Does the thought of spending the night in a church give you the creeps?
Then a travel trend dubbed “champing” that’s sweeping through England might not be for you.
Churches Conservation Trust (CCT), a London-based charity, came up with the idea as a means of offsetting the hefty price tag that comes with maintaining England’s historical churches.
The country has more than 345 important at-risk parish churches that no longer house congregations but contain irreplaceable examples of architecture and art spanning 1,000 years.
“People often aren’t sure if they can go inside some of these churches, so we wanted to do something that was unusual and cool, something that let’s people experience these places in a totally new way,” explained CCT marketing officer Chana James.
What they did was charge people a small fee to spend a candle-lit evening “champing,” a portmanteau word for camping in churches that the organization has now trademarked.
A “leave no footprint” policy means the ad hoc facilities (including compost toilets, cots and camp stoves) are only available between the hours of 3 p.m. and 11 a.m. when the churches reopen to everyday visitors.
“People get a nice and unusual stay in a church, but they know that the money they pay goes into the big pot that helps us maintain the historical fabric of all of our churches,” Jones said.
Where to “champ”
In 2015, the CCT opened up four churches within about a two-hour’s drive from London.
The funding drive was such an overwhelming success that it will offer 10 churches during the 2016 champing season, which runs from May to September.
These include the eccentric churches of St Cyriac & St Julitta, two neighboring parishes in Swaffham Prior that were amalgamated in 1667.
Standard camping cots are set amid the property’s unfettered interior, which is unique among the champing churches in that it contains a kitchen, bathroom and Wi-Fi.
Meanwhile, at the church of All Saints in West Stourmouth, champers actually sleep in Georgian box pews and hang out in puff chairs placed in the nave. For more info or to book online, visit Champing.co.uk.
England isn’t the only place offering travelers a chance to experience a night out in a church.
For those who prefer more creature comforts, here’s a look at eight churches around the world that have been transformed in recent years.
Kruisherenhotel Maastricht (Netherlands)
Kruisherenhotel Maastricht may look like a brooding medieval relic on the outside, but within this renovated monastery is a chic hotel that pairs contemporary design with age-old constructions.
This 60-room complex spans the original monastery as well as a Gothic church that’s now home to the reception area, library, restaurant and wine bar.
Outdoors, there’s a meticulously manicured monastery gardens with snaking bushes and space for summertime dining.
Hotel L’Iglesia (Morocco)
Guests can travel back in time within the ramparts of a 16th-century citadel at Hotel L’Iglesia, a new property from the people behind Marrakech’s three-year-old Beldi Country Club.
Hotel L’Iglesia lies within the old Spanish church of Saint Antoine of Padoue in the walled city of El Jadida, near Casablanca.
Each of its nine suites is filled with handpicked antiques sourced from flea markets throughout Morocco.
In the nave there’s a large salon for reading or sipping cocktails, while at the foot of the bell tower lies an alluring terrace with sun beds, parasols and soaring views out over the Atlantic Ocean.
Martin’s Patershof (Belgium)
Halfway between Antwerp and Brussels in the historic town of Mechelen there’s a neo-Gothic style church once known as Friar Minors.
Constructed in the 18th century, it was deconsecrated in 1999.
It reopened as Martin’s Patershof Hotel a decade later following a lavish multi-year makeover.
The boutique property from the Martin’s Hotel Group preserves its history while simultaneously meeting the expectations of modern-day travelers.
So while remnants of a hallowed past are evident in the arched ceilings and imposing pillars, there’s also a bar, meeting rooms and a restaurant in the former choir.
The best of the hotel’s 79 rooms is located “on the way to heaven,” just above the church alter, where guests can wake up to the morning sun encased in stained-glass windows.
Victorian Rose (California)
California kitsch is the mode du jour at the Victorian Rose, a pearly white wedding chapel-cum-B&B in the surf town of Ventura.
This property five blocks from the Ventura Pier began its long and storied life in the 1880s as a Gothic church before transitioning into a wedding chapel, antique shop and, finally, a hotel.
A favorite haunt for newlyweds and ghosts alike, the six-room B&B offers an eclectic array of antique furnishings where guests can sit back and hear tales of otherworldly sightings.
Innkeepers Richard and Nona Bogatch also pass on details about the supernatural happenings as they serve breakfast in the old sanctuary surrounded by 26-foot-tall stained glass windows.
Belmond Hotel Monasterio (Peru)
Belmond Hotel Monasterio is a hotel in Cusco, Peru, that’s a favorite with travelers en route to Machu Picchu.
This lavish five-star property is set within a refurbished Baroque seminary that, like many of Cusco’s historic monuments, was built by 16th century Spanish colonists atop Inca foundations.
Rooms are decorated with religious art and clustered around a tranquil central courtyard, offering welcome respite from Cusco’s vibrant streets.
The Priory Hotel (Pennsylvania)
The Priory Hotel is a boutique property in Pittsburgh’s Deutschtown Historic District that’s set within a Benedictine monastery built in 1888.
Each of the hotel’s 42 rooms pairs monastic touches with 21st century additions, seamlessly blending antiques and period reproductions with flat-screen TVs and high-tech amenities.
An ornate ballroom known as The Grand Hall lies in the adjoining St. Mary’s Church and is a popular destination for weddings, business functions and special events thanks to the grandeur of its tiled floors, stained glass windows and vaulted ceilings.
Church Boutique Hotel Nha Tho (Vietnam)
A Presbytery House built by French colonists in the late 19th century to support St Joseph’s Cathedral, this historic landmark in downtown Hanoi was completely transformed into the Church Boutique Hotel Nha Tho in 2002.
The prices may be deceptively low but the concept is high design thanks to a lavish 10-year renovation that saw the interior gutted and repopulated with sleek, modern furnishings.
Nha Tho is but one of six properties owned by Church Boutique Hotels, all of which all are set within colonial buildings in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.
Belfry Inn and Bistro (Massachusetts)
It looks just like any other catholic church in small town America, but The Abby at Belfry Inn doesn’t open its double doors for Sunday services.
Visitors can, however, stop by for a continental breakfast or a drink at the Belfry Bistro, a New American bar and restaurant in the former church hall.
This Cape Cod B&B, which spans three historic buildings in total, has an old-timey charm with individually decorated rooms and lovingly restored antique furnishings. It also boasts ample space for events.
Mark Johanson is a freelance travel and culture writer based in Santiago, Chile. You can follow his adventures at markjohanson.com.