Religious conversions: Renovated monastery resorts and more

(CNN) - Movies about nuns and monks tend to focus on the Spartan nature of their living quarters: thin beds with lumpy mattresses, gloomy candlelit tables, a chair or two, all blessed by a cross nailed to a whitewashed plaster wall. No longer.

In recent years, many monasteries and convents have been reborn as hotels so luxuriously appointed that you might confess to feeling a little guilty about how their previous occupants had to live. But don't fret. Many properties still remain close to their roots, offering less worldly appointments, helping nurture your spiritual needs while you travel, remaining tied into their natural surroundings.

Whether at the high end or the budget end, staying in religious structures is a way to connect travelers with a destination's historical past.

"As we get more and more technologically advanced, we lose our connection to what is fundamentally who we are," said Mina Chow, an architect and professor at the University of Southern California's School of Architecture. "A lot of these buildings that are being converted maintain that connection to nature and to our humanity."

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Their religious origin also "elevates the human spirit" for travelers, said Chow, who also serves as an architectural design consultant to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

A large number of the converted religious structures have Christian origins and show a progression from the Middle East to Europe to the New World and beyond. As Christianity spread throughout the world, religious instruction was needed along with places to house the burgeoning ranks of nuns and monks. The former Spanish empire in particular is full of such structures, many of which have taken a place among the most exclusive places to stay in Latin American colonial centers.

Whether choosing a luxurious setting or something more in line with what the monks of olden days were used to, the unique history, architecture and atmosphere of religious complexes adapted into modern accommodations will make for a memorable part of any vacation.

Here's our list of some choice and unusual properties to select from, but there are plenty of others you'll find in your own travels.

Argos in Cappadocia, Turkey

This region of Turkey is famous for its unusual fairy chimney rock formations. Their sharp peaks over stubby bases look a little like the seven dwarves turned to stone. In this remote region, early Christians formed underground cities in caves and tunnels stretching more than 5 kilometers under the rocks as early as the fifth century. Earl Starkey, one of America's top Turkey experts, recommends the Argos Hotel in Old Uchisar Village for its ingenious reuse of the historical landscape and ancient dwellings.

"It's the most unusual landscape practically in the world," said Starkey, owner of Sophisticated Travel. "It's like a moonscape, and Uchisar is the highest vantage point in Cappadocia, and from there, you look out over the whole valley," which stretches 150 square kilometers.

The Argos and its Bezirhane entertainment center form a sprawling 34-guest room hilltop hotel complex built into a series of caves, old structures and underground tunnels used by monks and other early Christians. The hotel has its own vineyard, featuring the production on the wine list.

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