Pilgrimage Travel

Written by  Barbara Radcliffe Rogers

EUROPE Pilgrimage
It could be argued that leisure travel began with pilgrimages. Long before Medieval pilgrims began making the arduous journey to Rome or Santiago de Compostella, Christians had traveled to the Holy Land. Pilgrimages to the Holy Land began as early as the fourth century, and by the 12th century there were already travel guides listing the important sites in Rome. Christians aren’t the only pilgrims, or the first. The Hajj, for Muslims, dates back to the time of Abraham - about 2000 BC. The earliest reference to Hindu pilgrimages is from 1500 BC.

A pilgrimage need not even be religious - a journey in search of enlightenment or one concentrating on places that are spiritually significant is a pilgrimage. Many people who make a Camino, following the Way of St James, do so for reasons other than to gain the Papal indulgences that Roman Catholics seek there. In helping clients planning a pilgrimage, it helps to understand their goals and hopes for the trip - spiritual, personal fulfillment, or even a test of their endurance.

RELIGIOUS ROUTES
Most pilgrimages your clients will ask you to help them plan center on a few important routes and destinations. In Medieval times there were four great Christian pilgrimages: Jerusalem, Rome, Canterbury, and Santiago. Only the route to Santiago still exists in its original form, and the route from France across northern Spain is by far the best known. (There are other Medieval routes that pilgrims still follow there, including one from Lisbon through Portugal.)
The goal is the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain, where the remains of the apostle Saint James the Great are entombed; more than 200,000 pilgrims make their way here annually. Due to the variable distances your clients will be walking each day, booking accommodations for this route may require the assistance of a specialist, such as 206 Tours (www.206tours.com/tour70), who specialize in Catholic pilgrimages and can customize trips for your clients, from lodgings down to arranging picnic lunches daily. Suggest clients spend a few days in the beautiful city of Santiago de Compostella at the conclusion of their pilgrimage, at luxurious Parador Hostal Dos Reis Catolicos (www.paradores-spain.com), which has welcomed pilgrims for more than 500 years.
Not all travelers going to Rome are pilgrims and those who are may already know what they wish to do there - the Wednesday morning Papal Audience in St. Peters Square certainly, and the 28 white marble steps of the Scala Sancta - Holy Stairs. For a deeper experience in the company of fellow worshippers, clients might prefer a group organized by 206 Tours (www.206tours.com/tour92), accompanied by a priest.
These tours in the company of a priest are a good way for clients to travel to the major Catholic pilgrimage sites in Europe, Fatima and Lourdes. Point out not only the convenience of having the travel and lodging details all seamlessly taken care of, but the value of a knowledgeable guide who understands the deeper significance of these sites. Daily Mass is another consideration for the devout, as are the other sights of religious significance that such a tour includes.
A popular 206 Tours itinerary begins in Lisbon, visiting the birthplace ad baptismal site of St. Anthony of Padua before traveling to Fatima. After stopping in Spain to visit churches and convents associated with St Teresa of Avila, the tour continues to Lourdes, where clients can attend Mass at the Grotto and drink from the holy spring.
Patrick McKenna, Business Manager at 206 Tours, tells JAX FAX that their pilgrimages (which offer a 10% commission to agents) include roundtrip airfare from all US and Canada departure cities, four-star hotels, meals, a spiritual director and Mass daily.
“We have a Base Tour,” he continues, “and then many people want to add on and see more. So take Tour 96 (www.206tours.com/tour96) for example - that is our Shrines of Italy that covers Rome, San Giovanni Rotondo, Lanciano, Loreto, and Assisi. After Assisi, clients can return home - or since they are already in Italy, can join our Tour 103: All Italian Shrines (www.206tours.com/tour103). That is the same itinerary and departure dates as Tour 96, but instead of returning home, it continues on for two nights in Florence, and two nights in Venice. Many people will not be able to travel to the Holy Land (www.206tours.com/tour111), but if they do they will want to take in Jordan as well as the Holy Land (www.206tours.com/tour158). It is only an additional three nights, but they can check Petra off their To-Do List.”
Holy Land Tours (www.holylandtourstravel.com) also specializes in pilgrimages and tours of Christian sights, touring Nazareth, the Yardenit baptismal site on the Jordan River and sailing on the Sea of Galilee. The 10-Day Israel Holy Land Fully Escorted Tour includes 4- or 5-star hotels, a night stay in a Dead Sea resort and two nights on the shores of the Sea of Galilee (including a boat trip), daily dinners and a visit to Magdala, known as the home of Mary Magdalene. The tour covers an impressive list of historic and holy sites, including Masada, before spending three days in Jerusalem, visiting the Mount of Olives, Garden of Gethsemane, Church of Holy Sepulcher and the Via Dolorosa, linking Antonia Fortress with the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem’s old town and including some of Christianity’s most important sites. A 12-day tour adds Petra in Jordan.
For clients who prefer a private experience customized to their own special interests, Artisans of Leisure (www.artisansofleisure.com) designs deluxe individual itineraries with private drivers and personal guides, as well as private airport transfers and insider travel experiences.

WALKING ROUTE IN JAPAN
A completely different kind of pilgrimage that has captured attention lately is one to the Japanese island of Shikoku, where a walking route connects 88 temples associated with the ninth-century, Buddhist monk, Kukai, known as Kobo Daishi. The 800-mile route circles the island, which is much less developed, giving a glimpse of the old Japan that’s been largely lost elsewhere.  The point is not to complete the whole route, although many people return often to become “henro” (pilgrims) for a week or a few days, picking up a bit of the trail each time. For foreigners it’s an immersion into Japanese culture, tradition, architecture, food and rural life. For Japanese Buddhists hiking alongside them it’s a centuries-old tradition as cherished as the Way of Santiago is to Catholics. Mountain Hiking Holidays (mountainhikingholidays.com) can arrange itineraries along the most beautiful segments of the route. A tip for clients: the most beautiful times of year, both visually and for comfortable hiking weather, are during cherry blossoms in the spring and colored foliage in the fall.

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