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Monastery of Tulebras - for those who seek contemplative rest

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

✦ Our Brilliant-Online content writer Yann Tyng took a few days off to experience staying in a monastery and she didn't want to leave!

There are many ways to travel, and staying in a monastery is clearly one of the less travelled roads. It may not be on everyone's bucket list of things to do, but the fact that it is such an unusual way to spend time off it may well be seen as an alternative sort of 'adventure'.

Few would say they dislike travelling or experiencing new places, but the truth is, planning a trip does take a lot of brain cells. You need to research where to go, where to stay, what to see, where to eat, what time to do different things and when FOMO starts raging in one's head, we just want to squeeze in as many activities as we can. With soaring prices of hotels, transport and holiday destinations, having a decent holiday without breaking the bank has become quite a challenge. Sure, we all want to party in Ibiza or walk down the streets of New York, but when money is tight and the demands of modern life leave us feeling suffocated, a desire for such holidays only serve to frustrate us.

Monasterio de Tulebras | Stay in a monastery | Brilliant-Online

Yanntyng, our Content Writer, lives in Spain and last summer she decided to consult Saint Google about where to go for a short break that was affordable, generated minimal stress and where one could really rest. She got directed to the guesthouse of the Monasterio de Santa Maria de la Caridad, also known as Monasterio de Tulebras (Monastery of Tulebras) in the north of Spain in the Navarra province. Last summer she was there for 10 days and didn't want to leave. This summer she went back and found her peace again. She did not need Hamlet to tell her to 'Get thee to a nunnery!'

Monasterio de Tulebras

This is a monastery in the town of Tulebras in Navarra, Spain. The nuns belong to the order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (or Trappists). It's a Roman Catholic contemplative religious order. They are part of the larger Cistercian family, with origins tracing back to 1098. They follow the Rule of St Benedict, and are a part of the Benedictine family.

This particular monastery was founded in the 12th century in 1147 and was the first female Cistercian order in Spain.

Is it strict?

Staying in the monastery's guesthouse for a few days does not mean you have to be Catholic, and it does not mean living a nun's life, and it does not mean having to be silent, have your phones confiscated, or be chided for nodding off during meditation and prayer.

I was hesitant when I contacted the monastery. I explained I’m not Catholic, and was simply looking for a quiet refuge to help me work out a few kinks in my head and get some balm for my mental health. And I was very warmly welcomed.

So to answer the question, the only strict thing about the monastery is the meal times! Breakfast is served at 9am, lunch at 2pm and dinner at 8pm. The nuns have a busy and tight schedule, so it helps if the guests are on time and keep the clockwork going. I personally absolutely enjoyed the meal time routine. The fact that I did not have to plan what to eat (healthily), or go to the supermarket to get the ingredients, spend time cooking and cleaning up and simply show up at the table was a luxury. The food they serve is simple traditional Spanish fare made with a lot of love and just so homey it makes you feel so good. Mealtimes there are certainly the highlight of my day. For someone who cannot cook to save her life, having delicious home cooked food is a royal treat.

Before every meal, everyone joins in a little song (in Spanish) to say grace and give thanks for the food. Nobody is obliged to do so if you're not comfortable. I did manage to learn it, and am genuinely grateful to whoever the cook is for whipping up such a variety of delicious meals every day!

After the meals, everyone automatically returns their own plates and cutlery to the kitchen, wipes down the tables and sets up the things for the next meal. I learnt by watching what the other guests did, and when they leave and new guests come, they learn from those who are present and so it passes on.

Of course, smoking is forbidden in the rooms, and people who have chosen to come here to stay are seeking peace and quiet, so needless to say, loud music and parties are simply not on anyone’s mind.

Keeping up with the times

People may think that just because these nuns live within the monastery they probably are cut off from the outside world. Not at all. They are well aware of what’s happening around the world and having been a fortunate recipient of the monastery’s hospitality, I am grateful and impressed they have the confidence and wisdom to keep up with the times and make sure their hospitality can be found and made known to people.

Not all businesses are aware of the necessity of having a functioning website to draw visitors. It was thanks to their easy to navigate and clear website that I not only found them but wanted to surf through it and find out more. And when I got to the section about their guesthouses, the photograph of a friendly nun that was so welcoming really made me drop my fear and hesitation and simply write to them to book a place. Spirituality does little good if it is not made known to the world, and the monastery understands fully that they have to flow with the times and not fear technology. (The monastery even has a Facebook page where they post daily readings or prayers and it allows the community to be connected to the monastery even if they don't live in that town). The monastery is well aware of how far they are willing to go with technology. They have decided they need only enough for people to be aware they exist, but they do not need to go overboard with technology.

At the end of the day, technology is a useful servant to help groups of people who share a common interest to be connected. It allows stories to be shared, and even ASX companies are riding on technology for their stories to be heard by investors.

Ora et Labora

'Ora et Labora' is Latin for 'prayer and work' and it is motto of St Benedict. Beyond the prayers, the nuns also keep busy with tasks such as making artesenal products. Every monastery is different and have their own unique products based on the region. Here, the monastery makes their own honey. The nun who manages part of the technology side of things is also the same person who looks after the bees. So you see, they lead very busy lives even if we can't see what they do!

Humility and being teachable

One thing that I was curious about was how a group of people could live together in harmony, in a closed area for the rest of their lives. There are a few nuns who have contact with the guests in the guesthouse, but the rest are in the monastery. They do leave the premises for medical appointments, have family visits and other necessities, but otherwise they are there 365 days a year.

I spoke to one of the nuns and she told me that yes, of course, living together with anyone is a challenge, be it outside in the 'real world' or within the walls of the monastery. The thing is to remember that we all have our quirks and personalities, and we are not always right and do not have to be right. It's a lesson in humility to also consider the other person's point of view, and to be able to learn from the other.

The nuns have their readings to do every day, so they are constantly learning and nurturing their minds. They read the Rules of St Benedict and apply his teachings to their lives. What binds the nuns together is their shared single-minded devotion to God and with this primary purpose to keep them on track, everything else is then put in proper perspective. They are also practising the notoriously difficult art of letting go and trusting in whatever life or God brings them. I confess to being guilty of having toddler tantrums in my head when things don't go my way. Perhaps I can start with the small things such as the next time the train is late, I can tell myself to let it go instead of whinging about it!

Just keep walking

Just outside the monastery is a Tarazonica Greenway which used to be a railroad track. The tracks have been removed and now it has been converted into a walking and cycling trail. It connects a few of the nearby villages, so you can take a nice, long walk from where the monastery is to the next village. On either side of the trail you can see fields of different crops such as grapes, corn, sunflowers, olive etc. I went for a walk twice every day, once in the morning, and then later in the afternoon or evening. As it’s such a long trail, you don’t see many people. You may meet a cyclist or two sometimes, or people could be out walking like myself. It’s very, very quiet and somehow the vastness of the fields, skies and mountains in the background is a powerful reminder of how small and insignificant I am. This is a delicious feeling of freedom, of right-sizing my ‘problems’. Making these walks a routine part of my stay is important to helping clean out my headspace.

Read our Brilliant article about why it’s so important to simply get out and move.

Via Verde, Monasterio de Tulebras | Brilliant-Online

Who comes here?

The guests who come to the monastery to stay are from all over Spain, locals as well as foreigners, sometimes they have visiting nuns and monks from South America as well. Each person comes with their own agenda, and they are free to do what they wish. Some choose to be in silence and not speak. Others come to simply rest. Many return to the same monastery year after year. What was really interesting for me was to meet people who used to come here to prepare for important exams. When I was there this year, there was a young law student who came to have peace and quiet to study in preparation for her exams. It’s also typical to have people come here to study for the notoriously difficult Spanish civil service exams called Oposiciones, or for those struggling to write their thesis. It’s a perfect set up for these students as they have their own room, silence, meals all prepared, and they can fully concentrate.

I met an array of interesting guests during my stay and they have all been friendly and welcoming. Nobody had an issue with me not being Catholic and I had some amazing conversations with guests there. Perhaps it’s the spirituality of the place, perhaps it’s because people who go there are in search of something deeper or beyond and that opens up a space for very authentic conversations even with complete strangers.

Parque Queiles, Monasterio de Tulebras | Brilliant-Online

The beauty of stability

I was told the nuns here follow four vows - that of poverty, chastity, obedience and stability. Through the eyes of the world outside, it may seem like a poor life of not having the possessions so many of us angst over, but perhaps in their devotion to a single purpose, in their clarity of their chosen vocation, the stability of their dedication to a life of contemplation they are much, much richer than others.

Even being here for just a few days, I notice how having routine and stability helps time to pass, helps to give order and discipline to the day. They pray seven times a day, with the earliest being at 5am and the last at 8:45pm. You know what time it is when the bells ring, you know when it’s time to be at the dining room. Perhaps even as adults we’re not that different from toddlers who need routine to feel safe and grounded.

Guests are free to attend their service if they wish. On my first trip there I even tried attending service at 5am! It was quite a challenge to be up then, but it's an experience worth having. It's incredibly quiet at that hour, and knowing most of the planet is still asleep, hearing the singing voices of the nuns... there is some magic in that special hour. If it's difficult to 'hear' what the universe is saying to us in our busy day-to-day, perhaps in the quiet of that magical hour one can tune in better to the frequency that's beyond the human realm.

The beauty of simplicity

This is one ‘holiday’ where I do not need to plan anything beyond getting train tickets to get to the town of Tulebras. I came with just a small suitcase and as I came in summer, I could wash my clothes and have them dry the very next day. The rooms here are very clean, simple and comfortable. Towels are provided as well.

For these few days, the simplicity of not needing anything else feels like a luxury. Simple clothes, simple activities, simple food. There is Internet connection here so I was able to check in on bits of work. There is plenty of time for solitude, and there is also a refreshing park nearby with trees and shade and a little brook if I wanted to be outdoors but also respite from the heat. There is a lake within walking distance, and those who come by car are free to explore sights around the area. As I don’t drive, I was content to simply stay where I was and explore whatever was available on foot. There wasn’t a need to plan anything or tick off items on a checklist just to prove I was there.

Lagoon near Monasterio de Tulebras | Brilliant-Online

Coming home

I do hope I can return to this monastery next summer. There is a reason why people keep returning to this monastery for their personal retreats. It does feel like ‘home’, the nuns recognise me and they give the most loving hugs. This may not be an Instagram-worthy holiday, but that’s not what I need at this phase in my life. The journey inward is what I and many others are seeking. Why not journey back into yourself, tune in to your inner voice in a space where everything slows down.

As it says on the monastery's website,

“Aquí tienes tu casa y no es solo una forma de hablar.”

(Here is your home, and it’s not just a figure of speech.)

Having been here last summer, it meant that when I returned this year, all the prioress had to do was escape from her chores for a few brief seconds to say hello, give me a hug, hand me the key to my room and say, “You know your way around! I’ll see you later at lunch!” which felt warm and welcoming.

Via Verde, Monasterio de Tulebras | Brilliant-Online

Selfishly speaking, I do hope places of refuge like this monastery can keep going for years to come. At the moment this monastery has 16 nuns, and with modern life steamrolling through the years, there aren't many young people who have found the vocation to follow on this journey.

Why not listen to a snippet from the nuns at Monasterio de Tulebras singing Salve Regina, and invite in a few moments of peace as you wind down for the day?

If you are looking to try out a different sort of rest, there is a Cistercian monastery in Tarrawarra, Australia.

Those who are curious about the inner lives of these nuns and monks, check out these documentaries.

In the monastery of Sion, in the Netherlands, Cistercian monks have lived for centuries. The building has space for 120 monks, but in 2013 only eight are left. Such a large building makes them think of a change: they need to move, start over somewhere else, and hopefully attract new men to join their community. Thus was born the idea of returning to the island in the north of the Netherlands that bears the name: Schiermonnikoog, which means Island of the Grey Monks. But change is not easy. (Source:

Libres (meaning 'free' in Spanish) is a journey into the inner lives of those people who have given themselves completely to a cloistered life of prayer. Libres was filmed in 12 monasteries from various Spanish provinces, e.g. Las Batuecas in Salamanca, San Pedro de Cardeña in Burgos and Leyre in Navarra.

In 1984, German filmmaker Philip Gröning wrote to the Carthusian order of the Grande Chartreuse in the French Alps for permission to make a documentary about them. Sixteen years later, they agreed. The director alone lived in the monks' quarters for six months - filming their daily prayers, tasks, rituals and rare outdoor excursions. This documentary has no score, no voiceover and no archival footage, yet it is mesmerising in how it draws the audience into the hushed quietness of monastic life.

Read our other Brilliant stories on Spain


Monasterio de Tulebras

a/ Calle de San Bernardo, 31522 Tulebras, Navarra, Spain

p/+34 948 85 14 75 (for general enquiries) (for orders of their artesanal products)


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