We think of France as a destination for lovers, be it food or art or wine. On the regular itinerary is Paris, the most romantic city on Earth, and the Louvre, home of the Mona Lisa. But while a visit to the wine regions of Bordeaux may be the highlight of some tours, France also offers something that soothes not only the body and mind, but also the soul.
While there hasn’t been an official state religion in the country since the French revolution, around 61% of citizens are still registered as Roman Catholic. France is the home of many important religious sites including one of the most important – the tiny city of Lourdes.
Prayer and healing
Considered as the third most important pilgrimage site (next only to Rome and the Holy Land), Lourdes is where the Virgin Mary showed herself to the peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous at the Massabielle grotto. The water from the spring dug by Bernadette is said to have miraculous healing properties.
As a tourist spot, Lourdes is second only to Paris and has a number of deluxe hotels for pilgrims and tourists alike.
Abbeys and basilicas
One can also visit Liseux in the North-West, home of St Therese. Her memoirs, translated into 60 languages, are used as inspirations by the faithful on the path to saintliness. And while she had been canonized in 1925, her parents, Louis and Zelie have also been declared saints by Pope Francis in 2015. This makes the Liseux the only town in the world to host the relics of three saints.
There are organized tours for all significant religious and historical sites in the Normandy area, with some going the “augmented reality” route via iPads. Among these are the tours for the 40 abbeys and churches of Normandy. Torch-lit night tours, Gregorian chants, and light shows and festivals make these ancient sites relatable to tourists wanting to catch a glimpse of the Church in medieval times.
Renewal of spirit
Down south one can find Notre-Dame de La Sallette, where two shepherd children, Maximin and Melanie saw the Virgin Mary. The shrine, high up the mountains, allows one to get away from it all and experience renewal.
One can also visit Ars, where Jean-Marie Vianney, the patron saint of priests, had his parish. The area, at the heart of the Dombes Principality, is not only a place for spiritual contemplation but can also serve as a takeoff point for exploring medieval castles and nature trails.
The spiritual and the secular
A spiritual tour of France is a mix of both spiritual and secular, with first-class accommodations and amenities in locations of great religious significance. One can relax and get away from worries while spending time for learning and reflection in one of the most interesting countries in the world.