we have experienced a wide range of lodging in terms of style, accommodations and service. The San Francisco Hotel Monumento has by far been one of our better stays in each of these respects. The last evening of our stay was a fitting example of this. After dinner in the De Profundis restaurant our waiter, Miguel, offered to tour us through the 18th. century kitchen which was a rare treat. After our kitchen tour he proceeded to show us the aforementioned larger dining hall along with the original wine cellar which are now both used for special events ranging from weddings to corporate gatherings. A full history lesson of the rooms, and the convent, accompanied the tour which made it all the more special.
This type of personal touch, in addition to the overall hospitality shown us during our stay, will resonate with us both as we continue to travel.