Preparing for your Pilgrimage to France
France is one of the best countries on earth for a pilgrimage. Not only is France the traditional start to the famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage through France and Spain, but there are hundreds of pilgrimage sites in France worth seeing in their own right – including incredible churches in Paris!
From France’s majestic Cathedrals, to its gorgeous monasteries perched on islands and cliffsides — not only are France’s pilgrimage sites filled with beauty, but also with meaning and spirituality. They are some of the best pilgrimages in Europe!
France has been home to many of the greatest Saints of history: from Joan of Arc to St. Vincent de Paul. As a result, France’s cities and countryside are replete with shrines, such as the famous French pilgrimage site at Lourdes, to these saints and their miracles.
A pilgrimage through France, whether it be a walking pilgrimage or one where you travel by bus, train, or car, will be a rich experience that is spiritually edifying — and absolutely delicious!
March 2021 Update: While many of us cannot travel right now due to the ongoing situation, enjoy this post for inspiration and to help you plan a safe and wonderful trip in the future.
Should you travel alone, independently, or with a group?
As you begin to plan your pilgrimage to France, whether you travel alone, independently, or with a tour group is one of the first questions you will want to answer.
Many people recommend walking the Camino de Santiago alone, or otherwise completing a walking pilgrimage with some measure of solitude. Pilgrims report a sense of space in their minds, the ability to be in constant prayer, and the freedom to make new friends and acquaintances that walking and traveling alone can bring.
Even if your pilgrimage to France is not a walking pilgrimage, certainly some of these same concepts apply to traveling alone. Traveling alone is an amazing confidence builder. You are not beholden to anyone else’s schedule, or anyone else’s hunger pangs, or the tour bus leaving at a certain time. You can be free to linger in churches to pray, to stop for a croissant and a coffee when you need, and to discover the ways God shows up in silence and solitude.
Traveling independently can mean traveling alone, or traveling with your own schedule and planning with your family or your own independent group.
When traveling independently, whether completely alone or with your family or partner, you can also plan your own itinerary. This is one of the best parts of traveling independently: your trip can be entirely based around your interests – not those of the group, or those a tour guide assumes are your interests!
I often travel independently, whether on pilgrimages or in my less spiritual travels. I love to visit churches and monasteries, and while many tour itineraries include one or two of an area’s best religious sites, they tend to not include lots of them because, let’s face it, the average person is bored by them! I prefer to plan my own itineraries as a result, and after lots of experience traveling independently and sometimes completely solo, I have gained the confidence to navigate any new country and whether any snafus and issues that arise (like missing trains…something I have an unfortunate tendency to do!).
Should you take your France pilgrimage with a Tour Company?
On the other hand, traveling alone is daunting for some. Planning an independent tour is more work, and there is more scope for things to go a bit awry without a tour guide! Getting around independently is one of the biggest challenges when planning an independent France pilgrimage — and even though it absolutely can be done, for many traveling with a group is actually more relaxing.
Some group Pilgrimages also offer unique spiritual opportunities that you don’t get when traveling independently: special speakers or tour leaders, morning prayers all together, and a chance to meet like-minded people who share your beliefs. This can be of incalculable benefit.
Another option is to travel semi-independently: to spend some time traveling independently then to meet up with either a full group tour or a few day-long or weekend-long tours to get to places that are harder to reach or not accessible to the independent traveler. This is something I often do when I travel: travel independently, but use a tour company for weekend trips and trips to places that are too difficult to get to on my own. I did this in Armenia to see the famous monastery of Tatev.
Whether you go completely alone, independently, or with a tour group is up to you, there isn’t a wrong way to complete your pilgrimage to France.
France offers so much for the traveler and pilgrim that you could come back many times, in many different ways, and still be amazed and awed by all of the beautiful pilgrimage sites in France.
The Best Companies for a Group Pilgrimage to France
If traveling on a group pilgrimage to France is something you are considering, you are in luck! Many wonderful and reputable tour companies offer group pilgrimages to France. Many of these companies are Roman Catholic-leaning, but not all — most welcome all travelers and pilgrims in their group.
Full Disclosure: I have extensively researched these companies to help save you time, but I haven’t personally taken a group pilgrimage to France — my trips to the famous pilgrimage sites of France have mostly been independent. I would travel with one of these companies if I got the chance, and wouldn’t recommend them otherwise!
- 206 Tours is one of the most reputable religious tour companies out there. 206 Tours specializes in pilgrimages, which makes them a premier choice for travelers who want more out of their vacations and truly want a spiritual pilgrimage – albeit with every detail planned and taken care of ahead of time! 206 Tours offers a fabulous 13-day “Great Shrines of France” tour. The tour visits famous pilgrimage sites such as Lourdes, Chartres, Normandy, Lisieux and – of course – Paris! 206 Tours has dates available starting in June of 2021 if you are itching to get to France for your pilgrimage as soon as possible!
- Nativity Pilgrimage offers a 10-day “Pilgrimage to France” that includes a long stay in Paris to begin the tour and moves on to the South of France to Avignon (one of my favorite places on earth!) and Lourdes. Nativity Pilgrimage is a tour company that specializes in spiritual travel for Christians with offices in Bethlehem, Israel and in the USA. Their trips include airfare, breakfast and dinner daily, and can accommodate daily mass if requested. Call Nativity Pilgrimage directly to inquire about 2021 Dates and Pricing.
- Faith Journeys is a well-established pilgrimage company, both providing open group pilgrimages aimed at Catholic Christians that anyone can join and helping churches and tour groups with their own spiritual leader organize pilgrimages. Faith Journeys offers a number of different pilgrimages to France, some of which visit sites in Spain as well (such as along the Camino de Santiago). Their 10-day, 8-night “A Spiritual Journey To The Sunrise & Cathedrals of France” pilgrimage allows you to spend time visiting the very best Cathedrals of Paris before traveling to Amiens, Lisieux, Chartres, and a visit to beautiful Annecy to learn about the life of St. Francis de Sales.
Planning Your Independent Pilgrimage to France
If you’ve decided to plan in independent France pilgrimage, here is a handy checklist for what you will need to plan:
- Start with why: Why do you want to take a pilgrimage to France in the first place? This question is important because it will guide your itinerary and your decisions about types of transportation and accommodation. Is your goal to spend a lot of time in prayer at shrines, cathedrals, and pilgrimage sites in France that have spiritual meaning to you? Is your goal to spend a lot of time doing walking pilgrimage activities? Is your why to see as many sites and shrines in France as possible? Each of these will guide your planning!
- Choose your pilgrimage sites: Start with this list of the most important pilgrimage sites in France.
- Outline your itinerary:If you are making your own itinerary, make sure you are frequently consulting a map. You don’t want to start in the North of France (Paris) and bounce around North, South, East, and West! Visit sites that are clustered together and make time for travel and rest between (though don’t always assume that means they are quick or easy to get between! A good case in point is the three UNESCO monasteries in Central Portugal that require a car to drive between and still take a few days despite being just a few miles from one another!).
- Plan how to get around France and to each site you hope to see. See below for information on travel within France.
- Choose where to stay. There are an endlesss number of options to stay on your Pilgrimage to France. I highly recommend using Booking.com – I use them every time I travel. You can search by region or by landmark, and there’s a great selection of holiday apartments, and traditional hotels (and I have to be honest: I do love a good Hotel breakfast!).
- Spiritually prepare for your pilgrimage. If your why for going on pilgrimage includes spiritual growth and renewal, then spiritually preparing for the pilgrimage is a must. Most importantly, pray over your pilgrimage and be open to receiving what God might want to speak to you during your trip. You may also choose to read some books on pilgrimage or the Saints and shrines you will be visiting, find a prayer partner for your trip (even if you are traveling alone, having someone praying for you daily is a real boost!), and getting a journal to write about your trip along the way!
Getting Around Pilgrimage Sites in France
France is, thankfully, one of the easiest countries to travel around in. Not only is it possible to rent a car and self-drive, but the train system is fabulous (if sometimes on the pricier side!).
A great place to search for train tickets is the app Trainline.com.
I always use trainline when I travel in Europe as it offers the most options and very easy booking. Sometimes you do still need to pick up tickets at the station, so mind the directions in the app.
Note: France’s famous and extremely fast TGV trains are a wonderful option, and the more expensive option. Many require reservations ahead of time. Don’t be afraid of the local trains! The slower pace can be great to give your body a rest on the trip and see the scenery. You can usually still get where you want to go in a good amount of time!
If trains aren’t your jam, or you are on a budget, FlixBus is also an option. In general, buses are a little less reliable – so be mindful to take an early bus if you are trying to get to the airport! I’ve used FlixBus before (for an airport trip!) and it was a positive and comfortable experience.
Where to Stay on your France Pilgrimage
France is well prepared with hotels and apartments for any pilgrim and any budget! You can find many options on Booking.com with fabulous rates.
One unique option in France that is especially for Pilgrims is the opportunity to stay in a working monastery!
Monastery Stays in France
One unique option for accommodation during your pilgrimage to France is to stay at a Monastery in France during your time there.
You can stay at a monastery overnight primarily as lodging, or you can choose to visit a monastery for a longer time of retreat.
I love staying at monasteries on my travels! The last time I was in France I spend three nights at Senanque Abbey near Avignon. It was a wonderful space away for mental and spiritual retreat.
You can find some monastery stays in France by searching on the internet. When you decide on your itinerary for your pilgrimage to France, do some searching to see if there are any monasteries offering hospitality near the sites you hope to see. More often than not you have to call or e-mail the monastery to reserve a room and cannot “book online”. Don’t fear the language barrier! Most France monasteries have someone who speaks English and I find a lot of Brothers and Sisters are very willing to Fr-English towards a mutually happy outcome!
The Service de Moniales website offers an interactive map of female monasteries in France. Not all of these offer hospitality but it would be worth reaching out to monasteries near where you hope to stay.
The Guide St-Christophe is a website, unfortunately, all in French, that provides a lot of information about monastery guest houses in France.
There is also a guide to lodging in France’s monasteries available on Amazon and through other booksellers. Warning: this is outdated! Don’t rely on the information in it without doing your own research, but it’s a very helpful place to start.
In Paris, should you be looking for Christian accommodation for a very small group, reach out to the Paris Mennonite Centre or Centre Mennonite de Paris. The couple running it are originally American so speak English well and may be able to offer hospitality for a donation to the center.
Travel Tip from Sacred Wanderings
Want to brush up on your French before your Pilgrimage? – I’ve made huge progress with my French using private tutors through italki. With rates as low as $4 per hour (seriously!) and friendly, highly experienced tutors you can make quick progress and have fun while doing it. Sign up for italki here to check out their teachers. It only takes a few lessons to learn enough French to make your pilgrimage even more meaningful!
Travel Insurance – It’s so important to travel knowing you are covered for accidents, delays, lost-baggage and the works! I always use World Nomads Travel Insurance. The best part? They cover your electronics too!
Follow Sacred Wanderings on Social Media!
This post may contain affiliate links. That means I earn a commission for products or services mentioned through this site. As always, all opinions remain my own.